Among the popular competitions at the State Fair are the daily cooking contests in the Education Building. These competitions run the gamut from peanuts, apples and sweet potatoes to pork, beef and SPAM. Last year at the fair I was able to fill in for a judge at the peanut competition. This year, the call came for a judge for the SPAM contest.
As a fan of the weird and unusual, I was all for tasting the two dozen or so SPAM appetizers vying for first place. There were six judges divided into two teams. My team included two veteran cooking competition judges, and together we tackled half the entries while the other team sampled the remaining appetizers.
Each appetizer was identified only by a number, and judges were allowed to see a copy of the recipe. The appetizers were judged on taste (35 percent), creativity (35 percent) and presentation (30 percent). Our top three choices were sent to the other judges, and their top four were sent to us. From the seven top entries, we individually chose our top three choices. The winner was SPAMento Cheese Baby Reds by Bill Kirk of Cary.
Judging the SPAM competition was interesting, and the entries were surprisingly good. My limited experience with SPAM includes cooking it in the frying pan and having it for dinner when I was younger. These dishes were not the SPAM of my childhood. The contestants really kicked it up a notch by combining SPAM with ingredients that were surprising and different. One SPAM dish included hummus, another Texas Pete hot sauce.
What set the winner apart was the presentation. These little baby reds resembled deviled eggs. We all agreed that the dish, which was room temperature, would be even more delicious served warm. Kirk won $150 for his first-place dish. James Dyczewski earned $50 and second place for his Asian Spam Rolls. Third place and $25 went to Sara Brewer of Hillsborough for Savory Spam Biscotti.
“All the cooking competitions were up this year,” said Lisa Prince, cooking contest coordinator. “We had 51 entries for the apple contest, which is incredible for a weekday competition. Sweet potatoes are always big, too. Everyone loves to cook with sweet potatoes.”
Recipes for this and other specialty cooking contests are on the State Fair website under competitions and special cooking contest.