Duck fat, quince, pastrami new secrets to the best latkes

Chefs Craig Stoll of the Delfina Restaurant Group and Michael Siegel of Shorty Goldstein’s took the top spatula prizes for best latke of the night at the Illuminoshi’s first “Latke Showdown” at San Francisco’s Ferry Building earlier this month.

Stoll took the judges’ vote for his everything latke (like an everything bagel) fried in duck fat with apple-quince conserva, sauerkraut sauce and horseradish cream. Siegel took the popular vote for his sweet potato latke with duck rillette, fig-ruby port sauce and duck gribenes.

Other contenders included a Vietnamese banh mi latke with chicken liver and sausage, pickled apples and carrots, fresh herbs and sriracha crème fraîche by Elianna Friedman of Bay Leaf Kitchen; a falafel latke with tahini sauce or labneh and pomegranate molasses by Guy Eshel of Sababa Hot Pita Bar; a “pastrama-latke” with pastrami, Swiss and Yukon gold potato with apple and cabbage slaw and horseradish cream by Scott Youkilis of Hog & Rocks; plus a dessert (not in the running) of an Italian ricotta-filled doughnut called a Sfinge by Mica Talmor of Ba-Bite. The fritters were doused in powdered sugar and drizzled with either a quince-cranberry sauce or chocolate syrup.

Attendees taste latkes and vote for their favorites at the “Latke Showdown” at the S.F. Ferry Building. photos/lydia daniller

“We’re so psyched to have won the critical vote,” said Stoll the next day. “We worked to develop something that has everything you’d want/expect in a latke but with a couple of small twists — fun but reflective of tradition, the same way we approach Italian food.”

Said Siegel: “It was amazing to cook with such great chefs and an honor to win the people’s choice award,” so-called after the announcer said she was uncomfortable with “popular vote,” the original name. (Note: I was the announcer.)

Stoll also noted that Delfina will be serving latkes fried in duck fat during Hanukkah, though with or without the seeds is to be determined.

About 75 people attended the event, which was organized by me, Friedman and Lisa Rogovin, owner of Edible Excursions, a San Francisco-based company that offers culinary walking tours; it was made possible with support from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation’s Grassroots Initiatives.

People’s choice award winner Michael Siegel, chef-owner of Shorty Goldstein’s

The Illuminoshi is celebrating its first anniversary this Hanukkah, sparked by a dinner held at my house last Hanukkah after attending a conference in Colorado for Jews in the food industry sponsored by the Schusterman Foundation.

Judging the latkes were Joyce Goldstein, author most recently of “The New Mediterranean Jewish Table,” and Jeffrey Yoskowitz, who was here from Brooklyn promoting his new book, co-authored with Liz Alpern: “The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods.”

Yoskowitz and Goldstein favored Stoll’s latke (it was the most traditional) for being perfectly executed, while the crowd veered toward the more nontraditional spins.

SMALL BITES: Yoskowitz and Alpern did a number of appearances in the Bay Area earlier this month to promote their book. I caught up with them at Saul’s Deli in Berkeley, where chef-owner Peter Levitt offered a four-course meal inspired by the book, including pierogies, blintzes, gefilte fish and herring salad, and zurek, a fermented rye soup. Both seatings for the dinner sold out.

Judges award winner Craig Stoll of Delfina Restaurant Group, with general manager Arielle Chernin

In brief remarks to the diners, the duo spoke of how the book came to be. “We were both in the food world, and all around us people were exploring their culinary past, and we wondered why we didn’t see Ashkenazi food being explored in that same way,” said Alpern. “Gefilte fish was leaving tables. No one of our generation was making it. We thought, ‘Something is missing here.’ ”

“And the kosher aisle isn’t doing anyone any favors,” added Yoskowitz.

They started making borscht and gefilte fish for themselves and their friends, and then realized that others might be excited about these foods as well.

That’s how The Gefilteria came to be, an outfit started by Alpern and Yoskowitz selling artisanal, locally sourced gefilte fish. The book came out of that project.

Speaking from the older end of the millennial generation, Yoskowitz said, “We wanted to stake our claim and bring our values to these foods. For a long time we loved these foods but weren’t proud of them. We wanted to be proud of them.”

Shmaltz Brewing Co., which calls itself “the only Jewish celebration beer company in the nation,” turns 20 this year and is holding events to mark the milestone. While the brewery is now located in upstate New York, it was conceived of and started in San Francisco by Jeremy Cowan as He’Brew beer. To celebrate the 20th anniversary, several of Shmaltz’s beers will be on tap the week of Dec. 25 to Jan. 1 at BuzzWorks, 365 11th St., S.F.

Oakland’s Shakewell is the latest restaurant to come up with a Hanukkah menu. Offered only on Dec. 24, there will be a prix-fixe dinner for $55 with latkes with roasted quince butter, crème fraîche and chives for a first course, slow-roasted brisket with beet and cabbage salad for the main course and apple churros with buttermilk syrup to finish. Shakewell is at 3407 Lakeshore Blvd.

The Sacramento Bee reported that Solomon’s Delicatessen will open in downtown Sacramento in late 2017, in honor of Russ Solomon, the founder of Tower Records who recently was inducted into the California Hall of Fame. The location of the new Jewish deli, at 730 K St., is the former site of a former Tower Records store and will have a performance venue upstairs, with the deli downstairs. Co-chairs of the local Jewish Food Faire Sheila Wolfe, Lydia Inghram and Jami Goldstene are all investors.


Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."