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Stephanie Goldfarb on 'America's Best Cook' - Episode 2

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Into the pressure cooker

Best Cook 2 tacos

Stephanie does some zesting as she prepares her Asian twist on fish tacos. Photo credit: Food Network

Only two episodes in and things are cooking for Stephanie Goldfarb on “America’s Best Cook,” the new Food Network reality cooking competition that pits the country’s best home chefs against each other with the help of Iron Chef mentors – all for a $50,000 prize and self-explanatory bragging rights.

In case you haven’t heard, Goldfarb, 29, who lives in Edgewater and works as the senior associate of teen initiatives at the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, is one of the contestants hoping to win it all, and she’s agreed to check in with Oy!Chicago after each show airs to share her thoughts and behind-the-scenes knowledge. 

Last week, Goldfarb won one of two coveted spots on the North region’s team, represented by Iron Chef Michael Symon. (Read the recap.) This week, Goldfarb had to impress guest judge and Food Network star Anne Burrell in order to remain in the competition. 

In the first challenge, the remaining eight competitors had to take a comfort food classic such as mac ‘n cheese, tacos or sloppy joes, and dress it up for serving at a gourmet restaurant. Burrell had to save one cook in each region and send the other to an elimination “pressure cooker” challenge based on which dish she liked best.

Goldfarb made an Asian twist on fish tacos, which included her own homemade corn tortillas. But Burrell thought the dish was under-seasoned and the tortilla too thick, so she sent Goldfarb to the pressure cooker challenge. There, she faced off against four other cooks, all tasked with making a knock-out dish from a chicken breast. She made chicken paillard stuffed with prosciutto and sage at Symon’s suggestion, and accompanied it with a shaved Brussels sprouts salad. When Burrell tasted it, she said she would be excited to have it served to her in a restaurant, and declared it the best of the four pressure cooker dishes.

 best cook 2 chicken

Michael Symon hit the SOS button to help Stephanie pound out her chicken breast more evenly during the pressure cooker challenge. Photo credit: Food Network

1. In this episode we really see your relationship with Michael develop. (Capped off by an explosive high five after you won the pressure cooker challenge!) How would you describe him as a mentor? Was there anything that we didn't get to see on camera in terms of how you built your relationship?

Not to brag or anything, but Team North got the best chef mentor of the bunch. Michael Symon is not only an incredible teacher, but he is also just really fun to be around. Every time we were on the set, we knew if Michael was close by because we could hear his laugh from anywhere we were in the building. When he chose me to be on his team, I felt immediately connected to him because he clearly saw something in me that I didn't even know was there. From that moment on, I saw myself as Michael's student and felt nothing but eager and open to learn everything I possibly could from him. Lucky me, he was not only happy to teach me but also really excited and happy about it. I think the camera really picks up the sentiment of our relationship nicely, and there are definitely some significant moments between us to come. 

2. What were you feeling and thinking being part of the first pressure cooker challenge? Looking back do you think it was helpful, despite the pressure, to have that extra experience in the kitchen and working one-on-one with Michael?

I was PISSED when Anne Burrell threw me into the pressure cooker! And I definitely didn't hide my fuming from the cameras. I've been making those tortillas the exact same way for years. Too thick – my ass. But it didn't take me long to realize that being upset wouldn't do me any good, and I after my initial shock, I saw the whole thing as a fantastically selfish opportunity to have the entire cooking station AND chef Symon all to myself. The Pressure Cooker turned into this super fun experience where I got to do exactly what I came to New York to do: cook my ass off in Home Cook Arena, impress the hell out of some of the best chefs in the country, learn, and soak up every single second. I loved every moment of it. Plus, that chicken was freaking delicious. 

3. Why do you think your chicken dish was able to impress a hard-to-please Anne Burrell and how cool was it that it did?

The reason why my dish won the Pressure Cooker round is because I took every opportunity to season and flavor the hell out of each component. My fish taco was under-seasoned, and it almost sent me home. Chef Symon helped me consider interesting ways to flavor an otherwise "snore central" (as chef Burrell put it) ingredient, and he also made sure I didn't mutilate my chicken breast. Without him, I would have been toast in that round. When chef Burrell told me I had the best dish, the only thing I wanted to see was the smile on Michael Symon's face. And throw up a little. 

