Sample world of food at ‘Taste of St. Thomas’

By NANCY WILSTACH / Community Columnist

You can have the world on your plate March 4 at the 17th Taste of Saint Thomas, an event hosted annually by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of Columbus at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Montevallo.

The church, which is the home parish for much of Shelby, Chilton and Bibb counties, counts among its parishioners a variety of ethnicities—Asian, Mexican, Central and South American, Cajun, Italian, Spanish, German, Polish, Eastern European, as well as American.

For the annual Taste, cooks from each group produce favorites from their cookbooks, and a diner can sample burritos, sauerbraten, gumbo and lasagna, and much, much more, without leaving the church’s Parish Hall.

Joanne Butcke, chairwoman of this year’s Taste, said she expects the event to pack the place.

“The doors open at 6 p.m., but we don’t start the food until 6:30,” she said. “This is fun for the whole family because of the food and because of the popularity of the silent auction and the penny sale.”

Guests come early and buy 50-cent tickets that are each good for one sample serving of a dish at one of the decorated and laden tables around the perimeter of the hall.

Joe Orticke is one of the regulars at the Cajun or Louisiana table, and he has become known for his crawfish étouffé. His huge caldron of the tasty dish is empty by evening’s end, as is the big pot of gumbo beside it.

Making his étouffé is a painstaking and serious procedure, Orticke said.

“I learned how to make it from people out in the Bayou Country out from New Orleans,” said the New Orleans native. “And if you ask me for the recipe, I’ll tell you ‘crawfish and spices and TLC.’” Those “spices” are a closely guarded secret, Orticke said.

He makes the recipe in a five-gallon batch, he said, and the process, once the shopping is done, takes roughly three hours.

Besides the variety of food, the event includes a silent auction, said Butcke. That opens at 6 p.m., and winners visit a Parish Hall meeting room to examine the treasures up for bids.

“I think the favorite item is a beach vacation at a condo,” Butcke said.

Electronics, clothing, books, handbags and household items also are among the auction items.

The “Penny Sale” is aimed mainly at children with the toys, books and games going to the lucky persons whose winning tickets are drawn in raffle fashion.

Butcke said the proceeds from the Taste go to the Parish Building Fund and parish ministries.

“It is by far the largest event held at our parish,” she said, “with people from all the area churches attending.”