Friday Night at Fair Park, A Taste of Dallas Gas Stations

Each year Taste of Dallas gives everyday working Joes a chance to rub elbows with some of the best chefs in town and sample the fanciest food in the city out of paper trays from a carnival booth. Friday night in the Automobile Building, Bolla chef David Bull treated a few dozen amateur stove jockeys to his beef tri-tip secrets, right down to the immaculate presentation that gives the dish that tell-tale serious restaurant look.

But man does not live on fancy food alone, nor should he want to. There was the mini-Albertson's set up at the end of the hall -- like a real grocery store, but one you pay to get into -- but while the selection was plenty impressive (T-shirts, even), there was no one there to offer preparation tips. To be truly helpful, a cooking demonstration should answer the questions we're likely to face at the end of a normal day -- too cheap to eat out, too late to cook or just too hungry to care, how do you get inspired in the aisles of a kwik-e-mart?

To help come up with some answers, Taste of Dallas enlisted the only Dallas cheer-leading team you'll ever see at a food festival: the Mavs ManiAACs, who drew on their considerable experience with food that can be cooked during a time-out commercial break and eaten on the couch without breaking eye contact with the TV. In teams of two, the ManiAACs went head-to-head in an Iron Chef-style showdown using only gas station snacks, plastic forks and a microwave.

Moments after Bull exited with the last of his plated tri-tip, four paunchy ManiAACs replaced him onstage, tearing into a spread of potato chips, gummy worms, beef sticks, Funyuns and other QuikTrip fare, ripping bags open and frantically stabbing Beefaroni cans with forks.

After a few frantic minutes hovering around the microwave as the dishes' cheese and meat choices melted, the cheerleaders settled down to complete their entries with chips and candy, before subjecting the judge -- City of Ate's own brunchmaster Andrea -- to their finished work. Jump to hear how the contest shook out, and for an up-close look at the winning dish.

Professor and Thrill Will used the allotted time to create a "popcorn worm fetish," which ManiAAC One Love said was meant to provide a playful contrast in textures between the popcorn and gummy worm. One Love made sure to include Vienna sausages in the dish, he said, because they served him well as a staple of his college diet. "You bite the Vienna, and eat the cracker right behind it," he explained, with a less conventional "Vy-eenah" pronunciation.

After recoiling at the flavor of Vienna sausages in the first dish, judge Grimes considered the second entry, "ManiAAC Ravioli Man Pie," which, though it didn't appear at first to actually include ravioli, she determined to be "the far superior dish."

For more shots of Taste of Dallas, including Saturday's follow-up gas station food contest, check out this slideshow from our photographer Rachel Parker.

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