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Astoria’s ‘Falafel King’ vies for top vendor prize

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A 43-year-old Astoria street vendor known as the “King of Falafel” will once again be the sole representative from Queens in the citywide Vendy Awards cook-off Sept. 26, where he will compete with four other vendors from the five boroughs.

But Farez “Freddy” Zeideia, who has operated a food cart at the corner of Broadway and 30th Street in Astoria for eight years, said he plans to rank higher than the third place he achieved at the 2007 Vendy Awards.

“I’m planning to win,” he said. “This year is the comeback. But it’s fun just being there and being recognized as one of five vendors out of thousands in the city.”

The fifth annual Vendy Awards, which will be held outdoors near the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, awards one city vendor bragging rights as the city’s best street chef.

This year’s finalists, who are picked by customer nominations, include Zeideia; Meru Sikder, of Midtown Manhattan’s traditional Indian Biryani Cart; dumpling master Kenny Lo, of Rickshaw Dumpling; Midtown’s O’Neill Reid, of Jamaican Dutchy; and Brooklyn’s Fernando and Jolanda Martinez, who make traditional Mexican food at their Country Boys/Martinez Taco Truck.

Zeideia, a Palestinian who moved to the United States at 16, said he will prepare a number of items from his cart’s menu, including chicken and rice, shawarma — a chopped meat sandwich — and falafel. He will also bring along several guests to perform while he cooks.

“I’m going to have two belly dancers with me,” he said. “And I can’t let them dance by themselves.”

Zeideia, who previously owned a coffee shop and has worked as a supermarket manager and a cab driver, said he recently completed culinary school and has been certified as a chef. But he does not plan to relocate his business from the Astoria corner where customers often line up to purchase falafel or Zeideia’s popular chicken and rice.

“This is my baby, so I’m not going anywhere,” he said.

Tickets, which can be purchased online at streetvendor.org, for this year’s Vendy Awards cost $80 in advance and $100 at the door. Table service at the event will be $150.

This year’s judges include Jacques Torres, dean of pastry studies at the city’s French Culinary Institute; Pichet Ong, who has been named one of the top 10 pastry chefs in the country, who created the Midtown Lunch blog and helped launch the Serious Eats: New York food site; and Corona’s Mina Fasolo, the competition’s first citizen judge.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 6:32 pm, October 10, 2011
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