One of Rodef Shalom Congregation’s own will be cooking on television in an upcoming episode of “Emeril Green,” on Planet Green, a 24-hour eco-lifestyle television network. But that’s not the only performance Don Megahan can relish.
Megahan won Rodef Shalom Congregation’s Sisterhood’s Steel Chef competition in January, even though he was an unlikely contester — he’s not a congregant and he’s not Jewish.
So how did a nice, non-Jewish boy end up the winner of a food competition at Rodef Shalom?
Megahan, 43, started out as Rodef Shalom’s organist/choir director and is now the congregation’s music director. He came to the congregation in 1993 as the organist, when the former music director, the late Mimi Lerner, hired him after seeing him perform.
And what about the cooking contest?
“I’m a foodie,” Megahan said. “I like to feed people.”
But it wasn’t always that way. Cooking, he said, was not a big thing in his family. Over time, his friends gave him an introduction to gastronomy.
“Cooking, to me, is therapeutic,” he said.
Colleen Wolfson, who chaired the Steel Chef competition and owns a catering business, invited him to participate. She loves the Food Network and put together elements from some of her favorite shows.
“We have a lot of great cooks at Rodef,” she said.
The Steel Chef fundraiser idea was percolating in Wolfson’s mind for some time, and she finally secured a spot on Rodef Shalom’s busy calendar. Seventy people purchased tickets to watch six chefs contend for first place. While the chefs worked in the kitchen, guests enjoyed drinks, trivia games and appetizers — the chefs’ entry fee. Guests watched the competition on a projected large screen, as high school students recorded the action in the kitchen.
Five judges picked three finalists; the three eliminated in the salad category then stood in as sous-chefs for the finalists. Rodef Shalom’s Rabbi Sharyn Henry was Megahan’s sous-chef.
Prior to the competition, chefs were told that chicken would be the main dish. The chefs, who had one hour to prepare, had a variety of produce to choose from to round out the meal. Each had the choice to bring pots, pans and knives or use what was available in the kitchen.
Congregants Rick Wertheimer and Mary Ellen Elias were the other finalists.
And how did Megahan land on Emeril’s program?
Megahan’s friends bid on a guest star role and one-on-one experience with Chef Emeril Lagasse at charitybuzz.com; they won the bid and gave him the guest spot as a gift.
Although filmed in April 2009, Megahan’s appearance on “Emeril Green,” will be aired for the first time Monday, March 8, at 8 p.m. The “Emeril Green” episodes are filmed in a large Whole Foods supermarket in northern Virginia.
Megahan and Emeril worked together on a menu with a twist on Italian cooking. Megahan wanted to do “rustic and fresh Italian,” he said, without all the heavy cream. Once the episode airs, the recipes will be available on the “Emeril Green” Web site. Recipes will include heirloom tomato salad with mozzarella, asparagus and leek risotto (one of Megahan’s winning dishes for the Steel Chef competition), pasta rags with pesto baccala Livornese and ricotta parfait with local honey.
For those who are Emeril fans, what you see is what you get, according to Megahan, and there’s no television magic in the food preparation.
The whole cooking process is filmed with no switching to dishes previously cooked off camera.
And the chef doesn’t change off camera either.
“Emeril is the same off camera as on,” Megahan said.
(Angela Leibowicz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)