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Inside a fair food booth

September 30, 2012 - Leah Sherman

I'd never given it much thought.

The Maui Fair food booths always call my name. Sometimes I even hear them calling all the way up the hill to my work cubicle and I have no choice but to drop what I'm doing and walk down to the fairgrounds for dinner. I knew that the booths serve as yearly fundraisers for a lot of Maui's nonprofit organizations. But I'd always taken for granted that they'd be there, serving up delicious food for four days and I never considered all the work and time involved.

Now I know. It is hard work.

I arrive at Maui United Soccer Club's booth (which sells steak and rice plates, baked potatoes and shave ice) at 9 a.m.

After introductions, Patti explains to me that the steaks are thawed, seasoned and grilled on site but the rice and potatoes are prepared at Iao School and then stored in coolers to retain their heat throughout the day at the fair. I had no idea. I was honestly expecting to see a giant rice cooker and hoping that I wouldn't be put in charge of it. (It's true — I have never cooked rice.)

The other people have done this before and get to work setting up for the day. I watch as they explain how they keep track of the number of items they've sold and go over the Department of Health requirements. Again, things I never considered.

Right before 10 a.m, it's time to get to work. My first task is scooping corn — that sounds easy. Actually, they've given more thought to corn than I ever have — and I spent 18 years in the Tall Corn State. The corn serving shouldn't be too much (it is a steak and rice plate) and it shouldn't be dumped haphazardly on the plate.

The truth is: That steak and rice plate is smiling at you. As one person told me, the steak is the smile, the two scoops of rice are the eyes and the corn is the flower on the side.

I love that. It made me appreciate (even more) the effort that goes into the food served at the fair. My meal on Sunday will get a little extra attention from me — to see how it is plated and to try to figure out what it is supposed to be.

Around 10:30 a.m., I'm feeling like I've mastered the corn, and I start eyeing up the rice scoop. They're happy to promote me and I take my spot next to the cooler full of giant bags of cooked rice. And there I spend my remaining hour — scooping rice as fast as I can (which isn't nearly as fast as Patti can cut the steak) and sending the plates down the assembly line (corn, foil, fork and napkin) so that the plate is ready when the next customer comes.

As I left, I noticed that the knuckle on my finger had been injured from the repetitive scooping. And my right arm felt like it was made of sticky rice. Otherwise, a successful outing. I learned a lot, met some nice people and had fun all at the same time. (But I still haven't gotten around to riding the Cliff Hanger.)

The Maui Fair continues from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday. The admission fee is reduced to $5 for adults and $2 for children 5 to 11 years of age; the first 2,000 entrants will be admitted for free.

Thanks so much to Patti and all the others at Maui United Soccer Club for letting me spend time at their booth.

For more on the Maui Fair and Maui United, see the links at right.


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I scoop rice onto plates at the Maui United Soccer Club booth on Saturday. (That's me on the left in the green shirt and matching hat.)


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