What’s better than delicious kugel? Five different kinds of scrumptious kugel, made by amazing chefs and served up for a great cause.

Eat Well, Do Justice!” is a September 25th event featuring five of Washington, DC’s star chefs competing in a kugel cook-off to benefit Tzedek DC. This new organization, which began with a fellowship from The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, is dedicated to helping low-income DC residents deal with their consumer protection problems.

Tzedek DC founder Ariel Levinson-Waldman often quotes the biblical passage, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof (justice, justice, you will pursue).” (Deuteronomy 16:20). That simple admonition is the foundation of the organization’s efforts to level the playing field when it comes to debt-collection lawsuits, identity theft, predatory lending and credit-reporting issues.

Using volunteer lawyers, law students, an Avodah Jewish Service Corps Fellow and a two-person in-house legal team (Levinson-Waldman and one other attorney), Tzedek DC provides free legal services to low-income and working-class DC residents and does policy work to make the justice system fairer when it comes to consumer protection for low-income people and community outreach to educate low-income and working-class DC residents on how to prevent and respond to civil debt problems.

For a new organization founded on Jewish principles of justice, food was a natural way to connect with potential supporters. And what better way to start off a new year and a new organization than with kugel?

From a culinary perspective, the participating chefs are awe-inspiring:
• Kyle Bailey of The Salt Line
• Mike Friedman of The Red Hen and All Purpose
• Danny Lee of Mandu and Chiko
• Alex Levin of the Schlow Restaurant Group
• Pati Jinich of Pati’s Mexican Table

The kugels they will prepare remain a secret, to be unveiled at the event. But they were willing to talk generally about their game plans with the event’s honorary chair, Washington Post Deputy Food Editor, Bonnie Benwick.

Chef Kyle Bailey’s new restaurant specializes in oysters, so kugel is obviously a detour from his current pre-occupation. But Chef Bailey is a fierce competitor, determined to make an entry worthy of the event.

Chef Mike Friedman, who has been eating noodle kugel all his life, is complimentary of all his fellow chefs and does not underestimate any of them. Expecting stiff competition from those less acquainted with the kugel food group (as well as those who know kugel well), Chef Friedman refuses to divulge specifics about his entry other than “my goal is to dispel the notion that it will taste bland.”

Chef Danny Lee may not have grown up eating kugel, but he has good friends who did. And having consulted them, he is looking forward to the challenge. “Obviously, not being an expert in kugel I feel like I have some creative license to do something unique. And if Alex Levin weren’t involved—talk about psych-out factor—I would have asked him for a recipe! This is for a great cause and we’ll do what we can to make it fun and unique.” Chef Lee would not divulge whether his kugel will feature noodles.

Chef Alex Levin did divulge that he is considering doing a take on his grandmother’s tried-and-true recipe. Although that bit of news portends a classic, there is every reason to think that Chef Levin will make it unique.

Finally, Chef Pati Jinich also intends to harken back to her grandmother, but in her case, that means a Mexican-Jewish bubbe. Using queso requesón, roughly equivalent to Mexican ricotta, she plans a kugel that will be moist inside, with “the top and sides crisp up, which is my favorite part.” The one other hint she gave was that her kugel, with its moist cheesy center, may remind us of (small d) danish.

To judge the five entries from these fabulous chefs, Tzedek DC has lined up four eminent judges:
• David Gregory, Emmy-winning television journalist and author;
• Joan Nathan, James Beard Award-winning cookbook author;
• Annamaria Steward, former DC Bar president and associate dean of students at UDC David A. Clarke School of Law, and now the DC Bar director of leadership and strategic development; and
• Marna Tucker, founding partner, Feldesman, Tucker, Leifer and Fidell, and former DC Bar president.

To purchase tickets for the September 25th Eat Well, Do Justice! Tzedek DC 2017 Celebrity Chef Kugel Cook-off, click here. To learn more about Tzedek DC and its work for low-income and working-class people with debt-related problems, visit the organization’s website

Top photo courtesy of Renee Comet