The next episode airs this Sunday at 8 p.m.


Stephanie Goldfarb on ‘America’s Best Cook’ - Episode 1

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A vegetarian in meaty territory

Stephanie Goldfarb on ‘America’s Best Cook’ photo 1

Stephanie in the kitchen during the first challenge. Photo credit: Food Network

Stephanie Goldfarb is vying to be “America’s Best Cook.”  

The 29-year-old senior associate of teen initiatives at the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago was one of 16 home chefs selected to compete on Food Network’s newest reality cooking competition, which premiered April 13 and airs Sundays at 8 p.m.  

Hosted by Ted Allen of “Chopped,” last weekend’s pressure-cooker of a first episode saw the field of 16 cut in half, as contestants (competing in regions north, south, east or west based on where they are from) tried to earn a spot on their region’s team, each mentored by a famous Food Network chef: Michael Symon (North), Cat Cora (South), Alex Guarnaschelli (East) or Tyler Florence (West). For the first challenge, the mentors each chose a main course for their region’s home chefs to prepare in 30 minutes; they personally tasted each and determined which two of the four contestants would be on their team.  

Competing in the North region for Chef Symon, Goldfarb had to prepare steak and a side dish. She made a bone-in strip steak with red wine sauce and a side of potato latkes served with a horseradish sour cream. It doesn’t sound too hard, except when you consider that Goldfarb has long been a vegetarian. Still, she managed to impress Symon enough to earn a coveted spot on his team.

Stephanie Goldfarb on ‘America’s Best Cook’ photo 2

Team North. Photo credit: Food Network

Lucky for us, Goldfarb has agreed to check in with Oy!Chicago after each show airs to talk about the episodes and share her thoughts and behind-the-scenes knowledge. So stay tuned to see if she becomes America’s Best Cook!    

1. Describe briefly your audition process for the show. What drove you to try out?
Actually, a friend and colleague of mine at the Federation sent a link to me that advertised an open audition for the show. At first, I wasn't even going to audition because I was all intimidated by the process. It takes some chutzpah to put yourself out there like that! But after my partner and friends found out I was considering auditioning for the show, I no longer had a say in the matter. Essentially, it was "Goldfarb, if you don't audition for this show, you are an idiot." I couldn't argue with that.   

2. What was recording the first challenge like? How was it like you expected and what were the biggest surprises?
That first challenge was like one gigantic silly dream. I had thirty minutes, not only to cook an incredible meal, but to wrap my head around cooking for a freaking Iron Chef, in the Food Network Studios, against all these other phenomenal cooks, in a totally unfamiliar kitchen. I mean, who do I think I am? I think I looked pretty composed on camera, but inside all I could think was "do NOT **** this up. Do NOT **** this up. Keep it together, Goldfarb." I was surviving and really trying to soak it all up. I forced myself to look up from my cooking ever few minutes just to look around and consider my surroundings. This may have been my first and last shot at this experience, and I never ever wanted to forget it. The biggest surprise was when Michael Symon told me he wanted me on his team. Did you see that steak? It was DARK. I thought for sure I was going home. Turns out he saw something in me that I didn't. I will never forget that moment.   

3. As the show’s “recovering vegetarian,” were you nervous to have to cook steak for the first challenge? Did you prepare yourself before the show at all to get comfortable cooking meat in a short amount of time?
Before I left to film the show I spent about a month cramming all I could about meat cookery into my head. My friends were literally dropping off bags of meat cookbooks at my apartment for me to study. I have watched a LOT of food television in my time, and I know how these things work. Vegetarians never survive long, and are generally kept around for entertainment value only. So I read. And ate. I ate more meat in the weeks before the show than I think I ever ate in my life. It was actually pretty awesome because I was allowing myself to learn new cooking techniques and appreciate new flavors. But there is a difference between studying meat and cooking meat. When I walked into the steak challenge, I KNEW all there was to KNOW about technically cooking a steak, but I hadn't actually tried it in real life. Hence, the extremely, um, "blackened" effect on my dish.   

