57th Annual Ginza Festival Chicago

This afternoon I went up the Midwest Buddhist Temple in Old Town to volunteer for the Ginza Festival Chicago. The event serves two purposes; one as a fund raiser to meet the temple expenses and the other as a way of sharing Japanese traditions with the people of the neighborhood.

I learned about this event last year from, Nancy Rivera a volunteer I met at the Glass Slipper Project, but I had another commitment last year. Fortunately, I remembered about the Festival and found it online in time to volunteer this year.

Nancy and her husband Greg work the Teriyaki Chicken tent, and as an acquaintance of hers, the volunteer coordinator put me on their team. When I arrived I met Greg and found out that Nancy recently had surgery on her shoulder and wasn’t going to be there.

At first I was told I would be taking tickets or handing out food, but they quickly put me on the grill. Grill doesn’t seem like the right word for the 25 foot trough with moveable grates/baskets.

Ginza Festival Chicago Teriyaki ChickenThey marinate and parboil chicken halves in the Church’s kitchen and bring out dozens in commercial roasting pans. From there the halves go onto 2×2 sized grates. The “grill” is an assembly line set up, and the grates slowly migrate from one end to the other, where, after a few flips, the halves wind up on half sheet baking pans and head into a holding oven.

We spent nearly 2 hours prepping chicken before the booth finally opened at 5:30 PM. Then the chicken halves were taken out of the holding ovens, chopped into four smaller, manageable pieces, served up with coleslaw and rice, and handed out. We continued to grill chicken until after 8 PM, and I can only guess that we served up a several hundred lbs of chicken.

When the cooking ended about 8:30 PM I walked over to the main stage to listen to musicians playing traditional taiko drums. It was a beautiful evening and after one last beer I headed home. Thankfully, Joe one of the other cooks offered me a ride to the Red Line, saving me about a 3/4 mile walk.

It was a long, hard five hours, the wind kept blowing smoke and ash in my face, I had to take a long shower to wash the smoke smell off, use Dawn to wash the splatter off my glasses, but the people were all very friendly and appreciative. I am glad I was able to help, and will keep this place in mind next year.