You remember Mark Zable from last year's State Fair of Texas Big Tex Choice Awards: He's the one who won last year's Most Creative title for inventing that little thing called fried beer.
It wasn't my favorite thing at the fair, but Zable has serious fried talent. "I just love our fair. I grew up sleeping under the counter while my family was running our stand." The guy bleeds State Fair of Texas. And his concession stand happens to serve my single favorite fair food item: the chocolate-covered strawberry waffle ball.
We're just weeks away from the fair, and the Big Tex Choice Awards finalists will soon be announced. Because the competition has become such a big deal (winning Best Taste or Most Creative can bring your concession stand a nonstop, two-hour-long line of eager customers), all of this year's finalists had to sign confidentiality agreements stating that they wouldn't talk about being awarded a finalist spot before the fair's announcement of the results this year.
But Zable can talk. This year, he's not a finalist. The judges tasted several items, including his two latest entries, and he didn't make the cut. Total. Shocking. Bummer.
"I was actually pretty upset. I thought I had a real winner," Zable said today. He had two entries that the judges tasted, including fried biscuits and gravy and -- wait for it -- fried caffeine.
"Caffeine is really bitter when you're working with it, but I figured out a way to combine it with this lemon filling that made it so that it wasn't bitter at all -- it just had this lemon jelly donut taste, with the power of three Red Bulls in it. Judges didn't go for it."
Zable won't be serving fried caffeine at his stand this year, but he will be serving deep-fried biscuits and gravy, which sound like everything a true Texan wants from the fair.
"We're also adding a Hawaiian shaved-ice machine," he said. I asked what snow cone flavors he'd be offering. "Shaved ice. Not snow cones," he corrected me, "I'm a snow cone snob. ... And I'm still working on the flavors." Ooh. Feisty about his frozen treats too. Can't wait to see what flavors he busts out.
Zable also told me about the next big idea he's going to be working on, since he's wasting no time and already preparing for next year's Big Tex Choice competition. He asked me not to reveal what it is, so I won't do that. But I will say that my immediate reaction to hearing its name was, "Fuck you, sir! That's gonna be delicious." Maybe not the most professional response, but when you hear what it is, I guarantee you'll exclaim profanities too.
You should absolutely stop by his concession stand and hope for a taste test. He alluded to using fairgoers as a free focus group for his latest inventions: "I test a lot of ideas out during the fair, when I have a full kitchen, so then I can immediately see what works and what doesn't. I try a little bit of everything. Last year, liquid nitrogen was involved. I knew that fried biscuits and gravy was a hit when every one of those plates came back empty."
If free samples of his future fried-ventions aren't enough, Zable's also going to be offering discounts to fairgoers for checking in at his stands on Foursquare
. Go ahead. Just try to oust me as the mayor of fried chocolate-covered strawberry waffle balls.
If you go to the fair and don't stop by Zable's Belgian Waffle stand this year, you're doing it all wrong.