Meet 41-year-old Steve Shander: He’s a Miami native, raised in Atlanta. A resident of Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood since 1995, he’s also a self-proclaimed latke lover. For the uninitiated, latkes are a shallow-friend potato pancake, almost always made with a base of grated potato, flour, and egg. Those on the inside of the latke world, however, know that there’s a high degree of nuance within those broad brush strokes, as evidenced by one writer’s perspective in a December 2012 article for Slate.
“On one end of the spectrum are the minimalists who think the only ingredients that belong in latkes are potatoes, salt, and just enough oil to fry them. This is not a good approach. For one thing, latkes are not hash browns…” he writes. On the other end of the spectrum, there are “those who take the pancake part of potato pancake literally, adding enough eggs and flour to make a small Dutch baby.”
Latkes—by many names—are popular throughout Germany, Poland, and much of Eastern Europe. But they are perhaps most associated with Jewish cuisine, especially around the time of Hanukkah. Colorado’s own love affair with latkes is growing, too, fueled in part by the state’s rising Jewish population. The Jewish Community Survey found that the Denver/Boulder metro area’s Jewish population grew by 29% in the decade from 1997 to 2007, now ranking as the 16th largest Jewish community in the United States.
Shander’s own relationship with the latke began in the mid-2000s, when he worked on a Denver food truck that had what he describes as “an unfocused menu.” He traveled to New York City, looking to find inspiration and focus in the city’s robust food truck scene. That’s when it hit him: latkes. In truth, that eureka moment was confirmation of something he already knew. Shander and his wife, Tina, have run a catering company for the last eight years. They frequently made her German grandmother’s potato pancake recipe to the delight of clients. “People always loved them,” he says.
It was time to bring those latkes to the masses, and so in 2011 Shander, Tina, and his sister, Dina, founded Latke Love. They started out at the Cherry Creek farmer’s market, but later moved to the Highland market. From day one, the latkes proved popular—Latke Love sold more than 20,000 latkes last year. Perhaps not surprising for such a culturally important food, there exist no shortage of opinions about the right way to make a latke. And the wrong way. When the New York Times in 2009 suggested ways to “improve” the latke, readers were outraged. By late 2012, the Times declared, “we have learned not to mess with the latke.”
Read full story in August/Sept issue ….
Daniel Junge is a documentary filmmaker, director and won an Academy Award and 2 Emmys for his film "Saving Face." Learn more in recent CE!