‘You ordered how much brisket?!’: How to prepare for a food festival

A woman in a black and white striped sweater smiles as she poses in the doorway of a walk-in freezer
Katie Hausman Grace checks on a freezer full of food that she’s ordered as part of the preparations for the May 15 event. Visit our Jewish Food and Culture Fest page to learn more about how you can help out through sponsorships, donations, and volunteering.

This year’s outdoor May 15 Jewish Food and Culture Fest is one of our — and our community’s — favorite events. Who doesn’t love the brisket, corned beef, falafel, matzah ball soup, and cabbage rolls prepared from recipes that have been passed down for generations? It’s all so delicious and plentiful.

But how does it all come together in time to be served up for an eager crowd? 

“It’s a heckuva lot of work,” answers Katie Hausman Grace, community engagement director at The J and the main coordinator of this year’s event. 

It was still February when Katie started estimating quantities of specific foods and ingredients that she’ll need to pull off the event. Since that time she’s ordered… a lot. 

She consults a spreadsheet on her computer and rattles off a list of foods and their quantities:

  • Brisket: 382 pounds
  • Ground beef: 100 pounds
  • Smoked whitefish: 75 pounds
  • Corned beef: 54 pounds
  • Hot dogs: 200 count
  • Pickling cucumbers: four cases
  • Heads of cabbage: 90

And even that won’t be enough. “I still need some 75 pounds more of corned beef,” Katie says. In addition, the event requires large amounts of rye bread, hot dogs, rugelach, and bagels, plus a quantity of seasonings that would empty the shelves at your local Publix. 

Thankfully The J’s coolers and freezers are up to the task.

Volunteers make it work

And since the foods won’t cook themselves, Katie has been reaching out to potential volunteer leaders to organize some 70 volunteers into various cooking groups. They will all keep The J’s kosher kitchen in overtime mode in the final weeks leading up to the event. “I’m still hoping The J’s pickleballers will step up to make the pickles,” she quips.

Katie takes the work in stride. While it can be nerve-wracking trying to anticipate how much people will actually consume on May 15, she admits, knowing how the event pulls the community together — both behind the scenes and on the actual day — makes it all worthwhile.

“It’s hard to imagine a better public expression of Jewish culture in Birmingham,” she says.

As you just read, this event is huge — and we can’t do it without your help. Visit our Jewish Food and Culture Fest page to learn more about how you can contribute through sponsorships, donations, and volunteering.