This year's Big Tex Choice Award for Best Taste goes to the dynamic trio of Ruth Hauntz, long time Texas State Fair concessionaire, and associates Juan and Brent Reaves. The Reaves brothers (who also make it to the finals with their Deep Fried Bacon Burger Dog Slider on a Stick), owners of Dallas favorite Smokey John's Bar B Que, chatted alongside Ruth to give us the inside scoop on creating this year's most talked about dish.
Q: How do you guys know each other?
Juan: Ms. Ruth's husband and our dad were friends. Our dad was in the real estate business and he actually put a roof on her house. His thank you gift to them was a smoked turkey! I think the story goes that it was overcooked.
Ruth: A wee bit!
Juan: Fortunately for us he got a lot better at smoking turkey. We're going on 40 years this year and Ms. Ruth has been with us since 1994. So we're going on 22 years of being in business together and the last 3-4 years the three of us have been partners at the State Fair. We're excited to be working together – she keeps us young.
Q: How did this idea come to life?
Ruth: We started with three ideas – one idea each – and Juan really was the one that perfected the Jell-O.
Juan: It was a team effort. Fried Jell-O seemed like a great one. As kids, who didn't love Jell-O? We thought the most iconic flavor would be cherry. So we thought let's get some cherry Jell-O and try to fry it. Fortunately for us, we have a very resourceful chef in the group. Brent did the homework and figured out how to make it hold its flavor. We're proud of it. It's pretty good!
Q: How did you figure out the recipe?
Brent: We worked on the recipe for about a month and we actually didn't get it right until the morning of the competition. So when we left [that morning} we were like "Oh, it worked finally!" We started with pancake batter, right?
Juan: We tried pancake batter, croissant dough. So the process took several weeks to research. We needed a key ingredient and we couldn't find it. Once we figured out how to make the Jell-O keep its form, then we had to figure out what we could fry it in.
Brent: We quickly realized that we had to use actual Jell-O! You can't use anything else.
Juan: We tried pizza dough too! We finally came up with a version of it that we think is pretty good. That was Brent figuring out how to make the Jell-O stay firm.
Brent: Our secret ingredient helps it stay its form.
Q: What does being finalists in the Big Tex Choice Awards mean to you?
Ruth: That's the highlight of the State Fair! All year, we think about what we're going to submit in the competition. We rack our brains for the idea and that's the highlight of the year for me. We want to get into at least the semi finals!
Juan: The Awards means that we get to showcase our creativity and also our teamwork because it's a collaborative effort. At the end of the day, it means more opportunity and that's exciting.
Brent: At the end of the day, we really want to see Ms. Ruth succeed. She's 82 years young and it's absolutely amazing. To have her have a finalist item after so much hard work for so many years, that's the most rewarding part.
Q: What does the State Fair mean to you?
Brent: Fun and a lot of work. We've grown up in this – we've been at the fair for 35 years so it's a part of our lives and brings back childhood memories.
Juan: For me the State Fair means family. Our families have been in this business for a long time and now my kids are becoming a part of the business. There's a family camaraderie amongst the vendors as well. There's a lot of vendors that we are really good friends with and see outside of the fair.