4. You made latkes! What inspired that choice? Did you think at all before the competition started about including any traditional Jewish foods if you got the chance?
Before I left Chicago for New York to film the show, I memorized a list of all the dishes that are special to me. Dishes that are either family favorites or that have become signature specialties over the years, and that I know I can cook and execute pretty perfectly. I knew that I would be thrown into some seriously bizarre and unexpected situations on this show, and I used the dishes on this list as a sort of lighthouse to guide me during any curveballs. A really significant portion of that list is Jewish food, like latkes. So when I learned I needed to make a steak, something I had never before cooked or ever enjoyed eating, I went right back to my lighthouse list and thought, "Ah. Latkes. Latkes will save me here." And they did. Chef Symon was all about them.   

5. How did it feel to meet Michael Symon, have him try your food and then actually choose you to be on his team?
When I learned that I would be cooking for Michael Symon and competing to be a member of his Team North, I experienced two things: 1) a giddy fangirl mega-crush come-true and 2) a terrifying, crushing, self-defeating pit. I'm pretty confident in my cooking skills, but I was standing before an Iron Chef meat master. I was intimidated, but I also couldn't get cooking fast enough. I knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I was absolutely committed to making the most out of it. I knew that if I could get onto MIchael Symon's team, I would have the chance to really, REALLY be mentored. I knew nothing from meat cookery, but I really wanted to. If there was ever going to be a chance to learn from a master, this was it. 

8 Questions for Alan Goodis: Jewish rocker, traveling songleader, teen engagement expert

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8 Questions for Alan Goodis photo

Alan Goodis is a Jewish musician, not just a musician who is Jewish. And writing and performing Jewish music isn’t the half of it.

A Toronto native, Goodis currently lives in Chicago – when he’s not traveling the country to synagogues, summer camps and youth conventions as anartist in residence, developing relationships with communities with the aim of enhancing their communal experiences through music.

Helping teens explore their passion for music with their passion for Judaism is one of Goodis’ unique strengths in the growing landscape of contemporary Jewish music. He has worked extensively with NFTY and the Reform movement, including developing Nashir: NFTY Teen Songleading Institute, a national program that provides songleader training to high school students. He has also led professional development for songleaders and Jewish music educators working in summer camps or tasked with engaging young people through music after the b’nai mitzvah years.

On March 28, Goodis celebrated the culmination of four years of travels and Jewish music experiences with the release of his second album, This Place, which you can now sample and download through iTunes.

While you wait for that to download, check out below what Goodis has to say about contemporary Jewish music, the impact it’s having on communities across the country and what moved him along his path to ultimately become a Jew You Should Know.

1. What drew you tocreating, performing and sharing Jewish music in particular and what hasinfluenced your style?
Summer camp had a major impact of me musically. I grew up at URJ Goldman Union Camp in Zionsville, Ind. Singing was a huge part of the daily routine. I eventually went on to songlead at camp and after college moved to Chicago and started playing Jewish music full time. Writing Jewish music for me began out of necessity at first. I would be working with a community and struggling to find a version of a text that fit the mood I was going for so would try writing one that would fit. I think my style is influenced by the music I listen to. I tend to think practically when writing Jewish music and often get fixated on the application of a song. If I'm writing something that I would want to use in a service I know the energy can only go so far. If I'm writing something I want to sing at summer camps I know I can take it to a different place. The text I might be adapting also influences the way in which I write. 

