Prost! Oktoberfest with Christina Simonitsch

Thursday, September 27, 2018

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For two weeks every year, almost six million people descend upon Theresienwiese in Munich to celebrate Oktoberfest. The Bavarian folk festival is known to revolve around beer and in the celebration's 200-year history it has only been cancelled 24 times. The beer never stops flowing! This year local caterer and principal of Simo's Bread and Catering Christina Simonitsch was unable to join a number of her friends at Oktoberfest in Germany. So, instead of missing out on the fun, she decided to bring the festival to her.

Simo's Oktoberfest was held on Sunday, September 23 at the Simonitsch family's Arcadia Greathouse in Trelawny. The event was sold-out. If you follow Simonitsch on Instagram you'll easily understand why guests journeyed from Kingston, Montego Bay and Negril to attend. Simonitsch promised suckling pig, fresh-baked pretzels, four flavours of ice cream, shandy pops, vegetarian sausage kebabs, a salad station, porchetta, grilled chicken, spätzle, apple strudel and treats sent directly from Europe. Oh, and lots of beer. Red Stripe, in fact! Why get German beers when we are blessed with the king of lagers? (Fun fact: the word lager has German roots!)

Upon arrival guests were greeted by Simonitsch and her brother Alex. A few feet away servers were at the ready with sparkling wine and poured frothy mugs of Red Stripe draught. Patrons were then ushered to a Tai Flora Luxe-decorated bamboo tent draped in blue and white fabric (traditional Oktoberfest colours). With the bar set so high with first impressions, how would the food compare?

Let's start with the pork. The delicious, moist pork. Simonitsch brought in pitmaster Simon Levy to help with cooking the Copperwood and Kew Park Farms pork. The whole suckling pig, pork belly and porchetta were done Gaucho-style and boy, were they good. The slow-roasting and self-basting allowed the porchetta and pork belly to drip with juiciness and have crackling and shattered with the slap of a knife. The suckling pig did not die in vain and from the look on his face he was happy to have been masterfully prepared and eaten.

The pretzel wall, meanwhile, was a standout! Leave it to Simonitsch to creatively think of a way to display carbs. The pretzels were delicious and pretty to look at. This is the kind of interactive art installation that Thursday Food can get behind. There, too, were different mustards to go with the pretzels, including some sent by family members in Austria. Authentic!

The dry rub used on the grilled chicken elevated the humble protein with its smokiness, saltiness and nuanced heat. Though being a meat-focused menu the vegetarians were not left out. Simonitsch made veggie sausage kebabs with corn and potatoes, German bread dumplings made with pretzels (yay!), spätzle with beer cheese sauce and a salad station comprised of hearty potato salad, coleslaw, lemon and fennel salad, cucumber with dill and yoghurt and sauerkraut. They were all excellent. Sauerkraut can be polarising but Simonitsch's two versions (one with speck — spice-cured pork akin to prosciutto) had many going for seconds.

Finally, we got to the desserts. The ice cream stand — a mainstay at Simonitsch's events, provided guests with four flavours of ice cream and a shandy pop. The bacon maple did not skimp on candied pieces of bacon and the flavour of real maple syrup was on the mark. The chocolate pretzel had chunks of chewy pretzels, dark chocolate flavour and just enough sea salt to add a tinge of complexity. The butter pecan had one guest exclaim, “But what have I been eating, then?” comparing Simonitsch's flavour to shop-bought. The apple elderflower was heavenly and surprisingly reminded Thursday Food of its favourite Gewürztraminer. The shandy pops were a clever way to get guests to imbibe more beer. They were here for it — not one complaint was made. And how could we forget the flaky apple strudel with cinnamon enrobed apples that still maintained their firmness? In the words of ex- Great British Bake Off judge Mary Berry: “sheer perfection”.

The only thing Simo's Oktoberfest was missing was a blaskappelle (a traditional brass band). But, ever the thoughtful event planner, Simonitsch had an ambient playlist that for a brief moment made a few guests think they were in an Alpine mountain village ready to grab Tyrolean hats and don lederhosen and dirndl. Well, a couple of women, besides our host, actually turned up wearing dirndl!

Nowadays, Oktoberfest is known for being a boisterous, beer-swilling, rollicking good time. However, leave it up to Christina Simonitsch to add a touch of élan and make the Jamaicanised version of Oktoberfest, in a word, wunderbar!

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