Now in its fourth summer of fierce competition, the annual Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament has enjoyed ever-increasing popularity, and two individuals involved since the tournament’s inception played a big part in creating that success. By day, tournament founder Erik Folkart is an award-winning marketing associate for Sysco, but his spring and summer evenings are filled with planning and hosting the all-summer-long event. Folkart has grown the Iron Chef-style live competition into an exciting annual affair that allows chefs to showcase their talents and food lovers to watch and interact with the chefs, their teams and even the judges.
Appropriately, Folkart conceived the idea for the tournament over a family dinner in 2009. Karen Folkart, Erik’s sister-in-law and now partner in running the event, recalled, “I think it started something like, “Karen, I have an idea … and it grew from there into the first tournament, which we launched in 2010 with 32 chefs. “I credit him with making the tournament a success,” she continued. “He’s a person who makes things happen.”Fuel for the idea came from Erik Folkart’s passion for the food industry and his desire to highlight the quality organizations and chefs with whom he works. The tournament provides a platform where chefs can showcase their skills and talents and also to introduce new products to the public in a creative way.
Folkart is hands-on for all aspects of the event, including set up, clean up and as master of ceremonies.
“What I enjoy the most is the evolution of this concept and the feedback we get from the live audience on what they enjoyed most or what wowed them,” Folkart said. “Also hearing from the chefs about how the tournament has given them a new perspective on how they cook — and inspired them to be more critical in their approach and ultimately to be better chefs — is very rewarding.”
Baltimore native Mitchell Platt, a longtime Folkart friend and tournament judge, has been involved with the competition since its beginning four years ago. Though he holds a degree in business management from Towson University, Platt was drawn into the club management industry by positive experiences at Woodholme Country Club, where he worked for 30 years. He started as a busboy in 1983 while in high school and worked his way to general manager in just 10 years.
It was at Woodholme where Platt and Folkart met, when Folkart was the club’s snack bar manager and Platt was his supervisor. Now manager at the prestigious Cosmo Club in Washington, D.C., Platt ensures high-quality cuisine for its elite members that include Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, presidents and other notables.
Platt finds great fulfillment in his role as judge for the Mason Dixon tournament.
“I love seeing the creativity and hard work that the chefs put into the competition,” he said. “Baltimore’s culinary scene has dramatically improved over the last 10 years, and there are a lot of talented chefs within our community. The Mason Dixon tournament is one of a kind for Baltimore chefs.”
Laughing, he added, “And most importantly, I love a good meal.”
Folkart and Platt, both members of the Chizuk Amuno congregation, credit their faith as a primary guiding factor in both their personal and professional lives.
“I would have to say my faith has a big impact on my overall positive outlook,” Folkart remarked. “The Jewish people throughout the millennia have always been optimistic and resilient, and I believe I share that same drive to be the best I can be and to not get discouraged by adversity or hard work. I have used that faith through my education as well as my professional career.”
Both men also prescribe to a strong religious foundation as the basis for community.
“The foundation [Judaism] provides us and our kids, from both a cultural and religious perspective, has helped guide us morally,” said Platt. “It not only fosters a sense of community but teaches us the importance of responsibility to more than just ourselves.”
Platt serves on the JCC board of directors and has also served on the Jewish Big Brother/Big Sister and Sports Legends at Camden Yards/Babe Ruth Museum boards. In addition, Platt works with the American Institute of Wine and Food’s Days of Taste program that educates school children about cooking and natural foods, including a field trip to a farm and hands-on food preparation.
Folkart shares his energies with local charities too and donates a portion of the Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament proceeds each year — in the first year to Moveable Feast and now to Meals on Wheels.