2. What do you feelis the role of Jewish pop/rock as a genre in both informal and religioussettings?
I think this genre in many ways is a progression of where we can take people musically. The folk-based Jewish music of the ‘60s and ‘70s that was so controversial is considered traditional now in many communities I visit. I was planning services with a Rabbi here in Chicago who said to me, "The liturgy is stale. V'ahavta will always come after the Shema. Our job is to bring this liturgy to life." I think that in a worship setting, new music can make us perk up and listen differently and bring out new meaning to the words of our tradition. In performance settings I think this music can entertain, engage and educate an audience.  

3. What does ThisPlace represent to you and what are you hoping listeners will takeaway from it?
This place is a collection of songs I've written over the last four years of touring, teaching and performing. In many ways the album is representative of where I've been and where I am now. I'm really proud of the production on the album. I was lucky enough to record the album in Nashville at Sound Emporium Studios and to have great producers and musicians play on the record. I hope listeners enjoy the songs and their message.

4. What have youtaken away from all your travels to Jewish summer camps and working with teensacross the country both personally and in terms of the power of Jewish music?
I learn a lot in my travels. When I'm asked to compare one camp to another or one temple to another I often reply that everyone is doing the same thing completely differently. I love working with teens. I think a common thread is their desire to find a sense of connection. Music is my vehicle for building this connection when I visit communities. Sometimes this is through Jewish music and sometimes it is through playing secular music. Both are totally okay. I was a teen who turned my nose up at Jewish music and thought it was lame and uncool. This has served me well in my work in that I can relate best to the kid who is sitting on the outside of the circle wondering why their peers might be so into this "lame and uncool" Jewish music. I see this as an opportunity not to try to convince anyone that Jewish music can be cool but to let them know that it is totally okay to not feel what everyone around them is feeling. On the flip side, the teens who are already engaged are seeking deeper connection. I think Jewish music can have a profoundly meaningful impact on teens and really people of any age. 

5. If you couldchoose a popular artist to do a cover of one of your songs, who would it be andwhich song (and why)?
I am terrible at answering these types of questions – I overthink them. I'll go with U2 covering "This Place." 

6. What do you lovemost about what you do?
I love many things. Getting to play music and travel around the country for a living is something I am really fortunate to be able to do. I'm also looking for deeper connection in my work so the opportunity to not only visit communities, but also to spend time with people and get to know them is really great. I get to be a student too and learn from incredible people at temples and summer camps. The opportunity to partner and always do new things is something I love.

7. In an alternateuniverse where you couldn’t be a Jewish musician, what would you do (and why)?
I would be a lifeguard at a carwash.

8. What’s yourfavorite Jewish thing to do (or how do you Jew?) in Chicago?
I spend one Shabbat a month and the High Holidays at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe. We have an incredible group called Selah that is comprised of 7th-12th graders who lead the services with Cantor David Goldstein and me. While this is work, it is a ton of fun to be a part of. This is the fourth year of the program and it's been incredible to see it grow and impact of the community so positively. I also enjoy the occasional meal at The Bagel in Lakeview.

Give her a nice blog post for Mother’s Day

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I Love You Too, Mom photo

We love our Jewish mothers. Mostly because we want to, but also because we don’t want to find out what happens if we don’t. But seriously, any Jewish mother or mom who raised a Jewish child, deserves a ton of recognition and love, so we at Oy!Chicago want to invite you to participate in our upcoming blog series, “I Love You Too, Mom.”

All week from May 5-9, we are hoping to publish stories about moms. Whether you want to sing your mom’s praises so you get a bajillion mom brownie points or you are a mother with something insightful to say about Jewish motherhood, we want you to write for us! All levels of writing experience are welcome to pitch their ideas!

Here’s how: write a paragraph describing what your piece would be about and send it to info@oychicago.com by Monday, April 14. The only requirement is that the post should in some way relate to the theme, however you interpret it. We will review your submission and let you know if we are interested in running in your piece in full on Oy!Chicago the week of the blog series.

We look forward to reading your awesome stories and sharing your talent with the entire Oy!Chicago community! Please note that Oy!Chicago is a volunteer-run website, so we are unable to pay for published submissions at this time. If you have any questions, email them to info@oychicago.com

Stef & Steven

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