Brooklyn’s transformation into an epicenter for art, cuisine, and culture over the past 20 years has resulted in a can’t miss destination for any traveler. Visitors looking for a dose of culture and art will love the Brooklyn Museum, which features exhibits ranging from Ancient Egyptian to Modern. Home to some of the top culinary minds on the planet, foodies will love sampling the cuisine at Benchmark Restaurant, Kulushkat, Shelsky’s of Brooklyn, and more.
The Latke Festival has been one of the leading fall events in the city for nearly a decade and will take place December 18th. Attendees will encounter a vibrant celebration centered around latke, a pancake comprised of potato, flour, and egg. More than 20 participating chefs and restaurants will serve up their takes on the potato pancake. A panel of judges will determine the top latke creation at the festival, and last year, the top award went to Benchmark Restaurant’s cranberry and juniper latke with smoked duck leg confit and spicy pickled cucumber. The crowd will determine the people’s choice winner via voting tokens. Last year’s People's Choice Award went to Shelsky’s of Brooklyn, which served a caraway seeded potato latke stuffed with honey mustard and topped with horseradish cream cheese and pastrami salmon. Attendees can also sample unique latkes from great local restaurants such as Burger & Lobster, Tudor City Steakhouse, and FryGuys. Paid admission includes all you can eat latke tastings as well as unlimited cocktails, beers, wines, and sodas. A live DJ will help promote an energetic vibe by playing a variety of music. We interviewed Shelley Clark, a representative for the event, to learn about this spectacular showcase of food.
RAL: How long has the event been running?
SC: 2017 marks the ninth edition of the annual celebration of the scrumptious versatility of the pancake. This will be the second year at the museum, which proved last year to be the ideal venue for the Latke Festival. Over the years it has taken place at various venues in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
RAL: How many annual participants do you draw?
SC: At the Brooklyn Museum, we can host up to 600, and we had about 570 last year. At the former venue, the Manhattan Pavilion, the maximum was 500.
RAL: What demographic does your event attract? Children? Families? Couples?
SC: As tasting events go in New York City, the Latke Festival is quite affordable with general admission tickets selling for only $70 (includes unlimited latke tastings, cocktails, beer, wine, and sodas). There is also a VIP ticket for $120 that allows access to a chic lounge with private bar, signature cocktails, and bar snacks. Our demographic tends to skew toward younger singles and couples, often priced out of culinary events.
RAL: What makes this event unique?
SC: The fact that it’s an event dedicated to latkes makes it unique. I've only seen a couple of others around the country online, but think ours was one of the first.
RAL: Take me through a day at the event. What can I expect as an attendee?
SC: Guests circulate through the museum's stunning glass-enclosed lobby pavilion to visit the 20-plus tasting tables where participating chefs/restaurants present their interpretations of latkes, from the classic to the decadently imaginative. They can pick up beverages at a large centrally located square bar on the way. There is a competitive element to the event. All guests receive tokens upon arrival that they use to indicate their favorite latkes by depositing in the voting box at each tasting table. The latke collecting the most tokens is given the title of the People’s Choice Best Latke. Meanwhile, a panel of influence and food expert judges make their determination for Judges’ Choice Best Latke. Winning chefs are awarded a small copper skillet as a medal on a ceremonial red, white, and blue ribbon a la Olympic medals and receive a collection of prizes such as wines, kitchen appliances, and more.
RAL: Tell us about the overall atmosphere?
SC: It's fun and festive with theatrical lighting and a DJ that keeps the energetic vibe going. The competitive element generates a lot of conversation between strangers about the relative merits of each of the latkes.
RAL: What will attendees find for local lodging?
SC: Since Brooklyn has become the IT borough of New York City, the number of interesting hotel options has grown considerably. Here are a few of the most intriguing:
RAL: What does this event mean to the community?
SC: The Brooklyn media made a big deal about the festival landing there last year. It’s such a popular and well-known event that has become a beloved annual holiday tradition in New York City.
RAL: Does this drive business to your local economy?
SC: Not really, but it brought a lot of people to the Brooklyn Museum last year, who had never been there before. While not as famous as other NYC museums, it is the third largest in the city and is considered one of the world’s most prestigious.
RAL: Does the event support a particular cause in the community?
SC: It benefits The Sylvia Center, which was founded in 2007 by Liz Neumark CEO of Great Performances (producer of the Latke Festival). Ten years ago, Liz began working with culinary and education partners in New York City to provide cooking classes to youth and teens in New York City Housing Authority community centers and experiential learning day trips to Katchkie Farm in Kinderhook, NY. The Sylvia Center is committed to making hands-on food education available to youth and teens and to instill communities with the skills they need to lead healthier lives. This year, The Sylvia Center is celebrating its tenth anniversary, and in the last decade, they have served 20,000 students in New York City and Columbia County, NY.
For more information about the Latke Festival, please visit the event website.