Brandeis course fields competition between Team Latkes and Team Hamantaschen

Are you Team Latkes or Team Hamantaschen?

Deciding which of these two Jewish culinary staples is the most quintessentially Jewish would be much easier if there was a cook-off, tasting and debate pitting one against the other.

But look no further: Brandeis hosts such an event every year.

Students in the precollege programs class “Culinary Art and Anthropology” at Brandeis engaged in the third annual latke-hamantasch debate on July 27 as part of the course, which seeks to deepen one’s understanding and appreciation for Jewish cuisine and the role it plays in Jewish culture.

During the latke-hamantasch debate, students turned into young chefs and worked with instructors Elizabeth Alpern and Jeffrey Yoskowitz, the authors of “The Gefilte Manifesto,” a cookbook featuring 98 modernized recipes of typical Ashkenazi Jewish dishes.

For Alpern and Yoskowitz, who have years of experience in the restaurant industry, teaching students about Jewish cuisine is a passion.

“We found no one was exploring Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, which was our culinary heritage,” said Alpern. “There’s this rich, beautiful tradition of Ashkenazi cuisine that has a really bad reputation in U.S. and has been slipping into irrelevance for our generation. But Jeff and I had enough exposure to this cuisine to say, ‘Wow, this food is colorful, vibrant, multi layered and absolutely deserves to stay relevant for our generation.’”

“For me it’s important to keep these recipes evolving,” added Alpern. “Food connects us to our place in the world, which gives value and meaning to our lives and contributes to the conversation about the multicultural world we live in."

For the debate, the audience, along with a panel of four judges—Alpern, Yoskowitz, Rabbi Charlie Schwartz and precollege programs director Marci Borenstein—critiqued the freshly-made latkes and hamanstaschen using strict criteria: presentation of food, taste and creativity. Judges also voted on which of two culinary staples they felt was the most quintessentially Jewish based on how the students explained the foods’ historic roots.

This year, victory went to Team Hamantaschen.

“This has been a great course and it’s open to everyone, whether you know a lot about Judaism and Jewish culture, or you don’t,” said Sabrina Axelrod of Minnesota, who was on Team Latke. “There’s not just one type of cooking, I learned so many different things that I hadn’t known before about Jewish culture. It really makes me appreciate the culture I grew up with.” 

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