"Mediterranean Food Festival, on the "St. Joseph's Table" holiday
Piazza Armerina, Sicily
In mid-February 2013, I was invited by the Italian Club Arti A Mastiari to arrive in Sicily in five weeks (!) With an Israeli team to attend a food festival for St. Joseph's Day. I have never been to Sicily I and of course I said yes. Now a team had to be formed and fast. My greatest surprise was the Feast of St. Joseph, which I knew nothing about and which later turned out to be one of the more emotional events I attended.
I took on the role of confectioner, and asked the very talented pastry chef Eden Elkobi (second from right) to take on the bread. Danny Venter a childhood friend (first right) was glad to join, but we still had to recruit a cook.
It wasn't easy to find someone at such a short notice, and I was running out of time. So I took a chance and recruited Ronni Kinnani (second left) a facebook friend whom I never met before for the job. Just like I found Eden at the time, but my Facebook friends is a story in itself.
It was quite clear that I had to travel not only with great people but also to make sure we were able to work together as a team. But due to lack of time we had only one training day that luckily was successful.
Red or Blue?
It was an opportunity to fulfill my old dream of flying abroad with my own team (The Y-Team), so I ordered a uniform for us in red.
We landed in Catania late at night and the cold really penetrated the bones. The hosts said that it was snowing in that morning. We were not prepared for this because we left Israel at a temperature of 35 degrees, so that the thick red sweatshirts saved us. So yes, sometimes dreams come true.
However all festival participants were given the same uniform so that we will be clean and respectable for the ceremonies.
And so after four days without laundry, we changed the red and white to white and blue.
We were asked to prepare a baked showcase work for Joseph's table. I made the seven-branched Menorah in advance and packed it in pieces. The final assembly I done there. And no, there is no spelling error here. That's how Israel writes in Italian.
Piazza Armerina is a small town of 20,000 inhabitants about an hour and a half drive west of Catania.
Its name - the "Army Square" - hints at its strategic location. It was founded in the 11th century and flourished during the reign of the Romans, as can be seen in Villa Romana, an impressive archaeological site we visited the last day, where amazing mosaics were preserved in a total area of about 8,800 square meters, but it was claimed that the area was inhabited in prehistoric times about 800 years BC.
The town's age explains the narrow paved streets and the beautiful ancient structures, some of which crumble and some are preserved, and it is quite frightening to see cars and buses speeding in those alleyways, and no one minds (but me).
Our hotel is nice and the rooms are comfortable but the stairs ... are for mountain climbers and the front door is for dwarfs - even I had to bend over and poor Ronni, who was about six feet tall, almost crawled in that Kennel door.
Due to time pressure and language difficulties, we did not understand exactly what we were going to do, and the one who actually saved me was Latifah, the multilingual Moroccan representative who spoke to me in French, Arabic with Ronni and Italian with the others.
She explained that the festival's name was combining the words diet and the Mediterranean. The organizers invited representatives of the Mediterranean countries, all of whom had the same raw materials.
The event took place in a huge tent that was built in the inner courtyard of the Bibliotheque, which included a hall with dining tables with about 300 seats, with front and back kitchens. The task of all the teams was to prepare 120 full dinner servings each day, including a first course, a main course and a dessert, all based on Mediterranean ingredients.
Medieterania and the young generation
In the mornings little children sat in the "dining room". Preschoolers and elementary schools All in uniform - the little ones in colorful robes they wore over the clothes and every school had a different color. They were given baking classes by members of Club Arti A Mastiari.
The middle and high school students who studied hotel professions - cooking, restaurant and hotel management as well as cooking.
Fashion students also showed up in fancy dresses they made.
The cooking students were sent to "help" us, but the idea was to expose them to other languages and people who came from afar and use ingredients they know from home, in different ways. Very touching.
Grazie per essere venuti, ma i nostri pasti sono finiti. Per favore ritornate domani. Team Israele.
.Thank you for coming but we ran out of food. Please come back again tomorrow. Team Israel.
The highlight was on the third day for which we prepared shakshuka, hummus, roasted eggplant, and a small chopped salad with Eden's amazing desserts, and even though we prepared an even larger amount this time, it all disappeared.
click the photos to enlarge
Each evening the teams presented a sample tray of the meal they worked on during the day.The people pf Piazza Armerina bought a coupon for 10 Euros and chose a meal according to the sample trays they fancied.
