An interview with Randy Stark by Lyssa Harvey
It was 10 years ago when Columbian Randy Stark had an idea—a Jewish brisket cooking contest! Randy’s vision was for this to be the premiere Fall Jewish Food Festival. He presented this to the Beth Shalom Synagogue Board, and just like that “Bubbie’s Brisket Bakeoff” was born. Bubbie is the Yiddish word for grandmother, or great grandmother. The first event was held on September 13, 2009 and cleared $100.00. Today, this popular Fall Jewish Food Festival has morphed into “Bubbie’s Brisket and Bakery Extravaganza,” sometime referred to simply as “Bubbie’s.” It is the only kosher food festival in South Carolina, and last year it clearly proved to be a successful fundraising event for Beth Shalom after selling out its most popular dishes. Randy, the founder and creator of this festival, says it is bigger and better than ever. The festival features all-kosher items: Chicken Soup, Brisket, Corned Beef Sandwiches, Stuffed Cabbage and Meatballs and Challah, as well as some Israeli foods. It also features a bakery of homemade cakes and cookies. Rugelach is a favorite. (See below for Randy’s mother, Suzi Stark’s, recipe.)
Randy and his original crew of volunteers, Dan Matzner, Amy Berger, and Terri Hodges, organized the first year of the Jewish cookoff. Randy remembers staying up all night with excitement and nervous energy the night before. He wanted to make sure everything was in place for the next morning. And when the decision to do this again came along—their family and friends wouldn’t let them not do it. Randy’s parents, Scrappy and Suzi Stark, Dan’s parents, Gad and Bobbie Matzner, Terri’s parents, Ben and Arlene Perlstine, along with many other Beth Shalom volunteers, pitched in to make the second year work! It transitioned from a cookoff into a food festival. It took hours of hard work . According to Randy, “it was a labor of love. Our parents and children and friends joined in to make it a fun community event.”
Randy’s original goal for a premiere Jewish Food Festival has come true, but he says that his favorite aspect of the festival is “the spirit de corps.” He really enjoys working together with new and old Beth Shalom members, who volunteer both in and out of the kitchen to get the festival ready! It brings the synagogue community together for a common goal. According to Randy, the festival is a different kind of spirituality. It’s one of connections and joy that he personally cherishes as a Jewish value.
The Stark family have long been an integral part of Columbia’s Jewish community. Randy Stark is the youngest son of Suzi and Scrappy Stark. His older brother, Andy, lives in Memphis. He was born in Norfolk, Virginia, his parent’s hometown. The family moved to Columbia in 1971 when Randy was 1 ½ years old, and he considers himself a native Columbian. His father retired after a career as an admissions officer at USC, and his mother served on the at Benedict College for 20 years. After graduating from the University of Alabama, Randy interned at Disney in Orlando, where he met his wife, Cindy. They both attended the University of Florida where he received his MBA and Cindy her nursing credentials. Since returning, they have always lived in close proximity to the Jewish Community Center and the synagogue, where their sons have gone to Sunday school and their oldest two have celebrated their Bar Mitzvahs. As a child, Randy grew up at the old Jewish Community Center on Trenholm Road and remembers his days of playing interfaith basketball. Now, Randy serves as a basketball coach for the interfaith league and also on the Beth Shalom Synagogue Board. Randy and Cindy are both “doers,” and he credits the strong, positive feelings of growing up in a close Jewish community for his strong Jewish activism today. He is proud that his parents are receiving this year’s Beth Shalom synagogue’s highest award, called “The Magen David Award,” for their service to the synagogue and community.
Randy shared a fond memory from the first 5 years of Bubbie’s when he gathered a team of his buddies to prep the festival’s chicken soup. Picture a gaggle of guys, listening to music, drinking a few cold ones, and cutting up carrots, celery, and onions while just plain cutting up. He still remembers the laughter of those long evenings. The recipe is one contributed by his wife, Cindy Stankiewicz Stark. She was given a Passover cookbook by her mother-in-law, Suzi Stark, when she and Randy married over 22 years ago. Cindy has tweaked it over the years to make it the award-winning and best-selling chicken soup for the festival. Cooking the chicken soup for the festival entails three 20-gallon pots of chicken broth, 12 chickens, 9 pounds of carrots, celery, and 12 onions. The cooking crew does this twice!
Randy admits that his favorite thing at the Food Festival is the big corned beef sandwich. “It’s kosher meat brought in from Griller’s Pride in Atlanta and it’s just delicious. I think it’s hands down the best corned beef sandwich in the South! Better than Carnegie or Katz deli in New York.” Ten years ago, Randy’s idea of the Brisket Bakeoff was a winner, and Bubbie’s Brisket and Bakery Extravaganza carries on the tradition today. As for Randy and Cindy, they entered their Matzo Ball (chicken soup) recipe in that first year’s cookoff, and it won! They proudly display their bronze engraved award for the chicken soup in their kitchen.
By Suzi Stark
1/2 cup butter ( I use Breakstone's unsalted whipped butter)
1 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons sugar
3 cups flour
Pinch of salt
1 package dry yeast
1 teaspoon vanilla (if desired)
Mix creamed butter, sugar, sour cream, and vanilla. Add yeast and flour and salt. Divide into 6 parts and refrigerate overnight. Roll out each ball into a 9-inch circle. Spread cinnamon, nut, sugar, and/or preserves. (I add some unsalted butter.) Cut into pie-shaped wedges and roll into rugelach shapes. Place on buttered cookie sheets. Bake approximately 15 minutes at 350 degrees.
Award-Winning Matzo Ball Soup
By Cindy Stankiewicz Stark
1 chicken, 3-5 pounds
1 large onion diced
1-2 carrots, sliced or diced
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon marjoram
1 tablespoon thyme
Wash chicken, removing fat and skin. Place in large (at least 6-quart) pot. Add water, one quart per pound of chicken. Bring to a boil, skimming as needed. Simmer for 30 minutes, then add vegetables and seasonings. Simmer covered for 1 ½ - 2 hours until chicken is tender. Remove chicken (which can be used for other meals). If desired, strain soup. Add matzo balls.
Matzo balls (yields 16-18):
4 tablespoons oil or fat
4 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup matzo meal
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons soup stock or water
Mix fat or oil and eggs together. Mix together matzo meal and salt and all fat or oil and eggs. When well blended, add soup stock or water. Cover bowl and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Bring to boil 2-3 quarts of water. Form balls about the size of walnuts from the matzo meal mixture and drop them into the boiling water. Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes. Remove matzo balls and add to warm chicken soup.