Food vendors pit their creativity and culinary skills against one another in the Unique Food Contest.
Mini doughnuts with green chile dipping sauce have won Tom Tom’s Mini Donuts bragging rights after local television personalities tested and tasted the final food offerings.
No one knows whether pineapple chimichangas, fried Kool-Aid-marinated pickles, deep-fried bacon-wrapped foot-long chili cheese dogs or one of the other finalists will emerge victorious.
The culinary treats don’t have to be new to the world, but they do have to be new to the fair, according to official rules.
This year, contestants got off to a early start, perfecting their creations before the fair.
Mike Quesada can’t say exactly how many Pineapple Chimichanga Ala Modes he’s crafted and eaten, hoping his dish will rank first in flavor in the contest.
“That’s a hard number to calculate,” says Quesada of Quesada’s in the food court. “We came up with the idea and we’ve been toying around with it. Trying it here and there at all the special events where we have a concession.”
It was disappointing when his deep-fried chipotle barbecue ribs didn’t win last year: “We really thought we had a chance.”
Learning from last year’s competition winner, he went for something sweet: “That kind of influenced us.”
A dollop of vanilla ice cream, dusted with cinnamon and sugar and drizzled with caramel, sits on the crust of a golden brown deep-fried chimichanga oozing with warm pineapple filling, he says. “We were looking for that just-right blend of flavors that would burst in your mouth.”
Flavor upon flavor distinguishes the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center’s entry of Fried Black Cherry Kool-Aid Pickle Chips with Green Chile Ranch Dressing this year, says center spokeswoman Tazbah McCullah.
“We took the idea from Pueblo children we observed,” she confides of a favored after-school snack. “It’s an infusion of sweet and sour enveloped in a crunchy shell.”
The dill pickles are marinated in Kool-Aid, then battered and deep fried. A creamy side of green chile ranch dressing completes the treat, she says.
The Pueblo Harvest Cafe chefs, who have a concession in Indian Village, had competed with fried ice cream in the past, but they think they can hit the mark with the pickle treat, she says: “It’s always fun to try something tasty and new.”
From the fryer
Albuquerque’s Gil Stewart of the Chili Cheese Dog in the food court, is hoping his special deep-fried combination of hickory-smoked slab bacon wrapped around a 100-percent meat foot-long hot dog, atop a bun, slathered with chili con carne and doused with cheddar cheese sauce will curry judges’ favor, he says.
“We think they’ll make a big splash this year,” he says. He’ll serve them in a boat container to ensure they’re pleasing to the eye as well as the palate. He entered giant s’mores on stick last year, which were “kinda cool,” but didn’t win.
“Everything we make is homemade,” he says. “The bottom line of this contest is we hope it brings more business to our booths.”
Other deep-fried finalists include Deep Fried Frito Pie and Deep Fried Cheese Sandwich from Rex’s Hamburgers in the food court and Deep Fried Green Chile Cheese Curds drizzled with ranch dressing from Farrar’s Fresh Cut French Fries and Deep Fried Cheese Curds on the west side of Main Street.
The Cornfield also known as the Shuck Shack in the food court is banking on its creation of a Green Chile Corn Stuffed Baked Potato, with fresh Hatch chile and Moriarty white corn. A new twist on Hatch green chile with Green Chile Lemonade from Just Squeezed in the food court promises sweet and sour with a spicy pop and rounds out the finalists’ entries.
“Poll 100 people on the number one reason they come to the fair and 90 will tell you they came for the food,” says Dan Mourning, fair general manager, in a news release. “We hope everyone will come on out and enjoy everything the fair has to offer, including the once-a-year foods you can’t get anywhere else.”