NC State Fair special cooking contests coordinator offers advice to blue-ribbon hopefuls

For those of you home cooks who are blue-ribbon hopefuls, the State Fair is more than a chance to experience the attractions, tour the events and sample all things deep-fried. This is the time of year you get to show off your skills and, with a little luck, take home the grand prize. If you happen to be a wizard in the kitchen, and you plan to place your culinary creations on the State Fair’s gingham altar, chances are you will meet Lisa Prince.

Lisa Prince and Ag Commissioner Steve Troxler

Lisa Prince, second from left, is superintendent of the cooking contests at the State Fair. Each weekday during the fair, she highlights the winning dishes with an on-air tasting on WRAL’s noon newscast. Guest tasters have included Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, second from right.

Prince has been the superintendent of the special cooking contests for 14 years, but she started her career as a marketing specialist for the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services working on the food-service side of agriculture. She has worked with chefs, food distributors and schools, so she knows a thing or two about what it takes to create a winning recipe.

One of Prince’s favorite dishes is a blue-ribbon winner that has become one of her go-to recipes for family events. The recipe is for Oriental Pecan Slaw and it won the North Carolina Pecan Association Competition in 2003. Prince told us that the use of ramen noodles helped the recipe stand out. She said, “It is made with ramen noodles. Which was surprising, but it is a perfect base for the combination of sweet and savory ingredients. The recipe also really highlights the pecan.”

The goal for home cooks who enter the special cooking contests is to find the best way to highlight the star ingredient of each competition. But, there are a few other things hopefuls should keep in mind before entering their culinary delights.

Here are Lisa’s tips on how you could take home some dough at the fair:

  • Read the rules carefully. Make sure your recipe meets the contest requirements and that you know how your dish will be judged. Most judges focus on taste, creativity and ease of preparation, but every contest is slightly different.
  • Your dish should be visually appealing. The judges will only give top marks to contestants who supply carefully presented dishes that look appetizing.
  • Your dish must taste delicious. Dishes not only have to look fantastic, they also have to be packed full of flavor. Remember, this is your chance to show off your culinary skills and impress the judges.
  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. The judges want to enjoy your dish at the peak of its perfection, whether it is the next great American burger or amazing side salad. Keep those insulated coolers and ice packs on hand so you can serve up your best dish.
  • Remember to have fun. You may be competing for the top prize, but that doesn’t mean that you have to bring your game face. The fair is a celebration of food and fun.
  • Last, but not least, relax. Once you turn in your entry, the hard work is over. You get free entry to the fair with your entry, so on the day of the contest, drop your dish off for judging, walk around and enjoy the fair, then go back to the tent when the winners are announced. You may be surprised to hear your name called for that ribbon, and you might win some cash you weren’t expecting. If you don’t win, that’s OK, too, because you can always enter a future contest.

If you’re not ready to enter one of the special cooking contests, at least you can be a winner in your own kitchen while serving up the Oriental Pecan Slaw. Try making this blue-ribbon winner for your friends and family:

Oriental Pecan Slaw

  • Two 8-ounce packages chicken-flavored ramen noodles
  • Two 8½-ounce packages broccoli slaw
  • 1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup dry roasted sunflower seeds
  • 1 bunch green onions chopped
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar

Oriental slaw preparation: Remove flavor packets from ramen noodle soup mix. Crunch noodles in the bottom of a large bowl. Top with broccoli slaw. Sprinkle chopped pecans, sunflower seeds and chopped green onions over slaw. Whisk the contents of the flavor packets, sugar, oil and vinegar together and pour over the ingredients in the bowl. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Mix and serve.

About Fair Flyer

Nicole Roach, here (aka Fair Flyer). The fall is an exciting time of year. I always look forward to the cool crisp evenings, hot cider, the changing leaves, and of course, the State Fair. If you’re looking for me at the fair, you’ll probably find me in line for the State Fair Flyer. To me, there’s nothing better than sitting in a car high above the midway and watching the magic unfold below.

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