Watch 30 Chefs Play Ping Pong to Support Cancer Patients

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In March, for the first time since 2018, Chef Paddle Battle, a ping pong competition between Chicago chefs that raises money for charity, will take place. A variety of factors, including the pandemic, wiped out the annual event held at SPIN Chicago in River North.

This year’s event, Monday, March 4, brings together 30 chefs to raise money for Culinary Care, a charity that provides restaurant meals to cancer patients and their families. The group has worked with a variety of chefs through the years to organize fundraisers. The event is open to the public, giving fans a chance to meet the chefs. Three drinks are included in the ticket price; there’s also an open bar option.

In past years, the audience has been treated to feats such as the exploits of Proxi and Sepia chef Andrew Zimmerman, who has dominated the field. Rivalries have been known to form and a new one is about to bubble up between a veteran and a rookie. It could be the next big Chicago food rivalry, on par with Lou Malnati’s versus Giordano’s or Harold’s vs. Uncle Remus.

Jake Potashnick’s Instagram handle is “notyetachef.” The Chicago native has traveled around the world cooking at restaurants and plans to open his own, Feld, soon in West Town. Potashnick has poked the bear, namely S.K.Y. and Valhalla chef Stephen Gillanders. The young chef playfully taunted his friend, claiming that he would take Gillanders down if they two were to play.

“I’m just thrilled that my crushing of Stephen can support an amazing organization like Culinary Care,” Potashnik texted.

The two donned WWE personas in a text thread over the weekend when questioned about their budding rivalry. Potashnick joked the loser would have to leave West Town.

“Unfortunately for you, Jake, a true rivalry requires a worthy adversary,” Gillanders texted to the thread. “I will crush you and your paddle. Going full Forrest Gump on you.”

Potashnick responded: “Look, I believe that Stephen is a very good ping pong player. But we’ve all heard the underground rumors of blood doping… Anything for an edge up that ol’ Gillanders.”

Gillanders responded humbly: “My genetic superiority, intelligent-yet-approachable wit, and face-melting dance moves have been a pressure point for years now amongst my competitors,” the chef writes. “While I outright refuse to provide a blood sample, I deny all allegations.”

The event, held on a Monday when many restaurants are closed, gives chefs a chance to socialize. While Potashnick jokes about starting “a lifelong death-match style ping pong rivalry” with Gillanders, he also writes that he’s grateful that chefs like Gillanders have welcomed him back home.

SPIN hosted Paddle Battles in 2017 and 2018 and its return is seen as a sign of recovery for River North and Downtown Chicago. And while Gllanders and Potashick throw gasoline on their rivalry, ping pong isn’t just about winning. Many chefs of Asian heritage take the competition as a point of pride given the sport’s popularity overseas.

For Bayan Ko chef Lawrence Letrero, the game is nostalgic. He played in college and has a lot of rust to shake off: “I haven’t played in years,” he texts. “I’m going to suck.”

Win or lose, it’s for a good cause. Kimski chef Won Kim will even DJ.

Check out the roster of chefs below.

Chef Paddle Battle at SPIN, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday, March 4, 344 N. State Street, tickets via Eventbrite.

A group of chefs posing with ping pong paddles.
The 2018 Chef Paddle Battle class.

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