My latest Queens Cuisine article for The Queens Jewish Link is now out. I was privileged to judge a fun cooking competition “Chopped” style arranged by popular celebrity chef, Naomi Stein Nachman.
You can read all about it below and here on page 55.
Years ago during a motsei Rosh Hashanah evening, I met a mentor who advised me to do the following three things in no particular order as I commenced my journey as a baal teshuva:
- shop for kosher food at Aron’s and Seasons
- sign up with Partners in Torah to learn with a chavrusa
- call Rabbi Zakutinsky at Hashevaynu
The next day, I kicked off the Jewish New Year strong by checking off the last item on my list first. With that phone call came the warm introduction to a family known in Queens for their care and commitment to every single Jew.
Hashevaynu is a kiruv organization that Rabbi Zakutinsky and his wife Rebbetzin Adina Zakutinsky founded 21 years ago with the mission to support men and women exploring their Jewish identity. Whether someone needs a place to stay for Shabbos or Yom Tov, a shul to join, a group to learn with, or guidance, Hashevaynu is there to help provide the resources and make connections.
One of the ways in which Hashevaynu reaches out to the community and connects likeminded people together on their path to exploring their Jewish roots is by putting on exciting events. The latest event was a “Chopped” cooking competition inspired by the popular Food Network show. Hosted by celebrity kosher chef, Naomi Stein Nachman, “Chopped” was an amazing experience enjoyed by all.
Before “Chopped” started, the night began with a beautiful homemade buffet dinner made by Rabbi’n Adina Zakutinsky to feed the more than 30 guests in attendance. The spread included sushi salad, romaine salad with chicken, tomatoes and olives, meatballs, chicken with mushrooms and peppers, rice, parkiyot with an herb marinade and dips made from scratch including vegetarian liver, matbucha, hummus, babaganoush and chimichurri.
Next, Naomi explained how “Chopped” works. Just like the show, contestants (in this case it was 4 teams of 3-4) must race against the clock to cook dishes using ingredients that are revealed on-site. The challenge is to incorporate wildcard ingredients – in this case they were waffles and popcorn – into each dish with other mandatory ingredients including chicken, rice pilaf, sausage and spinach. The competitors certainly had their work cut out for them! They were given 30 minutes to make a main and sides. Naomi was energetically keeping time, right up until the final 10 seconds in which we all joined in on a countdown for. The dishes were judged by a panel of I which I was on to rank each dish from 1-10 in the categories of taste, creativity and presentation. Judging gave me the chance to watch the teams scramble to come up with dishes that would not only taste good but look appealing as well. When it came time for each team to present their creations, I was honestly amazed at what they were able to make. It made me feel as though anybody can cook if you just put your mind to it. Ingredients that you don’t think will mesh well can actually make a delicious meal together. You’d be surprised at what you can come up with using whatever you have on-hand!
Naomi Stein Nachman, a.k.a. “The Aussie Chef” hails from Australia and has been in the United States for over 25 years. She is a kosher personal chef based in the Five Towns who also hosts her own weekly show, “Table for Two” on the Nachum Seagal network and regularly contributes to The Jewish Home and Mishpacha. Naomi told me that the “Chopped” competition was an idea born in 2015 after she was asked to emcee a similar competition at KosherFest. She was inspired to run these competitions on her own and ever since then, her phone started ringing with people asking her to host “Chopped” for them and now she organizes them frequently. “I’ve done them for groups as small as 5 to as large as 80,” said Naomi. Before the competition began, Naomi promised, “You’ll laugh the entire evening!” and she was right.
After the teams presented each dish and the judges got to taste everything, we evaluated each one and pow-wowed with Naomi about our decision – which I must note, was tough to come to as it was not unanimous. We agreed that the team that dubbed themselves The Long Islanders based on their hometowns deserved to win the title. Rebbetzin Aviva Zakutinsky, Rochelle Taub and Judith Gutman cooked made chicken encrusted with crushed popcorn and waffle stuffed with tender zucchini, which delivered a nice balance of sweet and savory flavors. The side dish was rice with sausage and a simple fresh green salad of spinach with thousand island dressing.
After the winners were announced, the party wasn’t over! Naomi was so lovely to talk to and the Zakutinsky family makes you feel welcome and everyone stayed a while after to enjoy the company. As the night drew to a close, Naomi packed up her burners and dishes and off she went back home because the next morning, Naomi had her own cooking marathon to get ahead on – preparing 38 quarts of chicken soup for Pesach for private clients. She really made an impact on everyone there as her energy drove the night.
It’s no secret that food and laughter bring people together. Kosher food is something that bonds the Jewish people and the category is having a major moment right now as “foodie” culture is on the rise. People enjoy sharing what they eat, where they ate it, photographing what they cooked and sharing it with others. Food is a thread that runs through everything we do and much like Hashevaynu allows us to return home spiritually, so does food every time we eat kosher. It was fitting that Hashevaynu’s latest event was centered around food, the kitchen which is the heart of the home was the setting to connect the Jewish community further by cooking, laughing and spending time together doing something fun and different.
Hashevaynu’s shul is located at 70-41 Main Street and offers daily Shachris and learning programs. The full schedule can be viewed at www.Hashevaynu.org. Not only are you guaranteed an amazing shiur during shul on Shabbat, there will be a beautiful kiddush made by my wife and daughters,” added Rabbi Zakutinsky.
Be sure to visit Naomi Stein Nachman’s website, www.TheAussieGourmet.com and tune in every Friday at 9am to hear her show “Table For Two with Naomi Nachman” on www.nachumsegal.com.
Me with Naomi
Cooks pausing for a picture!
The winning dish: