GREEN: It will forever be remembered as the second miracle of the loaves and fishes.
When a record crowd of 935 people showed up for the largest and final fish fry of Lent last year at Queen of Heaven Catholic Church, workers turned to the Rev. David Durkee after they ran out of bread. The women teased him, asking if he could help as Jesus did in the biblical parable when he fed 5,000 people with two fishes and five loaves of bread.
“They asked me if I could make a miracle like the loaves and fishes. ‘God makes miracles,’ I said, and started to pray, facetiously, for more bread. I no sooner got the words out when a woman came around the corner and said ‘I found a loaf of bread,’ ” Durkee said with a chuckle.
Keeping a sense of humor may be the most important lesson volunteers learn when feeding an average of 800 people each week, said master cook Doug Cincurak, the man in charge of dishing up 400 pounds of cod and shrimp and 140 pounds of french fries on the six Friday evenings leading up to Easter.
“We tend to be pretty resilient. If someone has forgotten to order this or that, we just go get it and try not to get too excited,” he said.
On Friday, the first fish fry of the Lenten season, the kitchen was in a state of controlled chaos as about 10 men of the parish were preparing trays of redskin potatoes, macaroni and cheese and fish fillets. It’s considered a men’s bastion where women fear to tread, said Jim Abbott, business officer for the dinners.
“Nobody wants to work with these guys,” he teased.
Many of them have been cooking together since the parish began serving fish dinners 14 years ago. But the group isn’t averse to accepting a new person into the circle. The only requirement is that the newbie have skin thick enough to put up with the jokesters in aprons, Abbott said. Cooking experience is always optional.
Keeping an eye on the shenanigans, Cincurak mixed his homemade hot sauce in three large electric roasters just outside the kitchen door.
“If it weren’t for Doug, this probably wouldn’t happen,” Abbott said as he watched Cincurak taste-test the rice dish, adding a little of this and a little of that to make sure the concoction had just the right spicy kick.
It takes about 125 volunteers to produce and serve the dinners each week, including some of the younger members of the church, children in grades 6-8 known as the God Squad, Cincurak said.
In 2013, just under 5,000 dinners were served in the Parish Life Center, raising about $14,000 for the church’s charitable works, including scholarships for students at St. Francis de Sales School in Coventry Township and a weekly dinner for the needy at Bethany Lutheran Church on Carroll Street in Akron.
Profits from the first three or four years of fish fries — which average about $2,000 a night — went toward building a hall and kitchen in 2006 in which to prepare the meals and allow guests to enjoy them. The approximately 4,500 parishioners paid off the center’s $2.5 million mortgage in five years, said Abbott.
Meals are served in the Parish Life Center’s gymnasium, which seats about 500 people and is also used for CYO basketball and volleyball, and sometimes wedding receptions for parishioners, said Durkee.
Akronites Nancy and Bill Vandever, the first couple to arrive for dinner Friday, said they begin their Lenten tour of fish fries with Queen of Heaven each year because the food is exceptional and the money raised is used to benefit the community.
“I like to try churches where [the money] is doing some good,” said Bill Vandever.
Jack and Karen Paul of Jackson Township said they anticipate the Lenten meals and stick with Queen of Heaven each week.
“They have the best fish around,” said Karen Paul.
Beer batter bust
Cincurak, a captain on the Green Fire Department, signed on as chief chef eight years ago after parishioners discovered he cooks for fellow firefighters each night he is on duty. He came into the job with lots of great ideas.
The first one — offering hand-dipped, beer-battered cod — wasn’t one of them, he admitted.
“It was a nightmare. We had batter everywhere,” he said. “We laughed because we were so stupid. It’s not practical trying to feed 800 diners in two in a half hours that way.”
Today, the operation is more streamlined. Cincurak reports to the hall at noon each Friday to begin breading fish and creating his special “Barberton-style” hot sauce.
For the first time this year, the rice dish will be paired with another Barberton staple, French fries donated by Mike and Lisa Peyakov, owners of the White House Chicken restaurant in Green.
Side items, such as redskin potatoes seasoned with butter and garlic, macaroni and cheese and pierogi, plus shrimp and fish combo dinners, make for loyal customers, Cincurak said. Offerings include a hefty helping of fresh, homemade desserts donated by parishioners and for those who don’t eat fish, pizza is a welcome staple on the menu.
It is a lot of food for the money, said Cincurak,
“The value keeps bringing them back,” he said.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or email@example.com.