McGinnis: Food in focus at German-American FestivalWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
sk the average person what draws them to the beloved German-American Festival (GAF) in Oregon year after year, and one of the items mentioned most often — usually accompanied by wry smiles and watering mouths — is the food.
The festival’s organizers have taken pride in their event offering numerous examples of authentic German cuisine for many years. Now, as the 46th annual event is set to take place, beginning Aug. 26 at Oak Shade Grove in Oregon, the folks behind a few of the most popular food items prepare to face an estimated 30,000 happy, hungry customers.
The GAF has been a part of Annamarie (Ann) Kuebbeler’s family experience for years.
“We have been involved with the festival since I was younger,” she said. “My dad was one of the vice chairmen of the festival in the early 1990’s. No matter what age you are there are always places to volunteer at the festival.”
For Kuebbeler, her involvement eventually led to her becoming chairperson behind the production of the festival’s Pommes Frites, a German variety of French Fries.
“My parents volunteered in the Pommes Frites booth for one of their great friends, John Whitt. John decided he wanted to take on other roles in the festival and about six years ago I decided to step forward and become the chairman. I still rely on John’s help,” Kuebbeler said.
Tradition also fuels the participation of Frank Chenetski, whose family has been involved with the GAF since the late 1980s. Now, more than two decades later, the former festival dancer finds himself in charge of another of its most popular food items — the delicious fried meat dish known as schnitzel.
“I was a sous chef at a restaurant Downtown, and my dad and I had just kinda talked about it. I was an exchange student [in Germany], so I’d had real schnitzel. And we just kinda started playing with the recipe,” Chenetski said.
Like most of the items at the festival, the schnitzel is hand-made by a large staff of volunteers, though Chenetski is reticent to divulge all details about what goes into the making of such a popular item.
“The schnitzel is all hand-breaded. It starts with a flour, like a flour dredge, then it goes into an egg wash, and then it goes into a seasoned bread crumbs coating. And we have our top-secret seasoning mix, that we can’t reveal what’s in it,” he said.
Making items fresh is a key to Kuebbeler’s operation, as well.
“Our Pommes Frites are fresh cut with the skins on and cooked while the customers are standing in line. We never leave fries sitting more than a few minutes to ensure freshness,” she said.
Kuebbeler is also in charge of another of the festival’s most recognizable food items.
“Our sauerkraut balls are popular and we guarantee to sell out every year. It is now a game between the various crews as to who can outsell each other per shift. The crews come up with creative ways to keep the fries and balls selling, and makes it quite entertaining,” she added.
Kuebbeler said her crew made more than 3,000 pounds of Pommes Frites at last year’s festival, and more than 500 pounds of sauerkraut balls.
Chenetski said he and his loyal volunteers will prepare more than 1600 schnitzels for this year’s attendees, every last one of them by hand.
“I’ve had a great team of volunteers,” he said. “We treat them well, and they keep coming back. So I’ve kinda had a crew that does my cooking, that actually cooks them and serves them to the customers, and then I have a kitchen crew that — we’re in the back, doing prep, actually breading them.”
The crews just keep making items until they sell out of them — Kuebbeler said last year’s batch of sauerkraut balls were gone on Saturday night, and Chenetski said his team usually runs out of schnitzels on Sunday.
“They have Polka Floyd playing on Sunday,” Chenetski said of one of the Festival’s most popular musical acts. “That’s always my reward, because we’re usually done with everything in the later afternoon.”
And Kuebbeler — who, as a member of the dancing Toledo Holzhacker Buam Schuhplattler Gruppe, will also perform at the festival — said she hopes the community will get as much out of the event as she and her fellow volunteers do.
“When this great festival was first organized 46 years ago by our families and friends, it was the intention to share our German heritage through our German dress, German food and dance with the community,” she said. “It is my hope that I can share with the community my passion for my heritage.”
For more information, visit www.gafsociety.org/fest.htm.
Email Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.