So after all of today's talk about the right diet and plenty of exercise, someone had to speak for the loyal opposition. Hope you're hungry . . . here's Bill Geist:
Deep-fried heaven . . . health food hell . . . a place where vendors compete to see who can create the most egregious violation of dietary law.
"It's chicken fried and bacon," offers one man. "Can't beat it!"
"Deep-fried bacon right here!" yells another woman.
Geist obligingly took a bite: "Is there a clinic nearby?"
One family surveyed the menu: "What do you want to get, fried butter? Fried peanut butter?" asked one woman.
"No," said the boy.
Fried jelly and banana? No.
Fried cookie dough? No.
Fried coke? No.
Fried pizza? "Yeah, fried pizza!"
Sue Gooding, of the State Fair of Texas, told Geist she estimated there are about 500 fried food items at the fair.
The fair has a rich, oily history of deep-fried food. They say the classic fried corn dog was invented here in 1942 by Skip Fletcher's father.
"And nobody would buy one," Skip said.
Why not? "They didn't know what they were."
But that was then. "How many corny dogs are you going to sell at the state fair this year?" Geist asked.
"Enough that laid end to end from Dallas they'd go all the way to the Gulf of Mexico," Skip said. "500,000!"
"It has sort of become a tradition," Skip explained. "I believe that would be a mortal sin" to go to the State Fair of texas without having a corny dog.
To this day the fair remains the cutting edge of deep fat frying.
From Skip Fletcher at one end of the spectrum, on the other end there's a "new wave" of deep fryers.
Geist was introduced to Abel Gonzales Jr, one of the younger vendors, and "so creative."
"You have a gift for this kind of thing?" Geist asked.
"You know, I guess I do," Gonzales replied. "I guess with the fryer and oil and give me something to cook in it, I'm ready to go."
Gonzalez is a pastry prodigy, whose cholesterolic culinary creations include deep-fried Coke.
"Cokey!" is Geist's verdict, "and good."
"They said it couldn't be done. I'm here to prove them wrong. Anything can be fried," said Gonzales.
And deep-fried cookie dough.
"You don't think a warning label is warranted for this?" Geist asked.
"Oh, no. Come on! You really think anyone that orders deep-fried cookie dough needs a warning? I think the product says it all."
For this year's fair, Gonzales produced his masterpiece, his piece de resistance: Deep fat fried butter.
"This is the star of the state fair," said Gonzales. "I'd like to think that I'm the star, but let's be real. Nobody is ever talking about Abel Gonzales. Everybody is talking about deep-fried butter."
There were indeed long lines. "We're here for that fried butter," said one hungry customer.
There are a variety of butter flavors, too: cherry, grape jelly, garlic and honey cinnamon sugar.
Gonzales has concocted far more complex and showy creations, but none so popular as plain ol' deep-fried butter.
He described the process as "very simple":
"What we do is we take dough - heavily buttered dough - then we stuff that dough with butter. Pure 100 percent butter."
"And you butter the dough?" asked Geist. "There's not enough butter in there already?"
"We gotta have more butter. Can you really have enough butter? Deep-fried butter?"
Balls of butter go into the fryer, where the magic happens. "Any time you have something going into the deep fryer, a little magic is going on," said Gonzales.
Another small step for man.
Geist sampled some. "Good. Powerful butter." And eats another.
These little bombs sell so well - about 40,000 orders at the 24-day fair - that Gonzales quit his job.
"Yeah, I did - isn't that great? I did retire from my job. I was a computer analyst for 14 years, and I used to come to the fair and do this on my vacation and I was lucky enough that I was making enough money here that one day I went, 'Why am I sitting behind a computer? It's so boring - I think I'm going to take a break and just do this.'"
The fair ended last week, and Abel was already back in his mother's kitchen doing research and development.
"So, is this your laboratory?" Geist asked.
"Absolutely, the mad scientist of frying goes on right here."
His family is the "focus group." "Yeah, we're ready," said his mom.
Abel tests everything on his family. Today it's taffy. Very "state fair."
There's oozing going on. "The oozing is always a good sign," Abel said.
Like Henry Ford's garage, it's an historic moment in deep fat frying. "I think it's gonna work!" said the alchemist.
And it's even got a great name: Deep-fried taffy.
The family approved the taffy, and moved on to the next experimental food: Deep-fried sugary red peanut patties.
"I think I'm going to like this. We may have a winner here," though he's goingt o have to work on getting the batter to stick.
"You know what, that's not bad at all," Abel said.
The jury returned its verdict: "This one's great." "I really like it." "Sugar is good. And when you deep fry it, it's better."
A little boy gives the thumbs-up.
When Geist asked whether it would be better regular or deep fired, the answer was, "This is a deep-fried house."
So we'll look for Abel's deep-fried peanut patties at next year's fair - those of us who are still around to enjoy them.
For more info:
State Fair of Texas
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