Standing inside his food truck at the Fair at the PNE, Jason Au begins to slowly pull apart the large hamburger he’s holding.
It’s then that the gooey macaroni and cheese stuffed inside the burger begins to ooze out, much to the delight of the couple dozen media members and bloggers gathered Wednesday morning for a food tour of the Fair.
Photographers jostled for position beside social media influencers snapping photos with their phones. It was an all-out scrum, but instead of aiming questions and cameras at a beleaguered politician, this time all the attention was focussed on what’s become known in the social media world as pure “food porn.”
“That’s the money shot right there,” was the phrase I heard over and over again as the mac and cheese continued to seep out of the burger.
Au and his family have been putting their modern twist on classic fair foods at the PNE for 13 years and, from the finger licking I spotted as samples were devoured, this 2016 version of the hamburger appears to be a winner.
But as popular as this hamburger is at the PNE, 2016 is shaping up to be the battle of the perogy with “Hunky Bill” Konyk leading the charge. It was 50 years ago when Konyk bet a friend he could get a booth at the PNE to sell his Ukrainian-style perogies. Konyk got his booth, won his $10 and became an iconic symbol of Canadian entrepreneurship for his as-seen-on TV Hunky Bill’s Perogy Maker.
This year Konyk has some competition for best perogy at the PNE, putting up his traditional take on these dumplings of deliciousness against upstart Ryan Carlos, a first timer to the fair. Carlos, who owns Okanagan-based TemptAsian Chinese restaurant, is selling chicken teriyaki perogies complete with chopsticks from his food truck, International Perogies, and the consensus from everyone trying them Wednesday morning was a big thumbs-up.
Another popular addition to the fair this year is a wiener stuffed into a pickled, dipped in corn dog batter and then deep fried. You’re welcome.
Chicky’s Chicken/Salt Spring Concessions owners Scott and Karyle Dennis say the deep fried pickle dog came about as the result of the positive response they received while testing the recipe out on friends. Personally, I liked it, but what’s not to love? However, competition is tough this year at the PNE and fairgoers have many food options to choose from before piling onto the Beast and losing their lunch onto the unsuspecting crowd below.
Here is a list of more food highlights fairgoers can check out this year — stomachs willing.
Reel Mac and Cheese: Slumdog Millionaire Mac and Cheese
Suzanne and Perry Poudrier own a food truck and each year create a mac and cheese dish inspired by a Hollywood movie. This year’s hit is a take on the Bollywood scene with curry, peas and crispy onions elevating their seven-cheese macaroni to celebrity status.
Gourmet Burgers: The Hercules 10-pound burger
At $70, this massive burger is not inexpensive, but because it’s been created to serve up to six hungry fairgoers the price is comparable to pretty much everything else for sale at the PNE. It’s expected that, with time, the burger will take on legendary challenge status, starting with the rumour a professional football player is planning to drop by this week to give it a go.
Steve O’s: Deep fried tequila shot bites and Oreo cookie churros
I was skeptical about the tequila shot bites at first, but after trying one, OK, I had two, I was sold. Coquitlam-based Stephen Ford deep-fries pieces of tequila-flavoured cake, gives them a quick spray of more tequila and then serves them with a sprinkle of icing sugar and slice of lime. Probably my favourite bite all morning. Meanwhile, Ford also creates cream-filled churros (fried dough) out of Oreo cookies. I had anticipated these would be my hands-down favourite sample of the tour, but the tequila shots were ahead by a century.
Ogopogo Concessions: Deep fried coffee
Lorne Beckett is garnering attention during his first year at the PNE by selling deep-fried, coffee-flavoured bites drizzled in salted caramel, espresso flakes, French vanilla or cream and sugar. I predict coffee lovers will flock to these treats faster than you can say, “Grande, iced, sugar-free, vanilla latte with soy milk.”
The Fair at the PNE runs now through Sept. 5. Visit pne.ca for a complete schedule.