How the great cook-off ended in a food fight

By Rosa Doherty, July 31, 2014
Denise Phillips

Denise Phillips

A simmering row over the results of a cookery contest this week boiled over into a full-blown broiges.

Leading Jewish chefs competed in a public cook-off at June's Gefiltefest, held at LJCC.

The event was flagged as Sephardi v Ashkenazi based on the recipes and cooking styles involved.

The winner was Denise Phillips, an Ashkenazi author who prides herself on kosher "designer recipes". The loser was Nadia Benaim, well known in foodie circles for the Delicious Diva cookery classes she runs at her Hampstead home.

Insiders reveal that Ms Benaim was visibly upset when the result was announced. She is said to have later made a complaint, claiming that Ms Phillips broke the rules by using an assistant and pre-cooked ingredients.

Nadia Benaim

Nadia Benaim

One source said that the competition was supposed to have been fun, but that the cooks had taken it too seriously.

But Ms Benaim insisted: "The rules were not adhered to by Denise. She had an assistant and I wasn't told I was allowed one.

"I wasn't allowed any of the equipment I wanted. I didn't even have a knife, but Denise had s**t loads of equipment. Also, I had an hour to prepare. Denise did preparation with her assistant so that's really two hours.

"I was so stressed. It was so rotten. It was meant to be fun. I almost quit. The atmosphere at our cook-off was really unfriendly.

To compound everything, the audience tasted the food, and on a show of hands I won their vote. It was announced - Denise won the judges' vote, and I won the audience vote.

"But in her newsletter, she claimed she won the audience vote."

Ms Phillips said: "I am amazed to hear the allegations. I followed the rules exactly as told to us by the festival.

"They made it very clear what we could or could not do and if the judges had a problem they would have said.

"I did use an assistant but the guidelines said 'each chef will have one runner to help put things in the oven.' If Nadia didn't have one that's not my fault.

"I think it's been blown out of all proportion, I didn't even win a medal."

But Ms Benaim was unrepentant: "I want Denise to acknowledge that I won the audience vote and Gefiltefest should apologise to me for not letting me have equipment and an assistant.

"I only wanted an even playing field."

Last updated: 4:36pm, July 31 2014