By Mia Castillo
Deep Fried Jambalaya wins The State Fair of Texas’s Big Tex Choice Awards and gives the fried food king, Abel Gonzales, his fifth trophy.
Fried! That’s how state fair goers like their food. And Abel Gonzales aims to please ‘em.
Abel Gonzales Jr., 42, just took home his fifth Big Tex Choice Award. This year, his Deep Fried Jambalaya earned him a trophy in the Best Taste category.
Try it for yourself at the State Fair of Texas, which runs through Oct. 21. You can find Gonzales’s food booth on Nimitz Circle, near Fair Park’s Embarcadero Building.
After concocting and winning for Fried Peanut Butter, Jelly and Banana Sandwiches; Texas Fried Cookie Dough; Fried Coke; and Deep Fried Butter, even the fried food guru himself thought his winning streak had to be over.
“ I don’t even think about winning anymore, that’s why I was so shocked that I won this year,” said Gonzales. Gonzales, who was busily preparing for the fair’s Sept. 28 opening inside his brightly colored booth one day recently, said his main goal is to make it to the finals every year with something creative and tasty. Actually winning is just his icing on the cake.
Gonzales, who works in a collared shirt with “Vandalay Ind.” printed above the pocket, was one in 54 contestants who entered the Big Tex Choice Awards. Vandalay Ind. is Gonzales’s business.
“Winners get bragging rights and very long lines during the fair,” said fair spokeswoman Sue Gooding.
When it comes to the State Fair of Texas’s revenue, food sales are a serious business. Gooding said that in 2011, food sales surpassed $20 million. Gooding said that the fried food plays an important role in these sales.
“The fried food has definitely produced more attention for us,” said Gooding. “The results of our contests have shown up in magazines across the world.” Gooding believes that every year the fried food attracts more and more people to the fair.
“There are more than 200 food locations at the fair,” said Gooding. “ It might be safe to say about 60 percent carry fried food.”
Gonzales said it is important to think of something that will grab people’s attention and that also tastes good when seeking inspiration for a new concoction.
“You can make fried anything,” said Gonzales. “The trick is to make it good. Just because you think of fried peppermints, doesn’t mean you are going to serve it!”
Gonzales does not take full credit for this year’s Deep Fried Jambalaya idea. Gonzales’s high school friend and owner of The Pour House on Skillman Ave. , Matthew Rangel, insisted that Gonzales fry up some jambalaya.
“I was eating jambalaya one day and thought that it would make a great idea for the fair- a fried jambalaya ball!” said Rangel. “I tried it out and was shocked that it tasted as good as it sounded. The rest was history.” Gonzales said having a couple of beers at The Pour House with Rangel often led to fried food discussions.
Even vendor owners who serve more traditional state fair food recognize the success fried food brings. Food booth owner John Martinez has worked for the fair for about 26 years, 13 of which he has spent running his booth “Mi Casita”. The booth sells all things Mexican, including fajita tacos, chicken flautas, chalupas and tostadas.
“The state fair has been so successful with all the different fried foods,” said Martinez, who was cleaning his booth with his wife one day recently. “The way I see it is that the state fair gives everyone a day to splurge.”
Gonzales stays busy during this time of year. He said he won’t begin thinking about next year’s creation until he decompresses from this fair season. Gonzales, son of a Tex-Mex restaurateur, used to work as a computer analyst. Now, he no longer does much work outside of the fair, which is his main source of income.
“Each year I cross my fingers and hope for something new,” said Gonzales. “ The fair goers aren’t going to try everything just because you can stick it on the fryer. It has to be worthy of the win and the hype.”
Mia Castillo is a Southern Methodist University Class of 2014 Journalism major, with minors in Fashion Media and Advertising. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org