Volunteers prepare to feed 25,000 at Las Vegas Greek Food Fest

When you’re inviting 25,000 people for dinner, preparation has to be a group effort.

Members of St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church have got this. The Greek Food Festival that runs Friday through Sunday at the church on South El Camino Road will be their 46th, so they have lots of practice.

Festival fare will include savory Greek favorites such as lamb chops, gyros, pastitsio, saganaki and souvlaki, but one of the biggest draws is the array of pastries prepared by members of the church. Stephanie Demoleas,

co-chairwoman of the festival with Peter Papas, said there will be five varieties of baklava alone: classic; classic topped with pistachios; classic triangles with chocolate-dipped corners; kataifi, which has a shredded-phyllo exterior; and saragli, which is shaped into a log and sliced.

But wait! There’s more: baklava brownies, baklava cheesecake, chocolate baklava cheesecake, baklava sundaes. A full cookie menu including three varieties of koulourakia butter cookies, almond and marble crescent cookies, kourambiethes shortbread cookies with or without almonds, melomakarona honey-dipped ovals.

Karisdopita walnut cake. Pasta flora shortbread cookies filled with jam in various flavors as well as a baklava variety. Diples honey-dipped pastries with walnuts and cinnamon. Ekmek kataifi, in which kataifi is layered with custard and topped with whipped cream. Kokes cakes layered with custard and topped with chocolate in three varieties. Rice pudding, made from Demoleas’ father’s recipe.

Even baklava frosties, a festival original that Demoleas said was created by her sister-in-law, Grace, and niece, Eleni.

“It’s kind of our version of the blizzard,” she said. “We have people who work at the festival, that’s the first thing they want, as soon as we get the (soft-serve) machines up and running.”

Creating all of that food is as much science as art.

“We start brainstorming in January,” Demoleas said. “Marika (Lamancusa) is our quality consultant, making sure the recipes are followed and authentic. Nothing gets through without her approval.”

Actual food prep begins in July long before the festival does.

“What we can freeze, we freeze,” Demoleas said. “Cakes are done the week of, rice pudding the day of. We start packaging five days before the festival starts. Sixty percent of our work is done before the festival opens. We have to make sure everything is clean and neat and packaged.”

On a recent Saturday morning, about 20 of the estimated 40 festival volunteers gathered in the church’s expansive and well-equipped kitchen to make bougatsa, which Demoleas said is a festival favorite. The scents of butter and vanilla joined with the sounds of spoken Greek.

“There are at least a dozen people who are instrumental,” Demoleas said. “Sophia Leonis, Kiki Mavrantonis, Savva Savvaas, Harry Tsiforas, Youla Tsolis.”

In one space, Tsiforas was stirring a cauldron that Lamancusa said held 20 gallons of custard. The custard started, she said, with warm milk, sugar and butter, and semolina is added later. She expected they’d go through 100 pounds of it in their goal of making 100 pans of bougatsa.

Across the room, a woman opened a 30-pound box of butter and started putting sticks in a pot to melt.

More volunteers — so many that they ran out of basting brushes — were gathered around a stainless-steel table, bent over half-sheet-sized foil pans. They carefully folded phyllo sheets into pans as they brushed them with melted butter. Baking co-chairman Sophia Leonis explained why the phyllo overlapped the pans.

“When you put in the custard, you don’t want it to touch the sides of the tin,” she said, noting that phyllo totally envelops the custard. And when the phyllo was ready the call went out: “Crema girl!” A volunteer with a pitcher full of custard filled prepared tins.

Many of the volunteers were older, such as 88-year-old kitchen manager Sam Koutsulis. On the other end of the scale were church member Sarah Kokkinis and her friend, Chloe Merriman, both 13, and up early this Saturday morning.

“They enjoy volunteering and supporting the community,” said Sarah’s mom, Jennifer Kokkinis. “And it teaches them to bake these, because I don’t know how to bake them.”

“We wanted to show our support,” Sarah said. But Chloe had her eye on the prize.

“We’re pretty sure we’re going to the Greek Festival,” she said, “so we wanted that proud moment.”

Bougatsa

1 1/2 cups fine semolina

Generous 1 1/2 cups sugar

3 eggs

6 cups milk

Grated zest of 1 lemon

10 tablespoons butter

1 pound frozen phyllo pastry, thawed according to package directions

Confectioner’s sugar

Ground cinnamon

Beat the semolina, sugar and eggs until frothy. Transfer the mixture to a pan and add the milk, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil several times and then stir in the grated lemon zest. Let cool.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter and brush over the individual sheets of pastry. Place half of the pastry on a greased baking sheet (or a foil half-sheet pan), spread evenly with creamy mixture and cover with the remaining pastry.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until pastry is golden brown and crispy on top and the filling has set. Let cool slightly, then sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon and cut into slices. Bougatsa is best when eaten warm.

Rice pudding

1 pound long grain rice

1 pound (about 2 cups) sugar

1 gallon milk

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 cup half and half

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Add rice to 4 cups water. Bring to a boil and then simmer, uncovered, on low heat until rice is cooked.

Add sugar and stir until dissolved.

Slowly add milk and stir constantly over medium heat.

In a separate bowl, dissolve cornstarch in half and half.

Beat eggs and half and half together and slowly pour mixture into rice pot. Add vanilla. Simmer until thickened.

Pour into bowls when cool. Sprinkle with cinnamon.

Serves 8 to 10.

