Tastemakers: 'Ultimate Hanukkah Challenge's Sharone Hakman Shares Holiday Traditions

Ultimate Hanukkah Challenge Spec
Q&A
Courtesy of Food Network

Los Angeles–based chef Sharone Hakman may have been booted from the local yeshiva as a kid, but he's made good since. He knows his Torah by heart, won over Gordon Ramsay on MasterChef and can't wait to partake in Ultimate Hanukkah Challenge — Food Network's first competition special inspired by the Festival of Lights.

"I'm not going to tell you why I got kicked out," the former stock broker and current owner of his own line of cooking sauces slyly notes, "but I went to public school after, so I had the best of both worlds."

During the special, hosted by Girl Meets Farm's Molly Yeh and judged by Hakman and Duff Goldman, four contestants will riff on Jewish classics like potato pancakes, brisket and jelly donuts. Here, the married father of two dishes out intel.

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What sparked your love of cooking?

Sharone Hakman: My grandma. She's a traditional Jewish grandma and a Holocaust survivor. She was in the kitchen from sunrise to sunset. [Laughs] I remember, every five minutes, it was, "Are you hungry?" Everything was always made from scratch.

When did you get into the kitchen?

As far as I can remember, I was always there helping out. And then, when I was 18, I really started cooking for myself. I had roommates at the time, and they couldn't cook for crap. I didn't think I was that good until other people acknowledged it.

What's something that's always stocked in your pantry?

A good extra virgin olive oil. I like a nice unfiltered, nutty, spicy EVOO. That and a little bit of finishing salt are my must-have pantry items. If I have those, no matter what I'm working with, I can make it tasty.

What dish is at the top of the rotation for the Hakmans?

Right now, [we're] on a really big taco fix. It's fun because, what I'm doing with my boys [ages 9 and 6] is we're cooking up different stuff all the time — it could be Indian, Southeast Asian, whatever. We built a bar so I can teach them how to cook, and we assemble our own versions of tacos on it.

Host Molly Yeh and Judges Duff Goldman and Sharone Hakman as seen on Ultimate Hanukkah Challenge (Credit: Food Network)

How does it feel to be a part of Food Network's first Hanukkah competition?

Honestly? Blessed. I feel like this is a big step in the right direction, to have our very own Hanukkah show on Food Network. That's a big deal. I knew that it would make my grandma proud of me, and I was stoked to do it.

What food comes to mind for you when you think of Hanukkah?

Latkes, for sure [see recipe below]. Immediately, I get taken back to being a kid. If you've never been to a house that's frying latkes, you won't know what I'm talking about, but it's just so nostalgic. You walk in and get the aroma of the oil and the potatoes. You walk out, and your clothes smell like it for the rest of the day. It's great.

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What should contestants do to impress you with their dishes?

For me, there are three steps. First, when I look at it, does it excite me? Do I want to eat it? Plating is the first thing that you can do. [I eat with my] eyes first. Second: Does it taste good? If there are a lot of flavors, do they make sense? Is it cohesive? And third, can I connect with it? If you're really cooking from the heart, the person who's eating it should be able to feel that. Truly, for me, that's what I love about [judging]. If you do those three things for me, you've got it.

Ultimate Hanukkah Challenge, Saturday, December 21, 9/8c, Food Network

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Crispy Latkes With Lox, Creamy Horseradish and Dill

"This is a hybrid—latke meets traditional Sunday kosher brunch," Hakman says of his crispy latke recipe, below. Emphasis on the crispy. It's Hakman's favorite way to make the classic potato pancake treat. "The trick is really making sure you strain those potatoes and all the moisture that's coming out of them when you grate them, so they'll be nicely golden-browned," he says.

Makes 6

Ingredients

1 large russet potato

1/4 cup frying oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon freshly grated horseradish

2–3 ounces smoked lox

Sprigs of dill

Directions

Latke: Grate potato and strain it of liquid really well. Heat a skillet on medium-high heat and add oil (I like avocado oil). When oil is at temperature, mold the grated potatoes in your hand to a size slightly larger than a silver dollar. Fry on both sides until golden brown. Place on rack to drain excess oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Topping: Mix sour cream with horseradish. Place lox on the latke with the cream sauce. Garnish with fresh dill.