The unmistakable aroma of matzah ball soup -- part chicken broth, part steamed vegetable, part matzah meal -- wafted throughout.
More than 200 people attended, mostly female and mostly retired. The lobby bustled and buzzed with the commotion of cooking. Ladles clanged. Steam rose. Chefs schmoozed patrons.
Like Phil Goodman with Embassy Kosher Caterers who, no matter their age, referred to all his female patrons as "young lady.''
The event came from Forest Trace adding a kosher kitchen option and looking for a good matzah ball soup recipe, said Stanley Rosenthal, head of SRR Management, which oversees Forest Trace.
The competition had two parts: one for best homemade matzah ball recipe, the other for best professional entry in the Matzah Bowl.
The pros featured six kosher caterers from Broward and Miami-Dade counties. They set up tables with matzah balls cut up and served in plastic cups with plastic spoons.
A few threw in extras, like sides of potato kugel or gefilte fish. But visitors could only judge the matzah balls.
And, because this was a serious food contest, between each table stood a platform with small water cups for palate cleansing.
The entrance "fee'' was a request that everyone bring a box of matzah, which will be donated to the WECARE food pantry.
Six judges sat at a separate table, seriously sampling each entry. Made up of local civic leaders and professional chefs, they chose winners for a range of categories, including Best Out of the Box and Most Like Mom's. The Best of Broward award went to a sundried pesto matzah ball.
Lottie Rossman, 91, of Hollywood was surprised when her recipe won the ``best homemade'' category -- she didn't even know she was a contestant. Her daughter, Diane Magid entered her mother's recipe, calling them "pure and airy, like pillows."
The runner-up prize for best homemade Matzah Ball went to 102-year-old Rae Zwerling, who used her mother's recipe.
They got about a dozen entries. Forest Trace chef Greg Bainbridge made most of the recipes and tested them before picking a winner.
Rossman gave this advice to first-time matzah ball cooks:
"The first time, it never comes out good. You've got to try a few times,'' she said.