I travel to learn about new cultures, see world famous sites —and most of all to experience new cuisines, I have been to a progressive dinner in Hong Kong that started on the heliport on top of the Peninsula Hotel, then moved down to a private dining room for seafood. On to a world famous restaurant and then we finished with a dessert tasting on top of the roof.

I have been invited to a meal of bugs at the Insectarium in Montreal. Enjoyed a meal in a monastery in Taiwan where each of the over a dozen items served were made from Tofu.

The Big Tex Choice award trumps them all. The 2017 event I attended was the 13th annual event. After I looked over the description of the astounding entries, I realized why the fried foods are legendary and the signature food of the State Fair of Texas.

The competition began in mid-July with  47 entries. Of those entries, 30 were selected as semi-finalists.

Each entry was evaluated on four Fair-food elements: uniqueness, creativity, presentation, and taste.  After some tasty tests and delicious dishes, the finalists were finally chosen. Then the top ten presented their dishes to a prestigious panel of celebrity judges in hopes of becoming the next Fair Food legend.

The public can buy tickets to the final tasting for $100. You can taste generous portions of each finalist. It is a bargain if you do not have to add in the fees for your dentist or cardiologist.

And if you want to spread out your own tasting there is a Texas State Fair map of where all the food finalists are situated. If your favorite entry did not make the final cut, fret not, concessionaires can still choose to introduce their creation in their stand as a new food during this year’s Texas State Fair.

At the finals, the media walked around the individual booths to take pictures and to scope out what they would be tasting. And just like with a football pool, everyone has their own predictions of which items will be the winners.

Many people bet on the Deep Fried Fruit Loops created by Gracie and Wilton Whitely. Residents of Garland, Milton and Gracie Whitely, have managed two concession stands at the State Fair of Texas for the past 26 years. With an extensive background in the food service industry, the Whitely’s were named finalists in the 2008 Big Tex Choice Awards with their entry, Yam on a Stick.

Today, the Whitely’s are known across the fairgrounds for Milton’s Turkey Legs, Sweet Potato Toronado, Milton’s Sweet Potato Pie and Funnel Cake,

I wish I was as good at winning the lottery as I am at picking Fair winners.

                                                                              The Winners

For the first time in its 13-year history, the Big Tex Choice Awards — which honors the best of the (mostly) deep-fried concoctions that are served at the State Fair of Texas — had three categories for winners.

Tom Grace & Edna Sutton’s Funnel Cake Bacon Queso Burger — a mouthful in name and more than a mouthful in reality — won in the Most Creative and “Best Taste — Savory” categories. And it had a sweet element as well: two funnel-cake buns, covered in a snowstorm of powdered sugar, enveloped a grilled beef patty with crispy bacon and ballpark-style queso.

The funnel-cake buns were a good meshing of tastes and textures: salty, sweet, mildly spicy, crisp, soft — as well as being a mashup of three kinds of concession-stand food.

My favorite entry was described as a “drinkable aquarium” and that’s pretty accurate. “Best Taste — Sweet” went to the Gulf Coast Fish Bowl, which wasn’t deep-fried.  It’s an alcoholic drink that will only be available to fair-goers 21 and over.

Mansfield’s Clint Probst, who has been a finalist several times (including last year) and won in 2014, could easily have taken Most Creative with the Fish Bowl. His snifter-style glass has a bottom layer of Nerds “gravel,” then is filled with a “specially formulated blue alcoholic punch” with Swedish Fish “swimming” through the ice, all garnished by a pineapple slice and a straw big enough to suck up all the ingredients.

It was the first entry that really caught my eye and it was the first thing I photographed. I could not resist the entry or the display,

The Big Tex Choice Awards is an event that is now my favorite foodie part of the fair. It is actually a great value at $100 when you consider you get to taste all the finalists and hob knob with the winners. And the money goes to a good cause.

If you want to follow the trail of the winners, there is a map available which identifies the fair location of the finalists .

The State Fair of Texas celebrates all thing Texan by promoting agriculture, education, and community involvement through quality entertainment in a family-friendly environment.

The State Fair of Texas is a 501(C) (3) Nonprofit Organization,

For more information

www.BigTex.com