Battling for justice never tasted so good. Honorary event chair former Washington Post deputy Food editor Bonnie Benwick recruited a stellar group of DC-area chefs, who put on quite a spread for the third annual Eat Well, Do Justice Celebrity Cook-Off back in September. The sold-out event at the UDC Student Center benefitted Tzedek DC, which safeguards the legal rights of low-income DC residents dealing with debt collection and other consumer protection problems.

Each year this event features celebrity chefs doing their take on an iconic Jewish food. Following kugel in 2017 and blintzes in 2018, this year was the “Knish Knockout.”

With knishes judged by both popular vote of the attendees and a stellar panel of judges, the competition was fierce.

The five participating chefs were:

  • Cathy Barrow, cookbook author and Washington Post food columnist;
  • Ian Boden, chef of The Shack in Staunton, Virginia;
  • Todd Gray, chef-owner of Equinox and executive chef of Manna in the Museum of the Bible;
  • Ed Hardy, chef at Cookology; and
  • Johanna Hellrigl, executive chef at Mercy Me (set to open in the West End in early 2020) and former executive chef at Doi Moi.

Knish Knockout winner chef Ed Hardy

All five produced amazing knishes. Barrow did a Northern European version with caramelized onion, sauerkraut and caraway from her latest book, When Pies Fly. Boden’s knish was a delicate potato, dill and fermented onion topping on a cracker base. Gray went east as in Middle East, for his Tel Aviv-Style potato knish, which featured chickpeas, Aleppo pepper and tahini sour cream. Hardy did a sophisticated roasted garlic, herb and goat cheese knish in a flaky shell with a mustard caviar and dill garnish. Hellrigl’s Pesto Genovese Knish featured a potato and green bean filling with Genovese basil, pine nuts, garlic, Pecorino Sardo and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Tzedek DC client Ms. Glenda Richmond speaks at the 2019 Eat Well, Do Justice event

In addition to knish-tasting, voting on the best one and schmoozing, the event featured inspiring remarks by Tzedek DC client Ms. Glenda Richmond; the organization’s president and director-counsel, Ariel Levinson-Waldman; and one of its directors, Irvin Nathan. Ms. Richmond movingly explained how Tzedek DC had helped her deal with predatory lenders. She ended her talk with a call for all to pull together to work for justice, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King: “We may all have come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

After the introduction to Tzedek DC from its clients, staff, and governing body, the esteemed guest judges each gave their verdict. Congressman Jamie Raskin, legal writer Dahlia Lithwick, Dean of the UDC David A. Clarke School of law Renée McDonald Hutchins and Chef Alex Levin of the Schlow Restaurant Group, the 2017 Eat Well Do Justice winner, brought knish expertise and humor to their task. All knew great knishes when they tasted them, as became apparent from their comments.

And as it turned out, the popular vote and the judges’ decision were in accord: The all-around winner was Chef Ed Hardy of Cookology.

Stay tuned for next year’s Tzedek DC Eat Well, Do Justice event. The theme will be set in the spring. Get your tickets early, because no matter which notable Jewish food they celebrate, you will want to taste the celebrity chef’s cook-off contributions.

Top photo: Knish Knockout participants and judges. All photos courtesy of Jeffrey D. Baker Photography.