There were two seats every evening, and it was very intense, serving for 600 people every night.
On the first day we prepared an Arab dish according to Ronni's menu, and ran out of all the 120+ portions before the end of the dinner time. On the second day, too, we ran out of food before the end of dinner time. It was flattering on the one hand but also embarrassing on the other and we had to stand with a sign that read:
And just like the weather, the ingredients are not exactly identical in the Mediterranean countries and we had to improvise. If there are no cucumbers for the salad, use zucchini (Ronni was choked), and on the day of the shakshuka (and egg based dish)we waited for 5 hours for the eggs that were collected from all the supermarkets in the city. At the end of each evening we munched on other teams leftovers, especially the Moroccan team who made devine couscous. The Hungarian team arrived as guests of honor as they have no coast to the Mediterranean.
The wonderful feeling of togetherness we had here with the host team of Piazza Armerina, led by local resident Giovanni Di Bella, mutual help, exchange of recipes and ingredients, and the desire to help made this experience unforgettable. And all this before we even talked about San Giuseppe. But the main issue is what this event symbolized. Both on the educational and spiritual aspect.
Tavolata di San Giuseppe
Generally, the Feast of St. Joseph is celebrated in Catholic communities throughout the world on March 19. Legend has it that Sicily was in a difficult state due to heavy drought. The people prayed to St. Joseph, who was considered a patron of Sicily. The saint responded to their prayers and the rain saved the people of the island from hunger. Since then, March 19 has been celebrated with huge meals made up of traditional dishes, most of which contain breadcrumbs that symbolize sawdust since St. Joseph was a carpenter. The food is arranged on a three-story "altar" that symbolizes the Holy Trinity. Since the holiday falls during the pre-Easter period, according to Catholic belief, it is a time of fasting and celibacy, it is a vegetarian holiday, with no meat dishes at all.
This holiday symbolizes many wonderful things. It symbolizes brotherhood among people, brotherhood among nations, and brotherhood among religions. In addition, it also symbolizes generosity and aiding those who can not afford. Bread has a particularly conspicuous symbolism as the symbol of life and family connection. The Feast of St. Joseph, who according to Christians' faith, was the stepfather of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is therefore also Father's Day and Family Day. Because of the importance of bread and the giving out of food to the needy who cannot afford to build such an "altar" in their homes, people who have an altar keep their homes open, and anyone can come in and eat. The altars are also built in the schools, but the largest and central altar was built of course in the church and the people bring dishes and place them on the altar.
Mass at St. Joseph's Church, very emotional
On Tuesday evening we were invited to the church. We were all dressed in the beautiful uniforms that were prepared especially for this event. The surprise awaited us inside with a huge set table with all the delicacies we had prepared, and the art works in bread we brought.
There was a choir singing like angels, and then a man, a woman, and a child dressed as Jesus Merry and Joseph, followed by Cardinal Michele, walked in.
The Cardinal radiates calmness and peace. And although I didn't understand
what he was saying, it was possible to get spirit of it. He spoke about brotherhood and emphasized the connection between the three "monotheistic religions" - and told that his taxi driver was "Hebrew" and how important it was to him.
Ronni who sat next to me is Catholic was tearing the whole time and had to go out to cal Mom Camelia to share the experience.
At the end of the mass, the Cardinal came up to me and said hello in Hebrew and .... the tears ran down on their own. What an amazing person.
That evening we gave out all the food and bread trays from the altar in church to the people who crowded the entrance to the church in order to get a piece of the blessed food.
I was very flattered that the priest of the church had chosen my bread Menorah to decorate his office.
Later on, we went to an elementary school where there was an altar waiting for us and a group of little ones sitting on the floor waiting for us with the flags of the four delegations that participated in Mediternia. It was very exciting to see so many flags that stood out with blue and white on the colors of the other flags. Under the altar sat pairs of children dressed as St. Joseph and Merry.
The ceremony with the Honorable Mayor
On the last day we were invited to the beautiful office of the Honorable Mayor Fausto Carmelo Nigrelli, who noted that this is the first time that Medietarnia took place and despite all the difficulties it was considered a success and will be done again next year.
He gave all the participants a certificate of appreciation and a mosaic of Vila Romana.
In the cafe outside that morning, we discovered accidentally a picture of Latifa and me in a local newspaper that someone left behind.
We returned home tired, satisfied and with the taste of more. Or as Ronny said-I don't want it to end
An Italian TV crew commemorated the event