A Taste for Competition

Blue Ribbon Style: Defending victor Jennifer Currie will enter all nine of the NC Mountain State Fair’s culinary competitions requiring locally grown or raised products. She uses the freshest ingredients she can find, including trout caught by a family member (for one of last year’s winning dishes). Portrait by Clay Nations Photography


“It was uncharted territory — happening on back-to-back nights,” says Jennifer Currie of Clyde, who earned the rare honor of winning not one but two first-place prizes in last year’s Mountain State Fair Cooking Contests. Distinct from the contests involving traditional baked goods or preserves, the Fair’s Cooking Contests feature regional products and are strictly administered by state agricultural agencies — including the NC Tomato Growers Association, the NC Cattlemen’s Beef Council, and the NC SweetPotato Commission, among others. 

The competitions, which disburse cash prizes, draw hundreds of entrants from the state’s western region and start on the Friday the fair opens, continuing for nine nights in a row. In 2022, Currie won with a trout dish (in the NC Mountain Trout Cook-Off, administered by the NC Aquaculture Association) and a tomato dish. 

The honor surprised her as much as anyone else. 

“Once I got there and saw that everyone had these elaborate dishes, I thought for sure that mine were way too simple,” she says. “But I followed the judge’s directions and made sure mine were seasoned well and tasted good.” For the tomato category, she made what she calls a “straight-up tomato pie — but I did a spin on it by adding bacon, which I didn’t see in any standard recipes. Instead of lettuce, I used basil, so it was like an upscale BLT I called ‘Tomato BBT Pie.’” 

One of the guidelines in the trout competition mandated that the fish had to be locally caught, so Currie cooked one that her brother-in-law had just caught in Cherokee. “That was my first attempt at filleting a fish, and I’ll never do that again,” she says with a laugh. “I kept it wrapped in foil so that it stayed warm and moist for the judges, and I named the recipe ‘Foiled Ya’ because I like to come up with catchy names.”

The first year Currie competed at the fair was in 2019, and she snagged first place in the egg category with “Eggs on the Go-Go” — miniature omelets in cupcake holders. She also earned an Honorable Mention for her cranberry walnut dip, made with cream cheese and goat cheese from a local dairy. Ever since, it’s a highly requested dish from her friends and family, especially at Thanksgiving. 

Currie learned her skills from her grandmother and her mother, who were both great cooks, and she still uses her grandmother’s handwritten recipes and notes. She also collects cookbooks, particularly old community and church cookbooks. “My two favorites are the Asheville Temple Baptist Church cookbook from 1982 and the Tedder Family Cookbook, which my mom’s side of the family put together.”

Due to pandemic restrictions, the Mountain State Fair was cancelled for 2020, and in 2021, Currie didn’t enter because she was out of town. 

Last year she entered six of the contests, but was eager to do more. This year, she’ll appear at all nine. “Now that my kids are all grown and out on their own, I have more time to get ready.”

She’s currently working on entries including a trout chowder, a fresh apple Bundt cake with a caramel drizzle, and a tomato recipe she may call “Frisky Fresca Salsa.”  

The North Carolina Mountain State Fair runs Friday, Sept. 8 through Sunday, Sept. 17 at the WNC Agricultural Center (1301 Fanning Bridge Road, Fletcher). See the “Competitions” link under “Mountain State Fair” on wncagcenter.org.

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