Melanie Linnear is the Senior Vice President of Franchising for the Texas State Fair in Dallas.
Fair-goers always come to the fair and they know: “I’m going to get turkey legs or funnel cakes, marshmallows, caramel apples” — the standard items. The only fried foods in the first few decades were funnel cakes and corny dogs. Eventually, vendors offered some other fried foods like deep-fried sandwich cookies and fried Oreos, but there wasn’t much interest in the deep-fried category.
Things changed after 2004, when Ron Black, senior vice president of food service, and Su Guding, vice president of public relations, sat down with friend of the show Tom Calaha to try to figure out how suppliers could think outside the box. Tom said, “What if we had an idea contest for food vendors?”
The first year, 2005, we challenged the vendors with an Elvis theme. While the treats don’t have to be fried, two of this year’s honorees were the Viva Las Vegas Fried Ice Cream and the Fried Peanut Butter and Jelly Banana Sandwich.
Since then, we’ve seen winners like fried bubblegum, fried jelly, and even a funnel cake bacon queso burger! These days, visitors are looking for the craziest fried food they can find. We used to have a shirt that people could wear that said: “I’ve tried them all” and vendors could mark items off their list. I remember one entry that didn’t go very far: a fried Caesar salad. The judges thought it was good, but it just didn’t take off. People don’t come to the show to eat Caesar salad.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
This article was originally published in the February 2023 issue texas monthly The title is “What if we blew everything up?” subscribe today.