FORT GREENE — A young line cook bested experienced chefs from some of New York's most respected restaurants to take home the people's choice award at Brooklyn's Fourth Annual Latke Festival on Monday night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
The potato pancake cook-off, hosted by Great Performances, featured 16 chefs from the city's top eateries, including the West Village's Fatty 'Cue, Ditmas Park's The Farm on Adderley, and the East Village's Veselka.
But the audience favorite was Micah Fredman, a 25-year-old line cook at Gramercy Tavern, who won a chance to compete in the latke contest as the only "member of the public" after his latke recipe won a contest in Edible Brooklyn.
The panel of judges, including Leonard Lopate of WNYC's The Leonard Lopate Show and Gabriella Gershenson of Saveur, chose NoLita's Israeli-themed restaurant Balaboosta as the official winner, but the crowd of more than 400 had a different opinion, and named Fredman’s 30-ingredient potato pancakes as their favorite.
His winning yucca and sweet potato latkes, served with apple plantain sorbet, queso fresco, pickled onion, cilantro, and spicy green hot sauce, were inspired by his love of Latin American and Mexican food and many hours spent listening to Bob Marley, according to a pre-contest interview with Bon Appetit.
"I've been kind of obsessed with tacos for a long time, so the flavors are very appealing to me," he told the foodie magazine. "For me, the potato easily transitions into sweet potato. The applesauce is a traditional garnish so I thought it might be fun to do an ice cream or sorbet. So the apple and plantain brings it more to the Caribbean, while the other garnishes are more Mexican."
Fredman was raised Orthodox, studied psychology, philosophy, and language at Yale University, and started playing around with latkes as an undergraduate, according to Bon Appetit.
His latkes competed with Balaboosta’s potato, yam and carrot latke with honey, preserved lemons and yogurt sauce, A Voce’s potato latke with fontina, apple, and truffles and The Vanderbilt’s potato and mountain yam latke with beef short ribs topped with brussels sprouts, apple, caraway kimchi, and house-made sour cream.
“Fredman’s latke was extremely ambitious and it paid off,” said event spokesman Benjamin Schmerler. Fredman's expansive ingredient list included yucca, plantains, sorbet, queso fresco, pickled onions, jalapenos, granny smith apples, cinnamon sticks, red onions, beets, coriander, cilantro, shallots, and cider vinegar.