RECIPE: Bill Telepan’s Celeriac Latkes

When it comes to latkes, Bill Telepan has developed quite a reputation. Not only has he won two cook-offs — at both the James Beard House and BAM’s first-ever latke fest — he also sells hundreds each day to the Upper West Side’s discerning diaspora who hit his restaurant for latkes just like mom used to make.

Chef Telepan grew up eating his own mom’s latkes. But here’s the thing: He’s Catholic.

“Yeah, I grew up Catholic,” he laughs. “And we called them potato pancakes, and ate them for dinner with applesauce all the time.”

Telepan first cooked potato pancakes — er, latkes — himself 20 years ago at Ansonia, and served them with smoked salmon. He so nailed the recipe (it’s all about the starch, he explains) that the James Beard House invited him to cook a Passover dinner 15 years ago. Questioned about this recently, he shrugs: “I guess I had a reputation for a good latke.”

The celeriac riff he cooked up that night (recipe below) took the gold — and went on to win the people’s choice award at BAM’s inaugural latke fest.

Later, when he opened Telepan, the restaurant started hosting Passover, “and now it’s hugely popular. So I said, ‘lemme try making latkes.’”

The rest is scripture, or at least history. Today the restaurant offers latkes to go — four for $15, including sour cream and housemade applesauce. They’re fried up daily and, once home, reheat easily in the oven. Demand is so great, the kitchen crew turns out hundreds a day, starting the first day of Hanukkah.

But Bill isn’t back there grating potatoes by the ton. Instead, he’s got another Catholic on the case: Telepan’s Ecuadorean butcher, Jose Troya. “All through Hanukkah, he makes hundreds of latkes a day,” the chef grins. “He’s like a Jewish grandma right now.”

And no one minds that they’re… ?

“Made by a gentile!” laughs Telepan, finishing my thought. “They like ’em, so no.”

Celery root-potato latkes

1½ pounds celery root
1½ pounds russet potatoes
1 onion
4 eggs
¼ cup flour
4 teaspoons salt
Oil for frying

Peel and grate celery root into a bowl. Grate potatoes into same bowl. Squeeze out celery root and potatoes, reserving the liquid, then set aside.

Grate the onions.

After the liquid from the potatoes has settled, carefully pour off the water, saving the starch settled to the bottom.

Beat the eggs and add them to the starch and combine well.

Add the flour and salt, and combine all.

Pan fry in a hot sauté pan in a generous amount of oil, for about 5-7 minutes per side. Drain on a paper towel and serve hot.

Featured photo credit: Flickr/cliff1066™

Betsy Bradley

Elizabeth L. Bradley writes about New York City history and culture. She hopes to find Tiffany blue dragees in her Christmas stocking this year.

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