Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Person of the Week

Having a Blast Helping POCO


With a brand-new cooker and to help turn out thousands of potatoes and corn (and some prop shells to represent the festival’s annual fireworks show) volunteer David Sokoloff (2014 PoCo “King Spud) is ready for this year’s North Branford Potato and Corn Festival, coming Aug. 6 through 9.

With a brand-new cooker and to help turn out thousands of potatoes and corn (and some prop shells to represent the festival’s annual fireworks show) volunteer David Sokoloff (2014 PoCo “King Spud) is ready for this year’s North Branford Potato and Corn Festival, coming Aug. 6 through 9. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)

No doubt about it: Reigning “King Spud” David Sokoloff has a blast helping North Branford’s Potato and Corn (PoCo) Festival every year. This year’s fest is set for Aug. 6 to 9 at Augur’s Field (Route 22).

For about a decade, David has been among a tight-knit group of volunteers churning out thousands of delicious baked potatoes and roasted ears of corn at PoCo’s premiere food tent. And, as a pyrotechnic engineer with local Atlas PyroVision Productions, David is also at ground zero during PoCo’s annual fireworks display.

David says everything he does for PoCo is done because he, like so many other volunteers, feels a great sense of pride, reward, and community in helping to make PoCo a great event.

Beyond that, “It’s a lot of fun,” says David.

For example, the “King Spud” moniker is handed out annually among the folks who fire up the festival.

“There are 20 or 30 of us who basically put in the meat and potatoes, 12 months of the year, so internally we try to recognize folks just as a fun way to support each other. So we have a prince and a princess Potato Head and then we have a King and a Queen,” Dave explains.

In particular, the Potato and Corn Committee’s hard work during the four-day fest will be made a bit easier this time around due to the arrival of PoCo’s brand new propane-fired cooker, which got to town just last week.

“A cooker like this one is usually used for barbecues and emergencies—they can trailer it on site and cook food for whoever needs it,” says David. “For our purposes, we can cook potatoes and corn in batches and no one waits in line.”

Like much of the ground work involved in pulling together the PoCo site each year, North Branford Public Works employees are among those town employees helping to get the job done. The department stores the trailer and tractors it out to the festival site.

During the four days of PoCo, between 4,000 to 5,000 baked potatoes and just as many ears of roasted corn are served up. David and company pride themselves in not only turning out food quickly and efficiently, but also in serving up the most perfect potato and piece of corn every time.

Instead of stuffing as many potatoes as possible into massive cooker, “we try to run smaller batches of 200 to 300 at a time, so we get it in fast enough without cooling down the oven,” says David. “We soak the corn beforehand and when we put it in, it actually steams the oven. So the potatoes get a side-effect—they’re steamed as well as baked. So we get a potato that’s cooked and moist and corn that’s roasted.”

Roasting the corn to perfection is important as each ear is donated by three North Branford family farms: Augur’s, Ciccarelli’s, and DeFrancesco’s.

“Every single ear of corn comes from their farms right here in town, and they’re up at 3 or 4 a.m. checking in with us every day to make sure we have enough or if there is anything else they can take care of,” says David. “It’s very important to them to grow local produce very well, and they take pride in donating it. So we give it lots of love and care.”

Another local that loves to support PoCo is Atlas PyroVision Productions of North Branford. While the company is hired to put on PoCo’s show (this year’s fireworks blast off at night on Saturday, Aug. 8), rest assured a little extra effort goes into serving up a spectacle for the company’s hometown.

“We have a budget that we work with, and being our backyard, we try to do everything possible we can to make it the best show possible,” David says.

Actually, PoCo’s location is ideally situated for one of the state’s most extreme fireworks exhibits.

“It’s a unique venue, one with enough distance from the crowd, using farmland and having Public Works right here,” he says. “So we have the ability to shoot the largest shells off in the state of Connecticut...The reason is we need special mortars to do that, and with a back hoe we have a physical way to get back there, dig trenches and put pipes in, and shoot the show with enough distance from the crowd.”

Being on the Potato and Corn Committee and an employee of Atlas (he’s been with the Gauvin family fireworks biz for 30 years), makes David’s affiliation with PoCo pretty unique, too.

“It is very neat to tie it all together—and not confuse fireworks for potatoes!” says David, laughing.

David’s main day job is helping folks with insurance and investments through MetLife. When PoCo comes to town, he finds a way to get it all done.

“There’s some virtual office work thanks to my cell phone,” says David. “It’s a very long week! We set up everything a few hours early on Wednesday, and Thursday it’s show time and Friday and Saturday are a blur. All the parts have to come together and that’s where the volunteers helping in every area come in.”

David’s wife, Christine Cote Sokoloff, and their daughter Rachel are PoCo volunteers. The family’s also inspired friends and neighbors to get into the act.

“My wife and daughter are both down here volunteering, and now we have most of our street in our neighborhood helping, too,” says Dave. “Part of what’s great about this festival is it’s something a lot of folks care about and have their hearts in helping. It’s very rewarding and it wouldn’t take place unless we had a lot of people who volunteer, even someone who wants to get involved for just an hour or a couple hours. I guarantee you lots of rewards, in so many different ways—just meeting friends, meeting people in the community. It’s a proud event. There’s lots of pride in it.”

Interested in volunteering at PoCo? Contact Rosanne Krajewski, Festival Coordinator at 203-484-6017 or email admin@nbpotatofest.com. To learn more about daily programming, parking, and other PoCo particulars, visit www.nbpotatofest.com.

Pam Johnson covers news for Branford and North Branford for Zip06. Email Pam at p.johnson@shorepublishing.com.

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