Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Jews and food—it’s a relationship that goes back to the beginning of time. “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!” is a common refrain, but what type of cooking truly personifies “Jewish food”? I can’t answer for sure but the hankering for rich, smoky, spit-fired meat stretches back thousands of years to such memorable cook-outs as the Pesach offering when we left Egypt. Even Joseph showed his brothers who the true “pit master” was, and of course, Schmulka Bernstein’s offered its customers smoked meats decades ago.

While Kansas City and Memphis hotly debate which is the home of real BBQ, the aroma of this cooking sensation has wafted around the country, and today kosher BBQ cook-offs sanctioned by the KCBS, Kansas City Barbecue Society, as well as the World Kosher BBQ Championship in Memphis, have been popping up around the country.

The Southern New England Kosher BBQ Championship and Craft Fair will be holding its annual event Sunday August 30th, in Fairfield, CT. Hosted by Congregation Beth El and with strict kosher supervision by Bais Ben Zion, Rabbi Zushe Blech of Monsey, the event is on track to eclipse the 3,000-plus attendees it had last year. With over two dozen creatively named competitors from around the country vying for bragging rights in the ever-important areas of chicken, beans, ribs and brisket, the event highlights a unifying appreciation for the smoky, barbecue goodness shared by both backyard grill masters and chefs alike. Come watch teams like Burnt Offerings, RaBBi-Q, and Uncle Morty and the Meatzva Girls try to wow the judges with their “Lo’ and Slo’” skills. One other part of the competition is the Marvin Rembo People’s Choice Award, named after founder of the Long Island Kosher BBQ Cook-off who tragically passed away just days before the 2013 competition, and awarded for creativity in team name and booth decoration.

Elan Kornblum, publisher of Great Kosher Restaurants Magazine and one of the celebrity judges, told me he’s been looking forward to the SNE BBQ, now the largest such event in the tri-state area, since last year. “And what makes it even better,” says Kornblum, “is that the founder, Warren Rockmacher, is a huge BBQ fanatic. His enthusiasm for the event and the participants is contagious.”

In speaking to Rockmacher, it’s clear that the event is much more than a Sunday afternoon bungalow colony weenie roast. We’re talking serious meats, with cooking starting as soon as the mashgiach (kosher supervisor) opens the fridges on Motzei Shabbat. They’ll be working feverishly, and delivering their wares to the judges beginning around 11:30. Once all their items have been presented, there will be samples available beginning about 1:30 as long as they last (probably not long!). But never fear, you can get your fill of heavenly (both kosher-wise and yummy-wise) barbecue goodness.

Ari White, a return competitor and proprietor of The Wandering Que, a traveling kosher BBQ “experience,” will be setting up shop to offer delights like chicken sandwiches, chili and ribs ranging from “half a pound to absolutely Flintstonian!” He related that last year they were seriously surprised by the overwhelming demand for the kosher vittles and ran out of food before the day was over, something he plans to avoid this year. (The Wandering Que is under the supervision of Baltimore-based Star-K, and White brings his own mashgiach.)

There will also be hot dogs and hamburgers sold by the shul, a roasted corn vendor and a Rita’s Water Ice stand. The food, though, is just one part of the larger event.

“We have approximately 23 barbecue teams, hot dog- and pickle-eating contests, kids’ play zones and activities including giant inflatables, local TV and radio stations broadcasting on site and a unique gathering of top artists and crafters,” related Warren Rockmacher, the event’s founder and co-chair. “The craft vendors will be an eclectic bunch, displaying a wide variety of amazing and beautiful objets d’art for you to take home, and offering a fun way to spend a day with your family.

There will be great entertainment throughout the day—renowned DJ, Starlight Express NY, will be playing music all day long. For live entertainment, Silver Steel from Bridgeport, CT, will be returning along with the amazing kids band, The Rock Godz. As Rockmacher quipped, “You haven’t heard Hava Nagila until you’ve heard it played by a steel drum band!” Add to that raffles and the chance to win a new grill to take home, and you’ve got a full-course day of fun. Town officials have jumped in to help, providing police and emergency services, and arranging free parking at the local schools and library. It’s shaping up to be a great day which will benefit Operation Hope, a local food bank and shelter, as well as several other charities including the local fire company. One attendee last year said it was great watching the local Chabad visitors mingling with a biker group that came to enjoy the event. “It was just fun, relaxing and everybody smiling.”

Open to the general public (no pets please; service animals only), admission is two canned food items to help restock the shelves at Operation Hope. Close by and lots of fun, come share your love of kosher and ‘cue with a few thousand of your closest friends.

What: The Southern New England Kosher BBQ Championship and Craft Fair

Where: Congregation Beth El “Fairgrounds,” 1200 Fairfield Woods Road, Fairfield, CT 06825

When: August 30, 2015, from 11a.m. to 5 p.m.

Why: Because this BBQ answers to a higher authority.

By Jonathan Gewirtz