Friendly competition raises the stakes at 11th annual Latkepalooza

 Nick Farina, owner of Union Taco at Seventh and Girard, will enter his sweet potato, apple chutney latke in the Latkepalooza at the Gershwin-Y Monday. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Nick Farina, owner of Union Taco at Seventh and Girard, will enter his sweet potato, apple chutney latke in the Latkepalooza at the Gershwin-Y Monday. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

For the only time in thousands of years, the first day of Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving Day. This will not happen again in your lifetime, that of your children, or your children’s children.

Four days later, the Gershman Y will host its annual Latkepalooza, a showcase of area chefs preparing the traditional Hanukkah treat of fried potato latkes. For the first time in 11 years, this will not be friendly potluck but a completion.

“You gotta be careful with latke, such a traditional dish people grow up with,” said Nick Farina, executive chef at Verdad Restaurant in Bryn Mawr. “Every family has their own version of a perfect latke.”

Farina, actually, did not grow up eating latkes. He’s a Philadelphia Italian from Flourtown who just opened his own casual gourmet Mexican restaurant, Union Taco, in North Philadelphia.

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Nevertheless, he is submitting a Thanksgiving-inspired latke made of sweet potato spiced with pickled jalapeno (he does run two Latin kitchens, after all) and it is topped with apple chutney.

“Nobody grew up with this,” said Farina. “We took the Thanksgiving traditional sweet potato. Everybody has them — usually with marshmallows on top — but I noticed nobody eats them any other time of year. Thanksgiving being America, there’s nothing more American than apple pie. So we almost have an apple pie filling on top.”

Farina’s latke is thick, with the lumpy texture of a crab cake and subtle heat from the jalapeno. The aromatic apple chutney on top has been sauteed with dried cherries and glazed with a vanilla liquor. The dish is dessert-sweet.

There may not be anything traditional about this Thanksgiving latke, but there is something very American about it.

“I’m an Italian guy that cooks Latin food in a Jewish latke contest,” Farina summed up. “I guess I’m a mish-mosh.”

Farina invented the Thanksgiving latke especially for this year’s Latkepalooza; it does not appear on any menu (although it tested pretty well at Verdad). The recipe is more feel than science.

For the pancake:

“All we did was shred some sweet potato, add a couple of eggs, put in some pickled jalapeno — we come from a Latin restaurant so we have to put some chili in there — some fresh green onion, and that’s pretty much it. Salt and pepper.”

For the chutney:

“We got some dried cherries, a little bit of red onion, some McIntosh and Granny Smith apples.” He glazed the chutney in the pan with Licor 43.

Farina serves the dish striped with lime crema, crossed with stripes of chili crema.

Another contestant in this year’s Latkepalooza, Marshall Green of Jerry’s Bar in Northern Liberties, offers this recipe for his hoped-for prize-winning submission, the potato and celery root latke:

4 russet potatoes shredded on a mandolin 1 small celery root shredded on a mandolin 1 small yellow onion grated 1/2 cup flour 1 egg plus 2 egg yolks pinch cayenne 1T salt 1t pepper Oil for frying


In a large bowl, combine potato, celery and onion. Mix. Sprinkle in the flour and seasonings and mix again. Fold in the egg and mix until combined.  Fry small amounts in a cast iron pan over medium-high heat until well browned. Keep warm in low oven, on paper bags or towels.

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