Ask anyone who cooks chicken soup what makes it taste so delicious, and the answer will likely be: "A pinch of this, a dash of that." But no more. Now, amateur cooks 18 and older from around the country will have to spell out their exact ingredients if they hope to have their creation chosen as Best Chicken Soup in America and win a trip for two to Israel.
Chicken Soup Challenge, sponsored by the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP), in conjunction with the eighth annual Shabbat Across America, will be judged by chef Jeff Nathan, owner of Abigael's kosher restaurant in New York. The five finalists will be flown to New York Feb. 24 --Soup-er Tuesday -- to prepare their entrees in the restaurant's kosher kitchen.
"I have my crew make the ones that sound interesting," said Nathan, who also hosts the TV program, "New Jewish Cuisine." "We're looking for ease and eye appeal. Flavor is a big part, and I want it to be semi-simplistic."
Nathan said he would even consider holding a parent-child cooking contest in the future to promote the meaning of Shabbat.
"A big part is spending time with family," Nathan noted. "It's not just about davening, but about doing things together."
Creators of the cook-off chose chicken soup, because, as they said, food links Jews of all backgrounds.
The cook-off complements the March 12 Shabbat Across America, where more than 700 synagogues open their doors to tens of thousands of unaffiliated and marginally affiliated Jews.
"Food is an integral part of Jewish life," noted Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, who founded NJOP in 1987 and serves as its director. "Through [this contest] we hope to reinforce the notion that Jewish life can be fun -- and delicious."
And as any cook -- including Nathan -- will tell you, the most important ingredient is lots of TLC.
For rules and submission guidelines, visit www.njop.org or call (888) 742-2228. Deadline is Feb. 2.