For the first time ever, two food vendors were crowned winners of Golden Abe's Fantastic Fair Food Competition at the Illinois State Fair.
Ken Haarstad with Classic Kitchen out of Austin, Minnesota, won the savory category with his hot beef sundae, while Paulette Keene of Paulette's Food Service from Pinckneyville in southern Illinois won the sweet category with her turtle funnel cake. Judging took place Friday at the fairgrounds' Lincoln Stage.
In past years of the competition, sponsored by the fair and The State Journal-Register, just one grand prize winner was chosen.
The Classic Kitchen has been offering the hot beef sundae to fairgoers since 2011. It consists of whole kernel corn on the bottom, topped with slow-cooked roast beef, a scoop of mashed potatoes topped with gravy, shredded cheese and a cherry tomato on top.
"I think it's something different," Haarstad said. "You don't see it any place. It's not at every fair, either. It's something good to eat. It's a good meal."
This was Haarstad's first time entering the sundae in the Golden Abe's event, even though Classic Kitchen has been offering it for seven years. It was actually another fairgoer who convinced him to enter it in the contest in the first place.
Now that the hot beef sundae has won the official Golden Abe bobblehead, Haarstad plans on displaying the award at his stand across from the Grandstand.
"We'll have that and the plaque, everything up there so everyone can see it," he said.
The hot beef sundae beat out the street tacos by Phil Caplis.
Keene isn't a stranger to the Golden Abe's competition. Last year, she won the dessert category with her strawberry shortcake funnel cake, but she came short of taking home the grand prize.
But this year, she's excited to win the golden bobblehead.
"I've been coming here for 25 years," she said. "I live in Illinois, so it's an honor to receive the award."
Keene said she got the idea for the turtle funnel cake because people are always looking for varieties in funnel cake flavors, and turtle candy happens to be one of her favorites. The turtle funnel cake is a funnel cake topped with powdered sugar, chocolate, caramel and pecans.
Keene is no stranger to the carnival scene. She grew up on a small carnival her grandfather ran, helping her mother run the cotton candy and snow-cone stand.
Then in 1992, she became a food vendor for the Illinois State Fair, and she's been selling funnel cakes at her stand on Main Street since 1996.
"I've always liked being around people and making people happy and making them smile," she said. "Everyone wants fair food, so when you give them a corn dog and a funnel cake or a lemonade, they're happy."
The turtle funnel cake beat out funnel fingers, submitted by Haarstad.
Each of Friday's four finalists received a $150 prize for advancing from Thursday's initial round of voting. Friday's winners, in addition to the golden Lincoln bobblehead, received $250.
There's still one winner that has yet to be named. Fairgoers can help choose the winner of the People's Choice Award. If a food vendor is competing, it will have a poster at their stand. Fairgoers wanting to vote for the People's Choice Award, can text their choices to (217) 441-2700. The winner will be selected on Monday and will get $250.
Contact Carla Jimenez: 788-1542, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/CarlaJimenezSJR.
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