Challah, babka, and pastrami: pre-Food Festival interview with John

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with John Trimpi, the Director of Operations at Levin JCC as well as challah making extraordinaire. As the preparations for 2017 Jewish Food Festival are in full swing, John found some time for me to ask him a few questions (while baking).

When did Food Fest start and how did you get involved?

It started in 2012. I got involved right away. I had a good relationship with the chef at the time. I have always been into food. I used to garden, so I would bring him fresh produce to put in campers’ lunches. We became friends, bonded over cooking. At first, he invited me to join challah baking. Then it naturally progressed to the Food Fest.

How much work goes into preparation (ingredients, hours, human power)?

It’s hard to say. We work about 80 hours the week of Food Fest, that’s including our normal bake. It’s intense but mostly exhilarating. We have about 20 people involved this year.
The ingredients: 300lbs of brisket, 80lbs pastrami, 150lb potatoes, 200lbs flour, 700 eggs.

Is there anything that you would like to see at Food Fest that we have not done yet?

I would like to make my own rye. I would say make pastrami but I don’t know much about pastrami. Right now we get our rye from Weaver St co-op.


What is your favorite thing to make?

Challah. All day. It makes people in the community happy.
It’s a ritual for James and me. We are always looking for the perfect bake. I grow every week. I learn something new every week. We play with the temperatures, baking times… there are so many variables. For both challah and babka. There are so many factors that contribute. Both James and I care so much about it. Challah has a mind of its own. Every piece of dough, you have to get to know it. I know this dough will blow up but this batch will stay firm. We adjust water temperature. The air from the outside will affect the bake. I turned the AC on just now, so the air that’s being pulled from the outside, it’s moist, and it will affect the dough. It’s a challenge but it’s also so rewarding.


Jewish Food Festival is on Sunday, April 23rd

Join us!