Good Question: How Do New State Fair Foods Get Picked?
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ST. PAUL (WCCO) – In just about two months, Minnesotans will be able to sink their teeth into bacon, pickles, chocolate, or a combo of them all.
On Wednesday, the Minnesota State Fair announced 47 new foods. Among them are candied bacon cannoli, deep fried meatloaf, grilled glazed donuts and cocoa puff cheese curds.
Each of the foods had to be approved by the State Fair via a tough process. For one family, it took 20 years of applications.
Mancini’s Char House in St. Paul was on the shorter end of that list. They applied eight years ago and were finally accepted for the 2013 season.
“I didn’t figure we had a chance,” Pat Mancini said.
His restaurant, a St. Paul institution, put in an in-depth proposal that included their steak sandwich, garlic toast and spiral cone of baked bread with meatballs, shrimp or antipasti.
“They wanted to know everything from the equipment to the menu and the prices we’re going to charge, to the employee code of conduct,” Mancini said.
Mancini’s was one of 30 vendors who had been asked to apply for the old Pizza Palace spot. According to Dennis Larson, the State Fair license administrator manager (a.k.a. food guy), 476 vendors are still on the wait list.
Last year, the fair accepted two new vendors. This year it was six.
“We just don’t have that many openings,” Larson said. He said it comes down to having the right space for the right kind of products. Three vendors retired this year leaving three spots open.
Campbell’s Flavored Corndogs was chosen this year in their first application. They’ll sell double bacon, jalapeno cheese and sweet corn corndogs.
“A nice new trailer, new equipment, a professional operator and a clever new product we thought would be a good fit,” he said.
Vendors can apply online throughout the year. Larson gets the group down to a short list and then brings in a committee to make the final decisions. He said the most important part of the application is experience. Vendors must also be able to show their food can be carried around the fair.
“Try to wow us, show us products you’ve had in the past, what products you’ve got, what you’re experience is,” he said. “Minnesota is not the place you want to start with 1.8 million people.”
Most existing spots get their new food choices approved. But Larson does his due diligence on any newcomers. He doesn’t necessarily test all the new foods, but has been known to check out vendors without their knowledge at Grand Old Day or smaller county fairs.
“It’s a good way to see a person than what’s on an 8.5-by-11 inch sheet of paper,” Larson said.
Two foods that haven’t made it: frog legs and chocolate covered grasshoppers.