Sussman’s technique, using his family’s recipe, is old school all the way. I like that he talks about how the contrast between the crispy bits on the edges and squishy-ness of the center is what makes a latke great. Yes! That’s exactly right! I worried that Koketsu, with no family background of latke-making and some chef-y fancy pants techniques like cooking the latkes twice with a freezing step in between to set the starch, might be going too far, but his extra-crispy latkes seasoned with parmesan, Tabasco, and chives and fried in a combo of chicken and duck fat (so chef-y, so delicious sounding!) did look mighty fabulous. Koketsu lost me a little bit when he served his latkes with Tabasco mayonnaise (MAYO WITH LATKES??) Sussman, of course, went traditional with his latke set- garnishing one latke with a lox-chive-sour cream sauce and the other with applesauce and cinnamon.
The judges liked both chefs’ latkes, but, after raving about the superior crispiness and well thought out flavors of the less traditional potato pancakes, they chose Koketsu as the winner. As I said, Koketsu’s latkes looked fantastic and I would eat them happily, but I have a feeling that if Saveur’s judging panel had boasted a Bubbe (Jewish Grandmother) or two instead of famous French Chef Andre Soltner, Sussman would have won the latke contest in a New York minute.
Hanukkah starts Saturday evening. (I’ll be eating latkes fried by my cousin Jonathan.) If you’re planning to make latkes, read through this post to the bottom for my favorite recipe.