Well-known local restaurateur and caterer Azmi Alaeddin has been named chairman of the 2010 Holiday Folk Fair International.
Alaeddin has been a participant in Holiday Folk Fair since 1980, when he was a student at UWM. “I was still learning English when I was asked to participate and I declined, but the person who organized the Arab booth said all I would have to do is write visitors’ names in Arabic upon request. That I did for two years.”
Alaeddin’s participation stepped up tremendously when the older couple that maintained Arab participation at Folk Fair retired. “I was a member of an Arab/Palestinian student group then and we had a meeting and decided we needed a presence there. We wanted to keep it alive, but we didn’t know anything about how to do it.”
That first year was a true learning experience for the group, and for Alaeddin who was honing his Middle Eastern cooking skills. “We prepared a very difficult menu and we sold out the first night because we had our food priced too low. We lost money, but by the second year, we had learned a lot. All these years later, I’m still doing food,” he said.
Alaeddin’s interest in cooking began as a child, when the aroma intrigued him in his father’s bakery in Kuwait. In 1995, he opened his first restaurant, Aladdin, which had various locations in the city. Today, Aladdin-Taste of the East/PitaWorks is a popular destination at the Milwaukee Public Market, where he will be doing a cooking class on Wed., Nov. 10, at 5:30 p.m. Alaeddin also caters for special events such as Zoo a la Carte and Bastille Days.
At Folk Fair this year, Alaeddin will prepare falafel, hummus, spinach pie, samosa, gyros, and a chicken dish, yet to be determined.
As chairman of the event, Alaeddin sees himself as a cheerleader and spokesperson, urging people to attend the event and appreciate the variety of nationalities and cultures coming together in celebration. “Folk Fair always has been very popular with first and second generation immigrants,” he said. “But the third generation seems to take less interest until they start having their own families, and realize the importance of connecting with their roots.”
Alaeddin recalled how his own father became a Folk Fair fixture. “When he visited me in Milwaukee from Kuwait, he felt like a stranger. I took him to the Folk Fair and he loved it. He fit in there and enjoyed seeing the traditional dress and the food. He enjoyed seeing Americans from a different perspective, as all the cultures came together. From then on until he passed, he would make sure his visits coincided with Folk Fair, where he would help with the cooking and serving.
“Many times I would say this is my last year of Folk Fair, and my father would say then he wouldn’t come to visit me anymore,” Alaeddin said. “Now, all these years later, I am still here. I’m very committed.”
The 67th annual Holiday Folk Fair International, America’s premier multi-cultural festival, will be held Fri., Nov. 19 – Sun., Nov. 221, 2010, at the Wisconsin Exposition Center at State Fair Park in West Allis, Wis.
Produced by the International Institute of Wisconsin, Holiday Folk Fair International celebrates the cultural heritage of the people living in southeastern Wisconsin. This year’s theme, “Celebrate the Culture of Peace,” will allow Fair-goers the opportunity to explore the ways in which music, food, dance, and art enhance racial, cultural, and ethnic cooperation.
Special attractions at this year’s event include the “Art Beyond Borders” and “Invisible in the City” photographic displays, a Revolutionary War Encampment, the International Chess Academy, bonsai, and anime.
The three-day event features the All Nations Theater with traditional music and dance, the World Cafe offering traditional dishes, the International Stage where young people perform their ethnic dances, the Music Pavilion with a variety of musical styles, Heritage Lane with unique traditions and customs through interactive exhibits, the International Bazaar where cultural artifacts create a unique shopping experience, and the Callen Construction Cooking Demonstration Stage featuring local chefs preparing traditional cuisine.
Holiday Folk Fair International will also host a United States Citizenship Naturalization Ceremony Sat., Nov. 20, at 10:30 a.m. and an “Around the World” 5K Run/Walk Sun., Nov. 21 at 9:00 a.m.
Hours on Fri., Nov. 19 are 3 p.m. – 10 p.m.; 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. on Sat., Nov. 20; and 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. on Sun., Nov. 21. Advance tickets will be sold for $8 each at Pick n’ Save locations throughout southeastern Wisconsin. Advance tickets for $8 each as well as family four-packs for $28 can be purchased on-line at www.folkfair.org
Admission at the gate will be $10 for adults; $8 for children ages 6 to 12; children under the age of five will be admitted at no charge. Those 62 and over will be admitted for $8, and all military personnel with a military ID card will be admitted free. Those that bring two non-perishable food items for Hunger task Force will get a $2 discount on a regular adult admission.
For more information on the 2010 Holiday Folk Fair International, visit www.folkfair.org or call the International Institute of Wisconsin at 414-225-6220.
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