The State Fair of Texas has announced the 36 semifinalists who will move forward in the Big Tex Choice Awards competition.
According to fair officials, after much deliberation in the first round of judging, 19 savory and 17 sweet entries will go on to compete for one of three winning titles: “Best Taste – Savory,” “Best Taste – Sweet,” and “Most Creative.”
In the savory category, semifinalists include:
- The Bayou Bowl
- Cajun Lobster Bisque Croquettes
- Chicharron Explosion Nachos
- Crispy Dilly Dog
- Deep-Fried BLT
- Deep-Fried Brisket Cheese Sticks
- Deep-Fried Lasagna Roll
- Deep-Fried Texas Country Cookout
- Dim Sum Loco Burritos
- Fried Charcuterie Board
- Fried Soul Food Eggroll
- Holy Biscuit
- Shaking Beef Salad
- Southern Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Waffle Sliders
- Texas Hot Bull Ride
- Texas Ranch Hot Wings
- Texas Slide
- Texas Twosome
- Turkey Leg Taquito
In the sweet category, semifinalists include:
- Cha-Cha Chata
- Crunchberry Shortcake
- Deep-Fried Buc-ee's
- Deep-Fried Honey
- Deep-Fried Praline Cheesecake Eggroll
- Deep-Fried Rocky Road with Blue Bell Ice Cream
- Deep-Fried Southern Dessert Dumplings
- Deep-Fried Strawberry Shortcake Crunch Roll
- Fat Elvis
- Fried Texas Fruit Salad
- La Bluebonnet
- Peanut Butter Paradise
- Raspberry Chipotle Sopapilla Cheesecake
- Smoked Bacon Wrapped Cookie Dough Balls
- The Ultimate Brookie Monster
- Triple Lemon Bliss
The contest kicked off in June with 51 entries represented by 36 concessionaires.
The State Fair said all competitors must have at least one year of experience as a concessionaire at the State Fair of Texas to enter the competition.
The selection process involves "blind judging" to ensure that the scoring is entirely based on the food, fair officials said.
"To get one of those titles of Best Taste Sweet, Best Taste Savory, or Most Creative, it's really just the fried cherry on top," said Karissa Condoianis, Sr. Vice President of Public Relations at the State Fair of Texas.
Last year, Gourmet Royale took home both Best Taste Savory and Most Creative for its Deep Fried Seafood Gumbo Balls.
"It was a total surprise, it was a great surprise," said Greg Parish, owner of Gourmet Royale.
“Oh man, it just skyrocketed our business, it took us to another level," explained Parish who said his sales doubled from the prior year.
Greg said his mother, Norma, would make gumbo for them growing up. She helped create the award-winning dish, but she passed away just before they found out they were finalists in 2021.
The Parish family has had a history at the state fair for several decades. His father started their concession in 1985 and they would sell popcorn, beer and nachos. Decades later, they now sell deep-fried goodness at the Texas State Fair.
Another past winner, Fernie's Funnel Cakes, has also enjoyed winning the Big Tex Choice Awards.
"This is basically my food Bible, it's all recipes I've submitted for the Tex Choice Awards," said Christi Erpillo, CFO "Chief Frying Officer" of Fernie's Funnel Cakes.
Her mother started the well-known staple at the State Fair 53-years-ago. Erpillo's mother, Wonda "Fernie" Winter, passed away last year at the age of 95.
People flock to their five different locations at the State Fair of Texas to enjoy the award-winning funnel cakes.
"I'm proud to say that there is nobody else that 's been in the Big Tex Choice Awards as much as we have, we have been in 17 times," said Erpillo whose family business has won three different times.
"Getting in the contest is great, it's great for your business, it's great for validation that you know what you're doing out here as a concessionaire, winning is better because you actually win, you get the trophy and it does bump up your sales, depending on the item because I have known some people who have won, but it didn't bump up their sales," said Erpillo.
State Fair of Texas
As for the 2022 competition, in the coming weeks, the second round of preliminary judging will begin, and a panel of judges will evaluate the uniqueness, presentation, creativity, and taste of all of the entries.
According to State Fair officials, the judges must also consider how likely a fairgoer is to buy the item.
The top 10 entries will compete in the final round at this year’s Big Tex Choice Awards ceremony, officials said.
Here's a look at last year's winners of the Big Tex Choice Awards.
The State Fair of Texas opens on Friday, Sept. 30, and runs through Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022.
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