Princeton University junior Eric Silberman had already earned the moniker “Matza Ball Guy” on campus by virtue of his having made the finals of the sixth annual Man-O-Manischewitz Cook-Off. Now he has a new royal title — “King of Kosher” — as contest grand prize winner.
Silberman had earned the fifth finalist spot through on-line voting for his Mod Matza Ball Soup recipe. His won the March 28 competition at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, receiving a prize package valued at $25,000 that includes new Maytag kitchen appliances, a trophy, and cash.
Cooking “traditional Jewish foods” has been part of his life since he was a little boy, Silberman, a Modern Orthodox Jew from Lincolnwood, Ill., told NJJN. “When my grandmother was younger, she would always make chicken soup with matza balls,” he said. “Then my mom took over, and then I started making the matza balls. I must have been about six or seven when I started,” and he’s been making them for the family ever since.
What’s more, even though he’s in college hundreds of miles away, he hasn’t given up his job of making the family matza balls. Whenever he goes home, he makes giant batches and puts them in the freezer. “Then my family can use them every Shabbat,” he said.
The recipe Silberman entered in the competition brings classic matza balls together with a more contemporary soup — basically a vegetable broth with matza balls.
The soup, he said, “is simple, tastes great, and offers a modern connection to the Jewish food tradition.”
Taking part in the competition, he said, was thrilling. “It’s really exciting and so different from all the things I do at school, both academic and extracurricular,” he said.
He acknowledged that when he makes knaidlach, he generally uses the Manischewitz mix rather than start from scratch. But his recipe does have a “Goldilocks” twist to it. If you separate the egg and the yolk, “the matza balls are too fluffy,” he said, “but if you don’t separate them at all, the matza balls are too dense.” How to make them just right? After some experimenting, he found the solution. “I crack them in one bowl but beat the whites and avoid the yolks until they are a little fluffy — but not too fluffy.” Then he adds in the yolks.
The molecular biology major plans to go to medical school. But if, say, the Food Network were to offer him a Jewish cooking show — or even just a feature spot on another show highlighting Jewish holiday cooking — well, he said, “That’s my dream! I’m crossing my fingers that I get noticed.”
He said he had in a way been preparing for the contest for years, through friendly competitions with his brothers that were judged by their parents. “As a family, we love to cook together and find fun ways that get us all together.”
When Silberman is home, he and his family attend the Lincolnwood Jewish Congregation. But his ties to the Garden State are strong: His father grew up in Elizabeth, he has cousins who live in Springfield, and his family spent plenty of time here before he started Princeton. “We spent all our family vacations in New Jersey. It’s kind of like a second home to me,” he said.
Even before his big win, his participation in the contest had earned him some fame. The university’s Center for Jewish Life/Hillel has invited him to make his winning soup for a Friday night Shabbat dinner, and, ever since an article about him was published in the school newspaper, he said, people have been calling him “the Matza Ball Guy.”
Silberman was not the only finalist with Jersey ties. Andrew Dorsch of Scotch Plains competed with his Torte Vegetali.
Recipe: ‘MOD’ MATZA BALL SOUP