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A latke love: Festival celebrates the potato pancake

His fried and joy: Chef Saul Bolton, of the Norm restaurant in the Brooklyn Museum, will cook up an oxtail-topped latke for the festival on Dec. 19.
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These aren’t your bubbe’s latkes!

A collection of chefs will radically redesign the humble potato pancake next week at the eighth annual Latke Festival, swapping out traditional toppings of sour cream or applesauce for short rib and oxtail jelly. Foodies will flock to the Brooklyn Museum on Dec. 19 to sample unique twists on the Hanukkah staple made from potatoes fried in oil. The festival is a tasty way to bring gentiles and the chosen people together for an early celebration of the holiday of lights, said the festival’s founder.

“December is so filled with holidays and really dominated by Christmas, which is wonderful, but I always say that I’m a Hanukkah girl. There’s really this void around Hanukkah-related celebration and a latke is so delicious, I mean who doesn’t love fried potato?” said Liz Neumark.

Latke Festival started out small — in the kitchen of Neumark’s catering company Great Performances — but has expanded to fill the Brooklyn Museum and feature include 21 different restaurants, each competing to make the fried fritter even more delicious, said Neumark.

“Every year it has grown and we get different kinds of restaurants involved and the people really, really look forward to it because there was nothing like it,” she said. “And it’s a perfect food that just lends itself to interpreta­tion.”

During the three-hour festival, attendees will sip from an open bar, sample many latkes, and vote for their favorites. Because it is easy to fill up on the starchy staple, we to spoke to four Brooklyn chefs — and the returning Manhattan champ — about the dishes to seek out first:

Middle Eastern mash-up

Brooklyn mini-chain Kulushkat will combine the Jewish staple with its Middle Eastern counterpart the falafel to create “the Falatke,” which is topped with a lemony green tahini slaw. The mix of different flavors creates a culinary experience like no other, said chef and owner Yagil Kadosh. “We’re pretty psyched, we’ve been working on it for a couple months. People are going nuts for it. We’re hyped. It’s a unique flavor, and a unique concept,” he said. “It’s very authentic flavors. I think it’ll be great.”

Kulushkat [446C Dean St. between Fifth and Sixth avenues in Park Slope. (347) 799–1972].

Kulushkat [1137 Washington Ave. between Lefferts Avenue and Lincoln Road in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. 347.378.2514, www.kulushkat.com].

Returning champions

Chefs from Veselka in Manhattan will prepare a “Hanukkah Latke” with potato and zucchini, and topped with chicken liver paté and julienned vegetables. The restaurant took home the gold last year and hopes to repeat the feat this year, said co-owner Jason Brichard.

“We’re looking forward to it and possibly doing a repeat championsh­ip,” he said.

Veselka [144 Second Ave. between E. Eighth and E. Ninth streets in the East Village, (212) 228–9682, veselka.com]

A little fishy

Chef A Napadol of the Clinton Hill Thai restaurant Samui will bring some of her native Thailand’s flavors into the kitchen to serve a latke topped with shrimp, salmon, and a spicy garlic sauce. The shrimp is raw and sterilized in vodka, and it adds a depth of flavor, said Napadol, while the salty salmon roll balances everything out.

Samui [15 Vanderbilt Ave. near Flushing Avenue in Clinton Hill, (917) 909–1032, www.samuibrooklyn.com]

Nick Carraway’s favorite

Shelsky’s Jewish deli will serve a latke version of its Great Gatsby sandwich, named for its caraway seeds. The latke is studded with caraway seeds, fried in duck fat, stuffed with honey mustard, and topped with horseradish cream cheese and pastrami-smoked salmon, a decadent combination that might win the competition, said chef and owner Peter Shelsky.

“It’s outrageous. It’s stuffed with something, it’s different than something we’ve ever done,” he said. “And I think having it stuffed, when you bite into it, it oozes out a little — that might be the ticket.”

Shelsky’s [141 Court St. between Pacific Street and Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill. (718) 855-8817,www.shelskys.com]

Just a Norm-al latke

Brooklyn Museum’s own the Norm restaurant brings in Caribbean flavor with an oxtail-topped latke made from the potato-like woody root called yuca. Chef Saul Bolton purees onion into a juice and squeezes it into the latke to make it crispy, with no chunks, and adds a coconut milk-made yogurt and cilantro on top. The savory oxtail marmalade speaks to the neighborhood’s Caribbean community, said Bolton.

“Because it’s at the Brooklyn Museum, it speaks to the diversity of Brooklyn. I wanted to do something that sort of bridges that group, not the traditional latke. The yuca really works well, and it’s cool doing something that’s a little different,” said Bolton. “Oxtail is big in Jamaica and the Caribbean. It’s really, really good stuff. I love potato latkes, and who doesn’t love potatoes in any shape or form?”

The Norm [200 Eastern Pkwy at Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights, (718) 230-0897, www.thenormbkm.com]

Latke Festival at the Brooklyn Museum [200 Eastern Pkwy. at Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights, www.latkefestival.com]. Dec. 19, 6–9 pm. $70–$120.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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