BY ELIZABETH FRIEDLY / AJT //
From thousands of entries nationwide, the final five contestants have been chosen to compete in Newark, N.J. for the 7th Annual Manischewitz Cook-Off. Among them is Atlanta’s own Robin Saul – her Balsamic Mushroom Matzo Panini with mango jam beat out countless other recipes for a chance at the grand prize of $25,000 on March 21.
And not only is Saul’s reputation as a Southern chef on the line, but her daughter’s education funds as well; it was in an effort to raise money for her daughter’s seminary schooling that Saul decided on a whim to enter the competition.
The Atlanta Jewish Times caught up with Saul to talk about representing her community, her love of food and any pre-competition jitters.
The Atlanta Jewish Times: How does it feel to be representing the South on the national stage like this?
Robin Saul: Obviously, it’s a tremendous honor. I don’t feel like it is a personal winning, I really feel like I am representing Atlanta.
I looked at their [Manischewitz’s] list of past winners, and I don’t think there’s been anyone from Atlanta. It’s time that the big cities recognize that Atlanta is not a small town; there’s a lot of talent here, there’s a lot going on, and we have an identity on our own.
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AJT: And this win could help out your daughter as well, correct?
RS: Yes; she’s graduating from high school this year, and she applied to a Jewish seminary and got in. The thing is, it’s not like college, where you have a lot of scholarship money.
The administrator [at school] said, ‘You’ve gotta think outside of the box when it comes to looking for scholarships.’ When I entered this recipe contest, I felt like I was really thinking out of the box!
I took my talent and I try to do something in order to get funding for her to go to school, so that’s really exciting.
AJT: Have you always enjoyed experimenting in the kitchen?
RS: I have always been naturally drawn to cooking and trying new things. When I ask my family what their favorite recipe is, they laugh and say, ‘You always make something different, so we don’t necessarily have a favorite.’ I just love all types of international and ethnic cooking because you get to try new things and it literally brings you out of your space to another place.
AJT: When did you find out you were a finalist?
RS: I got a phone call and I was too embarrassed to ask where they were [in the decision process] – because I knew there were thousands of recipes.
I just kind of rode with the tide, I guess you could say, because it was so unexpected that I was chosen. It still hadn’t really sunk in that they had really called me. They have so many entries!
AJT: Are you feeling ready for the live competition?
RS: Well, I was at the beginning very stunned because I had never actually made the recipe. Now I’ve made the recipe several times and each time I make it, I feel much more comfortable with how I’m going to present it.
AJT: Any special Passover plans?
RS: I will be making a lot of matzo jam this Passover, I’ll tell you that! My son takes the panini, and he takes a whole spoon of extra jam on top. I can already tell it’s a big hit, and it’s just so easy to make.