CANONSBURG – Maureen Kusturiss knows all too well that 30,000 authentic Greek meals won’t prepare themselves.
“Mostly we work on Mondays and Tuesdays from January to June.” she said, referring to herself and a team of parishioners at All Saints Greek Orthodox Church. “We prep everything like that – do our cooking.”
Kusturiss is serving her 40th year as kitchen chairwoman of the church’s annual Greek Food Festival, which began Monday and continues through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., featuring nighty entertainment including a live band and parish youth dance troupes.
The church, at 601 West McMurray Road, offers a la carte, dinner and dessert menus offering lamb-laden fan favorites to the ever-popular rice pudding.
The food draws a loyal customer base that extends beyond parishioners. Last year, the event raised more than $200,000, which was invested into the church and its community outreach initiatives.
According to Mike Kusturiss, chairman of the festival, the only component halting the event’s growth is space.
“We try to put more food out,” he said. “But we’re just about maximized out here. There’s only so much we can serve in six days.”
Beneath two white tents, about 1,000 customers at a time can dine. Throughout the week, the line for food wraps around the front of the church and parking becomes scarce.
Despite the rush of customers, the freezers of prepared Greek dishes remain stocked. For six months Maureen Kusturiss and her team lay the tremendous culinary groundwork for the event.
Aside from the meats, everything is created from scratch months in advance and frozen until needed.
“Right now is basically the easy part for me,” she said. “I just take (the food) out and put it in the oven.”
Their approach calls for mass processing.
“We make over 30,000 grape leaves – it takes us like six weeks just to roll grape leaves,” she said, referring to a Greek variation of stuffed peppers, filled with a mixture of ground beef, onion, lemon juice, tomatoes, oil and dill weed. “Most churches – I think – buy the grape leaves in a can, but we really make everything.”
Recipes require heaping ingredients, including more than 1,000 pounds of ground meat for sauce alone.
The desserts are no small feat either. Manuel Pihakis, the festival food line chairman, said his wife is in charge of generating gallons of rice pudding.
“She makes 16 gallons a day.” he said. “And it goes as fast as she makes it.”
When the demand grew beyond the Pihakises’ home operation, they began driving buckets of pudding to Sarris Candies in Canonsburg, where it was mixed for serving.
The church hosts a mini-festival in late summer to sell the “strictly Greek” cuisine.
The main event draws a colorful representation of the Washington community.
“(The festival) brings people together from the area, politicians and courthouse workers,” Mike Kusturiss said. “It brings all types of people from the community here.”