“If we get caught up and can't make a decision then we really have to go with all the other things — eye appeal, creativity, ease of preparation,” she said. “But first we'll start with smell. If it doesn't smell good enough to eat, it's not going to be good.”
For the younger ones, the competition is an exercise in working under pressure.
James McAffrey, 9, spent much of his event with his head in his hands. The Oklahoma City boy, who joined his sisters Ariel, 14, and Ava, 12, in the competition, presented a Boston Cream Pie Pancake: Two stacks, with vanilla cream in between and melted chocolate ganache on top.
“The pancakes cooked faster than what he expected, so I think he was frustrated,” said his mom, Destiny. “He always gets an adrenaline rush, though.”
And the youngest of the competitors leaned toward traditional favorites.
Caleb McCullough, 6, of Oklahoma City, sprinkled chocolate chips into his batter and then sang his ABC's four times before turning his flapjack. Another two rounds through and his entry was done.
“Fliparoo!” he said, dumping his masterpiece onto the judge's plate.
“Oh yeah, I forgot my whipped cream. Do I shake it up first?”
His grandmother, Sharon Smith, a kitchen assistant for the competition, nodded, and so McCullough sprayed about half the can on top.
“Oops, I think I put a little too much on it.”
Cooking contests were once a main attraction at the state fair, but like canning and sewing contests, they lost some sparkle when compared with carnival rides and big-ticket entertainment events, Nortz said.
Other fair cooking contests this year involved grilled cheese, casseroles, baked goods and Spam.
For both adults and children, the competitions are about much more than food, Nortz said. Behind the range, while the judges look on, the chefs learn composure under pressure, confidence, and how to adjust to the unforeseen.
“And with the cooking channels it's had resurgence in popularity, especially with kids,” Nortz said. “They need to know they can create their own magic in the kitchen.”