When Food Network invited chef Yehuda Sichel to appear on an episode of “Beat Bobby Flay,” the owner of Huda in Center City jumped at the chance.
“I love the idea of competing at cooking,” he said.
The show pits two chefs against each other in a first round before one is chosen to compete against celebrity chef Bobby Flay in making their signature dish. Sichel appeared in episode 5, “You Made Your Bread, Now Eat it,” of season 27, hosted by chef Michael Voltaggio and TV host Jaymee Sire.
Sichel walked into the kitchen ripping apart a challah and ready to represent the food of his ancestors. In his opening biography, he talked about getting his first restaurant job in a Jewish deli when he was 15, going to culinary school in Israel and becoming the executive chef at Abe Fisher, where he still worked when his episode filmed in late 2019 (he opened his sandwich shop in 2020 and the episode aired March 18 due to pandemic-related delays.)
“Bobby, beating you will be the greatest mitzvah of all,” Sichel declared before the cooking started.
In the first round, Sichel faced off against Remy Pettus, owner of Bardo restaurant in Minneapolis. The two chefs were given a secret ingredient, semolina bread, and 20 minutes to make a dish to send them to the next round against Flay.
Pettus made a savory bread pudding with bacon and mascarpone, while Sichel used semolina bread to coat a chicken schnitzel. He made the bread coating on the thicker side to make sure the secret ingredient was highlighted and served it with mustard greens and a tahini sauce made with sesame seeds, lemon juice and harissa paste.
Although he was criticized for the mustard greens making the dish slightly soggy, Voltaggio said it was a “perfect schnitzel.” The hosts commended Pettus for finishing a bread pudding in so little time, but they ultimately picked Sichel to go head to head with Flay in round two.
The two chefs were given 45 minutes to make Sichel’s signature dish: matzah ball soup. Sichel originally wanted to make latkes, but he said the producers asked him to switch because they thought that recipe would be too simple for a 30-minute episode.
Sichel prepared for the show by testing recipes that could deliver plenty of flavor without bubbling on the stove for hours. By his seventh attempt, which involved roasting the chickens and concentrating flavors in a small amount of liquid, he found a version he was happy with.
He also shaved time off preparing the matzah balls by spreading the mixture very thinly over a tray in the freezer rather than letting it chill for half an hour in a bowl in the fridge.
Sichel said he learned how to make the classic comfort food when he was young.
“I learned this from my grandmother, who would sit there before Passover and just ball matzah balls for hours, so there’s really no chance Bobby’s beating me in this,” he said.
Flay confessed he had only made matzah ball soup twice. Once was on “Throwdown With Bobby Flay,” when he lost to his opponent, and the other was on another episode of “Beat Bobby Flay,” which he also lost.
When the three guest judges selected Sichel’s soup as the winner in a blind taste test, Flay racked up his third loss on the dish.
Sichel said Flay was nice and “a good sportsman.” It seemed strange to him that a celebrity chef he had watched for years on shows like “Iron Chef” acted like the underdog.
“He was definitely intimidated, which is hilarious,” he said.