Kourambiethes

8 ounces unsalted butter

2 cups plus 3 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar (divided use)

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon brandy

1/2 cup finely chopped toasted almonds (optional)

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Melt butter until bubbles subside and sediment is golden — do not burn (this melting is non-traditional, but many Greek cooks do it). Pour melted butter into mixing bowl, leaving sediment in pan. When liquid in bowl has solidified, add 2 cups confectioner’s sugar and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk and brandy and beat well. Remove bowl from mixer and stir in almonds, if using.

Sift flour and baking powder twice and mix lightly into butter mixture. Break off small pieces of dough, each the size of a large walnut. Shape into crescents, or roll into balls and flatten slightly.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Place cookies on ungreased baking sheets and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly colored. Let cool on trays for 10 minutes. Sift some confectioner’s sugar over top and sides. When cool, place in a container and sift remaining sugar on top of cookies. Seal and store for two days before using to improve flavor.

— Recipes from Greek Food Festival

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

ad-high_impact_4
Entertainment
Famous Infinity Mirror Room is open in Las Vegas
Yayoi Kusama's "Aftermath of Obliteration of Infinity" mirror room is open at the Bellagio in Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Glittering Lights dazzles Las Vegas
The Glittering Lights holiday display is shining at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Mat Luschek/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Skybar at Waldorf Astoria lets you sip your way through Las Vegas history
Skybar At Waldorf Astoria Lets You Sip Your Way Through Las Vegas History (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Stan Lee in Las Vegas for Madame Tussauds unveiling
Stan Lee Las Vegas speaks with the Review-Journal's Chris Lawrence about his love for his fans and shared universes. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ultimate Belgium Waffle Sundae at Lavo
Lavo at the Palazzo serves a 16-scoop ice cream sundae that costs $800. (Rochelle Ricahrds, Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
A New Zip Line Is Opening On The Las Vegas Strip
A New Zip Line Is Opening On The Las Vegas Strip (Janna Karel lLas Vegas Review-Journal)
You'll need a keen eye to find this secret bar on the Las Vegas Strip
You'll need a keen eye to find this secret bar on the Las Vegas Strip (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
"The Lion King" roars into Las Vegas
New music club 172 brings loud luxury to Las Vegas
New music venue at the Rio brings rock ’n’ roll and food together at intimate club. K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Fans fear for Zak Bagans’ safety in Las Vegas Halloween TV special
Fly Linq zip line time lapse
Fly Linq zip line timelapse
Shaq opens Las Vegas restaurant, Big Chicken
Shaq opens Las Vegas restaurant, Big Chicken
Robert Deniro And Chef Nobu Talk About The Success Of Nobu
Robert Deniro And Chef Nobu Talk About The Success Of Nobu (Al Mancini Las Vegas Review-journal)
Nevada Ballet Theatre rehearses for "Dracula" at The Smith Center
Nevada Ballet Theatre rehearses for "Dracula" at The Smith Center (Janna Karel/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Downtown Summerlin hosts its annual Festival of Arts
People crowd to Downtown Summerlin for the 23rd annual Summerlin Festival of Arts in Las Vegas, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bellagio, MGM Resorts International’s luxury hotel turns 20
The more than 3,000-room Bellagio hotel is situated on the site of the former Dunes Hotel. The Dunes was imploded in 1993, and construction of the Bellagio started in 1996. It cost $1.6 billion to build, making it the most expensive hotel in the world at the time. The Bellagio was former Wynn Resorts Ltd. Chairman and CEO Steve Wynn’s second major casino on the Strip after The Mirage. MGM Resorts International acquired the property from Steve Wynn in 2000. (Tara Mack/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Recycled Art and Cute Dogs at Summerlin Festival Of Arts
Recycled Art, Cute Dogs Abound At Summerlin Festival Of Arts (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bellagio Patisserie Creates Life-size Sculpture Of 20th Anniversary Of Cirque Du Soleil Show
Bellagio Patisserie Creates Life-size Sculpture Of 20th Anniversary Of Cirque Du Soleil Show (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
10 Most Iconic Moments At The Bellagio Fountains
10 Most Iconic Moments At The Bellagio Fountains (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jason Aldean talks about the possibility of a Las Vegas residency
Country superstar Jason Aldean discusses his feelings about playing in Las Vegas and says he'd be interested in a Las Vegas residency when the time is right at the iHeart Radio Music Festival in Las Vegas on September 21, 2018.(John Katsilometes/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Block 16 Urban Food Hall Serves Favorite Foods From Across The US
Block 16 Urban Food Hall Serves Favorite Foods From Across The US (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Benny the Skating Dog could be the next Golden Knights on-ice entertainment
Benny the Skating Dog could be the next Golden Knights on-ice entertainment (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Who To Watch At Life Is Beautiful
Life Is Beautiful Setup
Workers preparing Fremont street for this weekend's Life is Beautiful festival, on Wednesday, September 19, 2018. Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal
The 46th annual Greek Food Festival will feed 25,000 people in Las Vegas
Madame Tussauds Has The Newest VR Experience On The Strip
Madame Tussauds Has The Newest VR Experience On The Strip. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Zia Records Move
Zias Records is moving from its Sahara Avenue and Arville Street location to a bigger store. (Mat Luscheck/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Students At The International Contortion Convention In Las Vegas Learn How To Bend And Twist Their Bodies
Students At The International Contortion Convention In Las Vegas Learn How To Bend And Twist Their Bodies. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Video from Fertitta wedding Sep. 1
video from @wedstagrams of Fertitta wedding at Red Rock Resort
You Can Get Vegan Unicorn Toast In Downtown Las Vegas
You Can Get Vegan Unicorn Toast In Downtown Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like