On a particularly frigid Friday in February, hundreds of people huddled in a fish warehouse in Brooklyn, New York, holding their breath as a crew struggled to move the world’s largest bagel and lox from a sort of handmade “bagel slide” onto a scale. For over an hour, a team had fastidiously schmeared oodles of cream cheese with a shovel-like spatula and added lox, tomatoes, red onions, and capers on top.
While the scene appeared to be a group of fanatics gathered for a peculiar party, the event actually doubled as an attempt to make—and break—the Guinness World Record for the largest bagel and lox. Gary Brownstein, who’s been at Acme for 42 years “and then some,” says the idea came at the behest of the company’s press team, who sought to find a creative way to commemorate National Bagel and Lox Day. The largest bagel to date was displayed at the 2004 New York State Fair, yet there’s never been an attempt to create the biggest one loaded up with the requisite fixings. So Acme Smoked Fish, a long-standing Brooklyn institution, teamed up with the Manhattan-based Zucker’s Bagels to concoct a sumptuous, carb-loaded treat.
The day began with bagel-baking. The proprietor of Zucker’s, Matt Pomerantz, says the bakers started the morning at their TriBeCa location by forming 100 pounds of dough. But it “somehow shrank down to 90 pounds,” he says. The dough couldn’t be boiled and baked in its entirety, because the bakery’s kettle can only fit about 30 pounds at a time. So after the team hand-formed the bagel and boiled it, they popped it into a conventional oven for less than an hour. To their surprise, it cooked quickly.
The bagel was then transported to Acme, in Brooklyn, for the grand assembly showdown. The crowds began gathering in the late morning, with some people sticking around after they’d perused Acme’s famed “Fish Fridays,” a weekly event where the manufacturer sells smoked fish at wholesale prices. “It’s the most New York thing I’ve ever been a part of,” says Oliver Lanzenberg, a Los Angeles native who’s lived in the city for nearly 10 years, while laughing. “I just love how strange it is.”
According to Ellen Lee-Allen, the senior marketing manager at Acme, one of the stipulations of the record-breaking attempt includes a no food wastage clause. That meant free bagels and lox for attendees. But before everyone could eat the giant bagel, a surveyor and two witnesses had to ensure that everything had gone according to plan. Two friends of Lee-Allen’s acted as witnesses for the event—Guinness stipulates that witnesses must be “independent professionals from the community,” such as an attorney or a government official. A former Acme intern, Ryan Smith, acted as the surveyor for the event, and helped measure the massive bagel.
By the time the official weigh-off arrived, the bagel, piled high with a delicate alchemy of ingredients, was too big for a simple transfer to the scale. So the team crafted a makeshift “bagel slide” out of cardboard. The crowd looked tense: How would this mountain of food stay intact? Smith speculates that the cream cheese acted as glue for the wobbly concoction. Brownstein, meanwhile, never doubted that it was possible. “These guys know how to do it; that’s what they do,” he says. “They’re very good.”
Eight people lifted it over to the scale, where it came out to 213.75 pounds. The locals, out-of-towners, and children (some parents had taken them out of school for the day) present looked on, rapt and chanted, “Cut that bagel!” On cue, a man emerged with a saw and sliced it up.
Now, Acme must wait 12 to 14 weeks for Guinness to evaluate the evidence and see if the attempt indeed broke a record. But if the response is any indication, it was a success for the stomach as well as the eyes. “The Guinness people care about quantity, not quality, but we’re out to make the best-tasting sandwich,” Lee-Allen says. “Not just the biggest.” It goes to show that it takes a village to build an enormous bagel—and one to eat it, too.
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