Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! As a child, and to this day, I like it when Hanukkah overlaps with Christmas as is the case this year.

Last week, I attended the 11th Annual Latke Festival at the Brooklyn Museum. It was on the itinerary of the first New York City Culinary tour I led. Many of you know I have hosted “Worth Tasting,” the culinary walking tour of downtown New Haven for over a decade. Many on the New Haven tour asked me to hold one in the Big Apple, so I took their suggestion and several signed up for this fun and food-filled day. Another unique stop on this tour was Le Marais, whose tagline, I think is one of the best, “A Rare Steakhouse, Well Done.” There will be more about Le Marais in another column.

As soon as I walked through the revolving doors at the cavernous museum, the aroma brought me back in time. I remembered, when I returned home from school and opened the door, the mist of oil frying those potato latkes (aka potato pancakes) permeated throughout our house. There was my grandmother and mother grating pounds and pounds of potatoes and onions with a rectangular wire grater (remember those?), and then frying them up into crispy potato latkes. Mom made sure we had lots of sour cream and apple sauce on hand to put on top of them; I enjoyed dipping the latkes in it. Sometimes my paternal grandmother brought over her “famous” apple sauce. Sour cream was, and still is, my favorite.

So, what is the significance of eating latkes and other fried food such as jelly doughnuts to celebrate Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights? It is actually the oil that is significant. It symbolizes the miracle that kept an oil-lit menorah shining for eight days, more than 2,000 years ago.

The annual Latke Festival is the ultimate celebration of the humble potato pancake, taken to another culinary level with the variety of preparations and toppings. More than 700 latke-loving attendees made the rounds, indulging in the “not your grandma’s” latkes. There was a record number, nearly 30, of fired-up chefs from participating restaurants and food venues. They competed for top latke honors in six categories, including some new ones: Best Vegetarian and Best New Participant Latke. New this year, was a home cook participant, who was the winner of a latke recipe contest conducted by the Jewish Food Society. The home cook’s recipe was prepared by Great Performances, New York City’s premier catering and events company that presents the festival every year as a benefit for The Sylvia Center www.sylviacenter.org, and was served at the society’s booth.

In addition to the main draw, latkes, there were other palate-pleasing offerings; a caviar station by Pearl River Caviar, a pickle buffet from Jacob’s Pickles and a jelly doughnut and bread spread by Orrwasher’s. The food was complemented by an open bar service of Grey Goose Vodka and Angel’s Envy Bourbon specialty cocktails; Schmaltz Beer; City Winery Wines; GuS’s Soda and Brooklyn Roasting Co.’s coffee. The festive vibe was further fueled by the masterful spinning of a DJ.

The proceeds of the Latke Festival support The Sylvia Center’s work teaching nutrition and healthful cooking to children and their families living in under-served neighborhoods in the five boroughs of New York City and in Columbia County, NY.

Save the date for next year’s latke festival: Dec. 14.

And, the winners are:

Best Overall — Hanoi House, “Banh Tom,” sweet potato and shrimp fritter, Chef Albert Nguyen

Most Creative (a tie) Baoburg, “Okonomiyaki Latke,” Japanese style octopus potato pancake topped with sweet soy sauce, mayonnaise, bonito flakes, Chef Bao Bao; and Jewish Food Society,“Russian Latke,” smoked white fish and potato cakes, horseradish sour cream, Siberian Pearl Street caviar, Sasha Schor who won a latke recipe contest conducted by the Jewish Food Society.

Best Vegetarian — Yellow Magnolia Café at Brooklyn Botanical Garden, “Classic Potato Latke,” whiskey braised apples, horseradish crème fraiche, and chives. (Chef Sarah Flynn)

Best Newcomer — David Burke Tavern, “Horseradish & Caraway Latke,” with pastrami smoked salmon. (Chef David Burke)

Best Traditional — Veselka, “Veggie Reuben Latke, traditional latke” with homemade sauerkraut, homemade Russian dressing, Swiss cheese. (Chef Dima Marsteniuk)

People’s Choice (a tie) — Veselka (see above); And The Bankers Club at 120 Broadway, “Sweet Potato Latke,” with marshmallow brulee. (Chef Vanay Coffey) (recipe below) By the way, this was my favorite too.

