By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Waterside Plaza took advantage of one of the last weekends of summer last Saturday to host an international food festival for residents of the complex as well as the public. Yenneca Ketzis, organizer of community activities for Waterside Plaza, helped put together the event, which featured cuisine from Germany, Greece, Spain, India, Italy and the United States.
Ketzis said that management had been working on the idea for an international-focused event for a while.
“We have such a diverse population at Waterside that we wanted to do something to reflect the culture of the community,” she said. “We didn’t have time for a potluck or a sit-down dinner kind of thing but we figured that anything involving food is a community building activity, so we figured we would host an event where people could come and mingle with neighbors.”
The original idea was to have a number of different vendors from local restaurants come to represent a number of different cultures but she said that since the event was put together quickly, there wasn’t enough time to find participants willing to make the trek to the plaza with all the necessary equipment. Luckily, the company that runs Waterside Plaza’s cafe, Robbins Nest, also has a catering company that was able to help out in a pinch.
George Gaspar, director of operations at the catering company, Robbins Wolfe, said that one of his intentions was to emulate the San Gennaro festival that happens downtown every September, so including the iconic sausage and pepper heros was a must. They were also able to get cannolis from Ferrara Bakery and those two together represented Italy. There were also Bavarian pretzels for Germany, empanadas to represent Spain, lamb souvlaki for Greece and pulled pork sandwiches to represent the United States.
“We thought about doing hamburgers and hot dogs for America but figured we would go with something a little more unique,” Gaspar said.
Since they were unable to get individual vendors, they had had to lean heavily on their one source for all the food, but Ketzis said that they were up to the challenge.
“They looked at what countries they had represented in the staff and then they just went through family recipes,” she said. “They didn’t do anything too difficult, just tried and true recipes that they had made a lot already. It was amazing, and really true to home-cooked flavor.”
One such contribution came from Dawn Grubbs, the chef manager at the British International School. Gaspar noted that Grubbs is a trained chef who happens to be Greek so she was able to contribute all the Greek items. “We just know how to make any dish that you really need and we just have the ability with the amount of chefs that we have,” Gaspar added.
Food at each booth was “bought” through a ticket system, where one ticket equalled one dollar. Ketzis said that this was mainly to streamline the process for the people handing out food at the booths and it was mostly successful.
“It was like shopping anywhere else but tickets made it easier because the people serving the food didn’t have to deal with money,” she said. “We didn’t want them to have to be managing a register, so there weren’t any lines for food, only occasionally at the ticket booth.”
Ketzis noted that there are definite plans to make the festival an annual event, with a few tweaks for next year.
“We might want to move it up earlier in the summer now that we know how to deal with the planning and know that people will support it. A lot of people are on vacation at this time in August,” she said. “Another thing would be to have it a little later in the day. We decided on street fair hours but this being different from a street fair, it could be nicer if it were until 8 p.m. at night so people could come for dinner, or even start it later in the day.”
Overall, Ketzis said that the event was a complete success.
“It was such a sweet idea,” she said. “Everyone that attended had a wonderful time, especially because instead of having individual tables we put out long picnic tables so there was a great sense of community and culture.”