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It’s all Greek to Oahu

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COURTESY PHOTO
The McCoy Pavilion at Ala Moana Beach Park will serve as the backdrop for the 30th Annual Greek Festival this weekend.
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STAR-ADVERTISER / 2007
Music for traditional Greek dancing will be provided.
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STAR-ADVERTISER / 2009
St. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Pacific will dish out kataifi and other Greek food along with other delights at the Greek Festival.

Greek Festival co-chairman Austin Vali wears more than one hat. On the day we checked in with him, he was planning to work with the cleaning crew at McCoy Pavilion, prepping for the onslaught of people who will deluge the gathering place tomorrow. Later, he’d be helping out with gyro-making, going through the volunteer list to be sure everyone was deployed, and double-checking the food orders. (Yogurt and sour cream for the tsasiki would be on the way.) This on top of writing the press releases and, at the festival itself, helping to man the Taverna.

Vali, a Realtor in his other life, has been volunteering for the Greek Festival, on and off, for 12 years. But he’s quick to credit the many other hard-working volunteers who make this popular event work, year after year. He estimates that about 300 people are involved in the lead-up to and presentation of the festival.

"There are so many people who work so hard," he said. "There are only 65 families in the church, so we gotta get our friends, our family, everyone we know to help us."

The all-volunteer operation is the primary fundraiser for the Sts Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Pacific. The main costs go to flying a band into town; setting up the McCoy Pavilion with equipment, staging, lighting and such; and, of course, providing the food.

30TH ANNUAL GREEK FESTIVAL

Presented by Sts Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Pacific

Where: McCoy Pavilion, Ala Moana Beach Park

When: 12-9 p.m. tomorrow and 12-8 p.m. Sunday

Cost: $3 general, free for children ages 11 and under and active military and their families

Info: 521-7220, www.greekfestivalhawaii.com

Note: Checks and credit cards are not accepted at the festival. There will be ATMs on site.

 

Baking for the festival starts in January, with volunteers gathering at least one day a week to help. Pallet after pallet of pastries are frozen and stored in preparation for the event.

"The recipes we use are very traditional, and they’re carved in stone," said Regina Mass, a church volunteer who helps with the baking.

Up to 18 people gather at a time on the baking committee, including some in their 70s and 80s, and "a couple of 90-year-olds," Mass said. Several volunteers aren’t even members of the church; they wanted to learn the traditional recipes, and once they joined in, they never left.

In July, "it starts to really ramp up," Vali said.

The baking committee spends four days making spanikopita — spinach and cheese wrapped in phyllo dough.

Three weeks before the festival, the Greek Kitchen committee begins making pans of moussaka, made with beef and eggplant, and pasticchio — similar to moussaka, Mass says, with beef and bechamel sauce, but made with pasta.

There are always last-minute problems to solve. "The other day, we got a call from one of our suppliers, telling us the meat didn’t make it out to the boat," Vali confided. Having missed the window for less expensive shipping by sea, organizers arranged for air transport. And Vali negotiated a settlement on cost.

And since today is a Furlough Friday for the city, festival organizers won’t have access to McCoy Pavilion, so the plan was to set up chairs and staging yesterday, park their refrigerated truck full of foodstuffs at the church for the night, and hustle to move final elements in tomorrow morning.

ALL that hard work won’t be evident tomorrow when the gates open to the Greek Festival, though. Vali expects 20,000 people to stroll through before the lights go out on Sunday night.

"When it all comes together, it is such a good time," Vali said.

Olives, olive oil, cheese, imported curios and souvenirs will be displayed for sale.

Each year, servers sell out the pastries by midday Sunday. "They’re always slammed. … We keep making more and it keeps selling," Vali said. Galatoburiko — custard and honey-filled phyllo pastries — are a special favorite; so are the butter cookies.

There will be moussaka, Greek salad and gyro s.

The Greek band Fotia, from San Francisco, will be on stage for the fifth year in the main courtyard. There will be dancing, and it will become more exuberant and raucous as the sun goes down Saturday night.

The Olive Tree Cafe will serve ouzo sorbet.

Politicians and celebrities will show face.

And Greek guitarist Sotos Kappas will play in the back garden for the 25th year.

In the air-conditioned auditorium, there will be presentations, including video introductions to Greek Orthodoxy and travel slide shows on Greece.

On the Diamond Head side, the Taverna will pour gallons of ouzo, Greek beer, retsina, and red and white wine, all imported directly from Greece. "You’ll find other stuff here, but not this stuff," Vali said.

Because things do sell out, Vali advises coming on Saturday, although it is more crowded, if you want to be sure to have your choice of the festival’s wares. Last year, 15,000 of the 20,000 in attendance came on the first day and night of the event.

On Saturday night, the festival takes on a "nightclub" atmosphere, he said. "After sundown, it is out of control. There is line dancing throughout the entire courtyard."

Vali declined to give an estimate on just how much money will change hands this weekend, but he called the funds raised "pretty darn important" to the ongoing operations of the local church. The money collected supports the church and its charitable activities.

Mass, who was at the very first Greek Festival and has missed only a couple over the past 30 years, says, "This is a really important part of our church."

 

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