Sweet Potato Latke with Brulee Marshmallow

Latke:

5 sweet potatoes (or 3 jumbo sweet potatoes)

3 Idaho potatoes

1 medium onion pureed

1 large egg beaten

3 tablespoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground cloves

1 tablespoon ground nutmeg

2 tablespoons Allspice

3 tablespoons Salt

Marshmallow topping:

1 bag large marshmallows

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

Syrup:

½ cup water

½ cup pineapple juice

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon molasses

Peel and shred sweet potatoes and Idaho potatoes. Mix shredded potatoes together with pureed onion, egg, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice and salt.

Squeeze out any access water. While shaping into small patty like shapes (about 2 inches in diameter).

Places Patties on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Freeze for 2 hours or until firm. (Makes about 30 2 -inch round patties)

Heat oil to 350 degrees and Deep fry until golden and crispy.

Drain on a Rack or Parchment paper lined pan. Sprinkle with salt.

Marshmallows:

Mix sugars cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl.

Cut each marshmallow in half.

Dip the sticky side (center after cutting) into sugar mix.

Syrup:

Mix water, pineapple juice, sugars and molasses in a small pot. Bring to a boil.

Mixture will thicken when it cools.

To put together, place a marshmallow half on top of cooked latke, cut side down. Use a torch to brulee top of marshmallow to desired char. Drizzle with syrup and enjoy! Made with love by Chef Vanay Coffey

So, what makes the perfect latke? This headnote from America’s Test Kitchen gives important tips to make the perfect traditional crispy potato latke. For the recipe, visit https://bit.ly/35JpMPK

Why This Recipe Works:

“Latkes come in all shapes and sizes, but the textural goal is always the same: delicate and light throughout, with a creamy, buttery, soft interior surrounded by a shatteringly crispy outer shell. Unfortunately, many recipes produce latkes that soak up oil like sponges, leaving them greasy and soft. Others are crispy outside but gluey inside or are simply undercooked and tough. To achieve latkes that were light and not greasy, with flavorful, tender interiors and a pleasingly crisp outer shell, we needed to do two things: First, we removed as much water as possible from the potato shreds by wringing them out in a dish towel. Then, we briefly microwaved them. This caused the starches in the potatoes to form a gel that held on to the potatoes’ moisture so it didn’t leach out during cooking. With the water taken care of, the latkes crisped up quickly and absorbed minimal oil. We prefer using the shredding disk of a food processor to shred the potatoes, but you can use the large holes of a box grater if you prefer. Top with applesauce and sour cream and serve with a green salad.”

Here is a recipe from my index card file of recipes (it must be 25+ years old) for latkes made from zucchini.

4 cups grated zucchini

1 cup parsley, chopped

1 teaspoon lemon pepper

¼ teaspoon salt

2 eggs, lightly beaten

4 tablespoons matzo meal

Oil for frying

Drain out as much moisture from the zucchini. In a large bowl place all of the ingredients EXCEPT the oil. In a large frying pan, heat the oil to 350 degrees. Using a spoon, drop batter making about 3 inch diameter latkes into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown on both sides. Remove from pan and place on a paper towel lined tray to absorb excess oil. Makes 10-14 latkes.

What chef would you like me to interview? Which restaurant recipes or other recipes would you like to have? Which food products do you have difficulty finding? Do you have cooking questions? Send them to me: Stephen Fries, professor and coordinator of the Hospitality Management Programs at Gateway Community College, at gw-stephen.fries@gwcc.commnet.edu or Dept. FC, Gateway Community College, 20 Church St., New Haven 06510. Include your full name, address and phone number. Due to volume, I might not be able to publish every request. For more, go to stephenfries.com.

CULINARY CALENDAR

Consiglio’s Mystery Dinner Party: “20/20 Vision” Dec. 31 or Jan. 1, 9:30 pm. Consiglio’s Restaurant, 165 Wooster St., New Haven, reservations at 203-865-4489, $75 includes dinner and show, and Champagne toast at midnight (beverages, tax and gratuity not included). An interactive comedy show that goes on throughout the evening during a 3-course meal. Cast mingles table to table, dropping clues for a mystery only you can solve. What’s going to happen if something happens in the New Year? These ladies have predicted the future and are sharing the news to compete as psychic of the year. Menu at https://bit.ly/32gXryX

Connecticut Media Group