2017 Ogden Greek Food Festival returns for 54th year sharing food, culture

Wednesday , September 27, 2017 - 11:25 AM2 comments

ANN ELISE TAYLOR, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Feeding 10,000 people is no easy task.

It takes hundreds of pounds of meat, dozens of volunteers and days upon days spent cooking. Organizers say the effort is worth it — the event successfully shares Greek culture and fills thousands of bellies.

The annual Ogden Greek Food Festival opens for its 54th year Friday, Sept. 29, and Saturday, Sept. 30, serving up an array of authentic Greek dishes made by members of the Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church and other volunteers.

Almost every day for two months leading up to the event, groups of 15 to 20 volunteers gather at the church to make food. Usually, they’re there for between eight and 10 hours, though tougher dishes may require a 12-hour day, event co-chair Angelika Bolos said.

The core group of volunteer cooks is made up of 30 to 40 women, according to festival co-chair Drew Wilson. 

“I call them my GMW — the Greek mafia women,” Wilson said. 

And when it comes to cooking, the GMW doesn’t mess around. A day in the kitchen might mean making 650 dozen koulourakia (vanilla-flavored butter cookies) or about 12,000 dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves), according to Wilson. 

Cooking that much food requires massive amounts of ingredients, Wilson said. For example, this year’s festival preparation required 1,200 pounds of chicken and 800 pounds of pork for souvlaki, 600 pounds of meat for the dolmathes, 18 100-pound buckets of honey and much more. 

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In general, Greek food features many of the same flavors and ingredients — the food isn’t hot, but has lots of spices, Wilson said. Most savory dishes include lemon juice, olive oil, oregano and garlic salt, while honey is a key ingredient for most pastries. 

On Monday, Sept. 25, Bolos was in the church’s kitchen cooking syrup for sweets that will be served at the festival. 

“It smells very good in here with the cinnamon and the cloves and the oranges. It smells like Christmas,” she said. 

Despite the long hours, she said volunteers cooking in the kitchen have fun together — they trade jokes and goof around.

“Everybody has their personality, and it hasn’t been bad at all,” she said. 

Many of the volunteers immigrated from Greece, bringing unique recipes from their villages or regions with them, Wilson and Bolos said. That convergence of Greek cultures means attendees get to taste what different parts of the country have to offer. 

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“Many older volunteers came mostly from villages, and they had maybe a little different way — maybe one person will say, ‘Well, I never use mint in this recipe,’ and others will say, ‘Yes, I did,’” said Bolos, who moved to the U.S. from Athens as a teenager. “So it’s very small variations from village to village, but in the end, it’s all tasty.” 

As you may have guessed, this weekend’s festival will feature a lot of food (about 11 savory dishes and 16 types of pastries). For the most authentic experience, Wilson and Bolos suggested trying:

  • Dolmathes: Grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat
  • Tiropitakia: Triangular, savory pastries with cheese wrapped in filo 
  • Souvlaki: Greek spiced chicken or pork
  • Lamb
  • Baklava: Layers of filo with walnuts and almonds
  • Yemista: Pastry cookie filled with nuts

A full menu is available on the church’s website.

Both festival chairs raved about the leg of lamb, which is made by one of the church’s priests. The meat is slow-cooked for three or four hours, meaning the chef will arrive at 4 a.m. Friday to make sure crowds have plenty to eat by 10 a.m., Wilson said.

“It’s just melt in your mouth,” Bolos said. 

The lamb-cooking priest’s level of dedication to the festival’s fare isn’t unique at the church — volunteers and organizers put in the time required to make delicious food from scratch. 

“We don’t take shortcuts. Always the best,” Bolos said. “I don’t believe in shortcuts.”

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Though admission to the festival is free, most entrees cost between $3 and $7, Wilson said. Pastry prices vary, since some are individually packaged and others are sold by the dozen, he said. 

Money raised at the event goes to the church and other charitable organizations, but Wilson said they haven’t decided which nonprofits will benefit this year.

The festival — which is held inside the church and in tents outside of it — is typically crowded, but Bolos said lines move pretty quickly. Things are busiest around dinner time, she said, as well as at lunch Friday. The event will run from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, the church’s website says.

While the event mostly focuses on food, attendees can see a traditional Greek dance performance at 7 p.m. Friday, the church’s website says. Since more space was needed for people to eat food, crafts and other items won’t be sold at this year’s festival, Wilson said.

As they have for decades, the festival’s organizers hope attendees leave with full stomachs and an appreciation for Greek culture. 

“I hope they can take with them the traditions that we offer and the good food that we cooked and leave with good memories so they can last them the whole year and come back again,” Bolos said.

Want to make your own Greek dish at home? Wilson and Bolos shared the recipe for the festival’s pilafi, or rice, which they say is a crowd favorite.

GREEK PILAFI 

Ingredients

Makes enough to feed one large family.

  • 2 pounds Uncle Ben’s rice
  • 1 stick of butter
  • ½ stick of margarine 
  • 2 tablespoons real lemon juice
  • 3 cups chicken broth

Instructions

Melt the butter and margarine in a pot. Add the rice and let it simmer, stirring it for five minutes.

Add the lemon juice and heated chicken broth to the rice mixture.

Put a lid on the pot and let the dish simmer until the rice is done.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct the spelling of a source’s name.

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