If The State Fair of Texas is Fried Christmas, Abel Gonzales Jr. is its Fried Jesus. The first year of the Big Tex Choice Awards, he won with Fried Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich. The second year, he won with Fried Coke. Third year: Fried Cookie Dough was his winner. The fifth year he competed, he won with Fried Butter. And the eighth year, he won with Fried Jambalaya. He had, until this summer, been a finalist in the Big Tex Choice Awards for nine years in a row.
This year was the 10th year of the Big Tex Choice Awards, and when the list of finalists was announced, there was something very different about it: many of our beloved fried competitors had returned as finalists once again, but Fried Jesus was nowhere to be found.
And what is Fried Christmas without Fried Jesus? I had to ask Gonzales what the dang deal was. Did Fried Jesus run out of ideas? Did the State Fair shut him out because he already had too many damn Big Tex bobble-heads? Did his submissions just have bad names, like Fried Depression and Whale Dick On A Stick? Oooh -- and I'm whispering this part to you like a secret now, because it's fucked up -- did Fried Jesus light Big Tex on fire, and then everyone found out, and then they were forced to disqualify him from competition for life and afterlife? The truth must be revealed.
Behold: Fried Jesus speaks to me.
So, I saw that you didn't make the finalists list this year, which is crazy. But they do list that you have one of the new items that will be featured at the fair for 2014: fried brisket. Can you tell me about that (while I punch a wall to reduce the pain in my brain that resulted when you told me fried brisket wasn't a finalist)?
I was on one of those list sites, like, "10 People We Have Started to Hate in 2014," "The 10 Best 'You Are Not the Father' Dances on Maury,"etc., and they had this "10 Best Foods from Texas" list with the awesome pic of smoked brisket. Done! How do I deep all that and take it to the fair? I ended up dredging it, much like a chicken fried steak, but using some BBQ ingredients instead of just salt and pepper. It worked -- or so I thought.
I know that competitors are allowed to submit two entries every year. Did you have another attempt?
I made a game-time decision (like hours before we turned in paperwork) to NOT submit another entry. It was a fruit thing and I really hadn't worked on it much. It was more of an Idea than a working item, so I left it off. I might explore it further next year ... or maybe not.
If I'm remembering correctly, this is the first year since the competition began that you weren't in the finals, right?
Nine straight years! Yup, first year I didn't make the finals. Maybe this fry game is a young man's game and it's passed me up. Or maybe I just sucked this year. It was one or the other, for sure.
How do you feel about the process of choosing finalists?
I'd be a real horse's ass to complain at this point about the process, since it seems to have worked just fine for me the last nine years. So, whatever. I don't really know who does the primary judging. And this whole thing was never meant to be Top Chef. I think the fair does its best to make sure the best food makes it to the contest. And I've been on the other side doing the judging, and I know it's just somebody's opinion. It's not the gospel. (Alice note: FRIED JESUS JUST ALLUDED TO A FRIED GOSPEL LET'S FIND IT) There is always next year! I, like everyone else, look forward to trying all the new stuff myself. I'm sure some of it will be AWESOME!!! And some of it... not so much. It's just fried fun, people!!
I watched Deep Fry Masters this season, and it was great to see you on it as a judge. There were also a ton of Texas State Fair vendors featured as contestants, which was really fun to see. I was like, "Holy shit, Abel is on TV!! And that's Butch Benavides' hair!! And Fried Pop Tart Man!! And Fried Peaches Lady!!" It was like my favorite fried sports team was playing every week. Is the show renewed for another season? Will you be on it?
That was a lot of fun to do! We did three episodes as a sort of a test and they did pretty good, so they ordered another four. They are going to do a reboot in mid-September with it so... Who knows. I hope more people watch so we get a full season. I watch too much TV, so it was kinda cool to be on the other side.
Did judging your past competitors on that show cause any friction?
Ya know.... Whatever to that as well. It's supposed to be fun!! And I'm only one judge out of three. I only get one vote. Any friction the show might have caused was already there before the cameras started rolling. In all this time I've been at the fair, I've learned to accept that some people are just not going to like you no matter what. Who has time for them??! There is a lot of politics at the fair and the key to me is to remember that we are there to make people happy!!! We are a part of the biggest show in Dallas. So lighten up, have a beer, eat something fried, pet an animal and come find me if you find something good to eat-- I'll want to try that.
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So, you didn't make the 2014 BCTA fried finalists, but weren't you awarded something awesome from your high school this year?
Seriously floored this year to have been inducted to my High Schools Hall of Fame. I went to Woodrow Wilson (best High School in Dallas) and I'm sure it's no surprise to anyone I didn't exactly light the academic world on fire while I was there. But I came from good stock, so it was the best feeling in the world to have my parents see me redeem myself in a way. I still can't believe they thought me worthy. Love Woodrow! Go Wild Cats!
Many thanks to Abel for taking time out of his fried life to talk with us. Do stop by his booth and get some fried goodness this year. If you're amazing, you could do a tour of the entire Big Tex Choice Awards fried history, starting with Abel's Fried PB&J and ending with Fried Shrimp Boil. Consider yourself dared.