Beside the tray of kugel prepared by Bill Marker lay a black-and-white portrait of his late mother — the woman responsible for sparking his interest in the dish more than 30 years ago.
“I wanted to bring her with me,” Marker said.
He removed the golden frame containing her photo from the wall of his Charm City home before schlepping to the Jewish Museum of Maryland for its first-ever Great Kugel Cook-Off. After all, he made the age-old treat using his mother’s recipe. She had to come along for the ride.
Marker was one of 11 participants competing for prizes in the three-hour event on Sunday. Roughly 100 Baltimoreans gathered at 15 Lloyd St. to nibble on savory kugels and cast their votes for the most deserving winners.
The success of last year’s Great Chicken Soup Cook-Off prompted the museum to host an afternoon celebrating a dish hailed as a Jewish favorite, said Trillion Attwood, who has served as the programs manager for the Jewish Museum of Maryland for four years.
“What better way to bring people together than with a side dish everyone loves?” she said. “I think this time of year — when everyone already has kugel on their minds because of the holidays — proved to be the perfect time to do this.”
Based on their dishes, contestants were divided into three categories of kugel: sweet, savory and nontraditional.
And it only took one look around the room for attendees to realize that each competitor brought their own culinary flair to the table, resulting in a variety of options, including pizza-inspired kugel created by Rachel Murinson of Baltimore.
The 11-year-old, who originally put her cooking skills to the test in the chicken soup contest, decided to return to the museum and showcase her original recipe for a mean pizza kugel. Her mother, Beth Hogan, occupied a nearby table with a dish of her own called “Mom-Mon’s Tropical Kugel.”
She and her daughter spend most Friday afternoons in the kitchen whipping up entrees and tasty treats, Hogan said. Beaming with pride, she added that her daughter took it upon herself to create and perfect her pizza kugel recipe.
“It might be the next big thing in Baltimore,” Hogan said with a chuckle. “You never know.”
The mother and daughter came away from the weekend event with three trophies. Hogan received Best Sweet Kugel, and her daughter was awarded Best Savory Kugel and Best Under 16 Kugel.
For some cooks, the importance of presentation went far beyond the appearance of their kugel dishes.
Shelly Malis went the extra mile to make sure that her Ravens pride greeted the eager-eyed kugel test tasters. With her decked-out table, home to vibrant purple silverware, an array of football-player bobbleheads donning chef hats and a Ravens flag, the Pikesville resident was prepared to celebrate kugel and football Sunday.
“My bobbleheads usually line the family room, but I had to bring them along for this occasion,” said Malis, who was awarded Director’s Choice for her noodle kugel. “I’ve been making this kugel for years, so I thought why not throw my name into the competition.”
After noshing on the traditional Jewish treat, children passed the time with noodle- based activities, using multicolored pasta to create Jewish stars and sukkot.
For Marvin Pinkert, executive director of the museum, the cook-off presented an opportunity for members of the tribe to connect to the spirit of community.
“That’s so much a part of this institution,” Pinkert said. “We have wonderful lecture-based programs, but occasionally you have to eat.”
In addition to Pinkert, the museum appointed other well-known faces in the Jewish community to serve as celebrity judges, including WTMD radio host Sam Gallant, JMore associate editor Simone Ellin, CinéBistro executive chef Mark Davis and Eddie’s of Roland Park events coordinator Amy Simon.
Marker began tweaking his mother’s recipe over the last few weeks, attempting to make a creamy kugel that his wife, Nan Tuckett, who has celiac disease, could enjoy at the competition. Although he wasn’t expecting it, the Baltimore resident snagged the trophy for Best Nontraditional Kugel with his gluten-free dish fittingly named “Modified Mom’s.”
After mentioning the contest to his wife, she encouraged him to break out the index cards with his mother’s recipe and get cooking. The trial-and-error process involved a few batches of kugel, but it didn’t take long for the couple to realize that the secret to a flavorful gluten-free kugel lies in the noodles.
“He’s in there trying and I’m very touched,” Tuckett said before her husband was awarded the prize. “He went through the trouble to make a gluten-free kugel for me. That’s just who he is.”