Masbia Soup Kitchen Fund Raiser at Lincoln Square Synagogue

Last night was our exciting fundraising event for Masbia Soup Kitchen, at Lincoln Square Synagogue. The ballroom was filled to capacity. I just can’t tell you how much fun it was, cooking along fellow chefs and cookbook authors Poopa Dweck and Leah Koenig in a Cooking Competition to Benefit Masbia Soup Kitchen. Since LSS is where I gave countless weekly cooking demos for many years (albeit in their previous location next door), a lot of my old buddies were there!
And finally, after several chats on the phone an on Facebook, I got to meet the man whose brainchild Masbia Soup Kitchen is: Alexander Rapaport himself.

As Alex aptly put it, Masbia is a restaurant without a cash register.

I urge you to read the above link and read how he started it, how it is run and what draws so many crowds to it. Most inspirational. Thousands of volunteers pass through his kitchen, celebrity chefs offer their cookbooks and their time and interview him, upscale produce markets send him crates of surprise ingredients, from a crate (no, make that a pallet) of rutabaga to a crate of baby vegetables or heirloom tomatoes, and everything in between.

After you meet Alex, you understand why he makes Masbia the success it is.

Alex is a true force of nature. He has been running Masbia Soup Kitchen for ten years, with everyone flocking to his three locations in Queens and Brooklyn, with very little more than his unwavering dedication. He’s a man with a purpose. But the big event that put Masbia Soup Kitchen on the map permanently and made Alex a veritable media darling, beside of course his considerable natural charm and kindness, is Hurricane Sandy, when he received an urgent call from Councilman Brad Lander: Thousands of people were relocated to the Park Slope Armory. Many of the evacuees were on restrictive diets and the high-sodium, army-grade food rations available were a serious health concern. Alex was asked, how could he help? Masbia immediately began preparing healthy, fresh comfort food. An entourage of seniors in wheelchairs and stretchers arrived at the Armory and were greeted by smiling volunteers who had prepared hundreds of meals, but that was just the start. In the days following Sandy, Masbia continued to provide hot, nutritious meals throughout New York City. Masbia Soup Kitchen was able to provide 20,000 meals in two weeks. Wow. Just. Wow.

Nothing like thousands of fresh meals served to the poor every day and prepared by smiling volunteers from all walks of life will succeed better in bridging the gap and encourage community projects between two such improbable social groups and make them join forces: The great community at large, and the Ultra Orthodox community. Could this be the cosmic Six Degrees of Separation axiom at work? The Orthodox eat only Kosher, but all others can eat everything, including Kosher. And they do at Masbia Soup Kitchen. Just Sayin’!

To say Alex runs his Masbia Soup Kitchen operation on a shoestring is a great understatement, yet it expresses perfectly that anything you do from the heart is bound to prosper. Although they never know what food donations they will receive, they are always assured of two things: They will get lots of volunteers, and will receive sensible fresh food ingredients. No wonder their talented cook, lovely Chef Ruben Diaz, whips up so many wonderful meals day after day with his gastronomic hands practically tied behind his back!

Last night’s cooking contest fell ideally within a theme that has always been very dear to me:

How to make a delicious and nutritious meal on a very low budget, without ever caving in to the lure of cheap processed foods that assault us from all parts, and for which we ultimately pay dearly. I recently wrote a piece on the subject, Quick and Healthy Cooking Survival Guide. Chef Ruben made the delicious buffet dinner that preceded the cooking competition, and every dish came with its own story. The winner of the competition was….nobody! More exactly it was….all three of us, in a desire to underscore the team effort and spirit of camaraderie that fuels Masbia Soup Kitchen. No, our three judges, Naftali Hanau of Grow and Behold, Shifra Klein of Joy of Kosher Magazine, and Lisa Schoenfein of The Jewish Daily Forward, were nowhere near as menacing as the judges that decide the fate of their cooks on Chopped, and none of us burst into tears for some fallen souffle. It was all fun and good cheer. Kudos to Jesse Blonder at Kosher Culinary for producing the show, and to Avi Levy at Avi’s Kosher Kitchen for Emceeing: great warm up guy! And thank you Adam Hofstetter, my sous chef for one night, his lucky wife’s sous chef every night. Thank you Adam and Sarah for hosting last night’s event! You sponsored a great cause, and you had fun doing it, as did we all!

On our way out we all received a doggie bag of sorts: A giant size rutabaga. I am using mine in one of my One, Two and Turmeric Tajines (recipe’s in  the link: you’re welcome!). I should also tell you I bought a special gift for the Masbia Soup Kitchen: A jerrycan-size container of turmeric powder! Moroccan baby, what do you expect? And I told Alex I will come and make a complete meal at Masbia Soup Kitchen someday soon BH, just tell me when. Who’s coming to cook with me?