Food for Oktoberfest Party

September 16, 2015

Photo by Kobako

James Bullard and Emily Wilson are bold people. Every October they invite everyone they know to join their version of Oktoberfest. Yes: everyone they know.

"It's a party party, " Bullard says, "with copious amounts of eating and drinking and everyone invited like when you threw a party in college."

More than 100 people stop by their San Francisco house during the six-hour event, where they find a keg, coolers of soft drinks and more beer, a table laden with potluck offerings of salads and side dishes, a kitchen counter covered with buns and condiments, and a grill full of sausage.

"The party was inspired by my deep appreciation for sausages of all types, " Bullard explains. "We've had Georgian sausage, Portuguese, Czech. One year I found a huge coiled Polish sausage that weighed 10 pounds. I'm not sure it was meant to be grilled, but we put it on the grill, and it was a big hit."

Bullard's grilling adventures are not limited to sausage. One year he threw big chunks of salt-encrusted beef on the grill, Brazilian-style. Another year he grilled a whole slab of bacon. But there's always lots of sausage, and there's always plenty of beer. And if anyone goes home hungry, it's not because of any lack of hospitality on Bullard and Wilson's part. "I usually buy about 100 pounds of sausage, " Bullard says, "and it all gets eaten."

The party, now in its eighth year, is a real lesson in entertaining: The kitchen is small, the grill is smaller, and the yard is postage stamp-size. It is also a daunting climb down a steep set of stairs from the kitchen door. The space is not particularly well suited to hosting a huge party - indoors or out. But the generous spirit with which the gathering is thrown pulls even the most timid into the swing of things. As Bullard keeps the sausage supply steady, Wilson makes sure every guest meets someone new.

"I like having this big party every year and seeing everyone and how much the kids have grown, " Wilson says. "Friends bring friends, and they bring their friends. One year someone brought a friend who had just moved here from Wisconsin and thought nobody in California ate meat. She was pretty happy to see all that sausage."

The crowd spreads throughout the house and garden. Since the party usually falls during the pennant race, one group congregates around the television in the bedroom upstairs, watching the baseball game and sending out emissaries for food and drink. Older guests tend to sit in the comparative calm of the living room. But most people meander between the dining room and the yard, carrying food to and from the grill, fetching another beer or more salad, bumping into old Oktoberfest acquaintances, and making new friends.

"One year there were so many people that it took me half an hour to get from the yard back into the house, " says friend and longtime Oktoberfest attendee Frances Kaplan. "It's amazing."

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