Food winners of the state fair
Utah State fair features food contests that range from meatloaf to chocolate
Valerie Phillips, For the Deseret News
The food, the sights and smells of the State Fair are a part of Americana that Utahns are able to enjoy, Gov. Gary Herbert told the audience during the state's first Governor's Favorite Meatloaf Contest last Friday night.
And the 12 entries in his contest showed that there's more than one way to make a meatloaf — cooked in a Dutch oven, stuffed with feta, dolloped with barbecue sauce, seasoned with Italian herbs. Some cooks branched out in meat choices, using ground pork, turkey and bacon as well as the usual ground beef.
"I love meatloaf, and my wife's meatloaf is my favorite," Herbert told the crowd at the beginning of the contest, adding that he was looking forward to trying all the entries.
He and first lady Jeanette Herbert did taste-test every one of them, and he told the judges, "I'd be proud to serve any of these."
In the end, 14-year-old Sarah Kress of West Jordan, won the $150 first place prize with a meatloaf "pie" smothered with mashed potatoes. Second place went to Jeanine Mower Anderson of Bountiful, and third place to Kristina Fox of Sandy. All have won fair contests in past years, underscoring the advice that practice makes perfect.
Although Sarah may seem young to pull off a meatloaf victory, she's actually a contest veteran, and fair competition is a family tradition. Her dad, Kip Kress, took the $150 first place prize among 28 entries in the Ghirardelli Chocolate Championship Friday night, and second place in the Beef —Anywhere, Anytime Cook-Off on Saturday. Wife Naomi and Sarah competed in both the Fleischmann's Yeast Bake For the Cure Baking Contest and the King Arthur Great Cake Contest.
"The year we became more serious about competing was the last year they had the SPAM contest," Kip Kress said. "My son, my wife and I took first, second and third place."
Instead of spending all year dreaming up recipes, they usually come up with ideas just a few days beforehand, said Kip Kress.
Although judging can vary widely, the Kresses have learned a few things along the way.
"Follow the rules exactly," Kip Kress said. "Make sure every aspect of the contest is addressed in the recipe and the presentation."
For instance, some Ghirardelli entries had to be disqualified for using too many ingredients; contest rules specify only 10 ingredients in addition to the Ghirardelli chocolate products.
Also the Ghirardelli contest is scored heavily on chocolate flavor.
"We've noticed from past experience, to make it more chocolate-y. And the more moist the item is, the higher the chance of it winning someplace."
Indeed. His winning Diamond Brownies: A Girl's Best Friend recipe featured moist, intense chocolate brownies with a layers of raspberry jam and ganache. For the "diamond" theme, he cut the the brownies in a diamond shape and arranged them on a glass platter with lots of shiny crystals.
There were fewer contests this year, with past sponsors such as SPAM, Malt-O-Meal, Hidden Valley Ranch, Lindsay Olives and SACO Foods having dropped out. But with fewer options, some contests had double and triple the amount of entries from past years. Fleischmann's had 26 entries, and Ghirardelli had 28 entries.
Although those numbers are high for Utah, at other state fairs, two dozen entries per contest is average, said Cyndi Harles of the Blue Ribbon Group, a Minneapolis-based company that oversees many nationally sponsored fair contests.
"These competitions are all about celebrating great recipes from people who cook and bake for their families and friends," Harles added. "With the Utah State Fair special contests, it's great to see stronger participation than in some past years at this fair."