Food coordinator, IA State Fair, Des Moines
Arlette Hollister has been the Food Superintendant at the Iowa State Fair since 1985. Her husband connected her with a friend there, and the rest is history. From a department that started out with 25 divisions, Hollister has seen it grow to 237 divisions. She and 60 helpers coordinate 10,000 entries by over 700 contestants.
Hollister, who started out as a speech and English teacher, claims that the only D she ever got in college was in food. But that didn’t stop her from excelling. According to Arlette, Fair icon bill Riley helped her tremendously. As she takes care to stress, the State Fair and the Food Department are about family and community. The helpers get together several times a year, and they follow each other’s families. Entrants are also part of the community and compete in a friendly way, helping each other and offering advice.
Hollister is always careful to stress to new and old food judges that their role is to be fair but supportive and encouraging. Judges take care to suggest improvements to entrants, especially to the first-timers and children. Most of the judges have some sort of food background—home economics teachers, extension officers, chefs, or test kitchen workers. Those who judge the canned goods apprentice for a year with an experienced judge and strictly follow USDA regulations.
Scheduling the judges starts in the late spring each year, but there are also those 60 helpers to assign. They include the writers (who guide judges through the process, take down their comments, and add up the scores) and runners (who bring the food to taste and keep the tasting stations clean and supplied with utensils, napkins, paper plates, cups, and water). Arlette has likened this very conscientious and competent group to a family. They all know their jobs and make sure the judges do theirs.
The food premiums (fair-speak for food competitions) include a vast variety of classes (categories), from jams and jellies to animal face cakes, from products made with all 95% certified organic ingredients to those made from packaged products. To be an effective food judge is to pay attention to the criteria, know how a dish should taste, and be prepared for surprises.
Arlette has passed in interest in food onto her children and grandchildren. Her grandson, Ben, is particularly interested in baking; he entered the oatmeal bread contest in 2008 and got a 3rd place. Hollister’s twin granddaughters worked in 2010 as runners, confusing many a judge since the pair is identical.
For Hollister, running the food department is a joy. Despite constant crises for entrants, judges, and helpers, Arlette remains calm. What really makes it special for her is “just the love, the love of working with people is what it is.”