The Governor's Favorite Pie Contest has been a tradition at the Utah State Fair, but this year it's been switched up with Governor Herbert's Favorite Meatloaf Contest.
I'm not kidding.
I've been a volunteer judge at Utah State Fair contests since I became the Standard-Examiner's food editor in 1993. I recall when Jane McQuade of Clearfield won Gov. Leavitt's contest in 1996 with a raspberry-pear pie. I judged one of Gov. Huntsman's pie contests in 2006 or 2007. In other fair contests, I've judged pies, cookies, candies, cakes, Dutch oven and Beef Council contests. Even the 4-H Green Food Contest. But up until now, I've never judged meatloaf.
Last week when a fair official asked me to be a judge this year, I found out that the Governor's pie contest was changed to meatloaf. Apparently Herbert is not fond of pies, because last year the contest was switched to a muffin competition, even though Marie Callender's is the sponsor. Now this year, he's asking for meatloaf entries, because that's his favorite meal.
I agreed to judge, but I'll admit I have some reservations. It's been my experience that baked goods go over better with fair contests. Pies and cakes offer more of an "wow" factor for audiences, and they taste OK at room temperature. Generally, they aren't as risky as far as food poisoning goes. People usually make their entries at home and transport them to the fair. So their food can be sitting in a car for awhile, especially if they're driving from somewhere like Logan, Nephi or even Blanding. And what if the contestants come early so they can look around at the fair before the contest starts? There's more time that a potentially hazardous food is left sitting.
The contestants hopefully will transport their cooked meatloaf in a cooler with lots of ice, and reheat when they get to the competition. But I'm wondering if meatloaf is a dish that will hold up, taste-wise and texture-wise, after a wait. Due to public health restrictions, the public is not allowed to sample the entries, so only the judges will know. In the case of the Beef and Dutch oven contests, the contestants transport their own ingredients and cook them on site. They are tasted and judged right after cooking, so they still look appealing. Perhaps the fair folks will do the meat loaf contest this way as well.
Meat loaf may be hearty and nourishing, but it's not a "pretty" dish for an audience to "ooh" and "awe" over; although I imagine it could be gussied up with sprigs of parsley and mashed potato scalloping around the edges.
But, I'm not the governor, and it's his contest. Far be it from me to come between our state's chief executive and his meatloaf. And if you enter your meatloaf, I'll try to be objective when taste-testing. The contest takes place at the Utah State Fair's Home Arts Building, on Friday, Sept. 16 at 5:30 p.m. (The date has been changed twice since I originally wrote this post, so I'm sorry if there's been some confusion when I've made the fixes in this post). By now the contest rules should be listed with the other cooking competitions at http://www.utah-state-fair.com/exhibitors_and_competitions/competitive_exhibits/living_arts/indoor_cook_offs.php.
If you're a great cook and looking to win few bucks, I'd recommend entering some of these contests. The prize money ranges from around $100-$300. Depending on the contest, there may only be eight or nine entries, so your odds are good to win.
I remember judging Governor Huntsman's pie contest -- maybe it was 2006 or 2007. I don't remember much about the pies; what impressed me most that night was the way that Huntsman worked the room. As soon as we met, he complimented me on my job as the Deseret News' food editor. He quickly endeared himself with the audience, mentioning that he and his wife first met while both were working at a Marie Callender's restaurant.
While the other judges were slowly taste-testing each pie and weighing their pros and cons, Huntsman quickly took one bite from each and turned in his judging sheet. He then made his way to every single row in the audience, smiling and shaking hands. Then he and his entourage were off to their next event. What a PR whirlwind.
In 2009, Carol Bartholomew's Cherry-Berry Almond Pie took top honors in the Governor's Pie Contest. Perhaps it's the last winning pie, at least while Gov. Herbert is in office.