by Steven Doyle
We managed to catch up with Abel Gonzales this week. You know him as the State Fair of Texas work horse that has brought us such items fried Coke, fried cookie dough, fried PB&J, fried pineapple, fried jambalaya and so much more, all fried. He is the very definition of the state of the fair with fried foods and has won five Biog Tex Choice Awards with his vivid imagination. He has been labeled as the Fried Jesus.
Gonzales is a Texas boy, having attended Dallas’ Woodrow Wilson high school where is was inducted into their hall of fame, and grew up in his fathers’ kitchen at the legendary A.J. Gonzalez’ Mexican Oven restaurant.
Originally his career had him mismatched as a data analyst, but it didn’t take long to delve into food. He now caters, owns a restaurant, Cocina Italiano, makes and personally delivers seasonal tamales and posole, and gives back to the community each year with a series of catered personal Christmas dinners he prepares for families in need. Often veterans, but always families that his friends queue up for him in the community.
Abel Gonzales is a joy to speak with, and he is as humble as anyone you will meet. We called Abel who was sitting in his golf cart at the State Fairgrounds awaiting a delivery from purveyors that he will then distribute to his booths to prep for the day. Let’s do some catch up.
The Fall is your busy season, what’s going on at the fair this year?
Thanks for calling! You won’t believe this but we are doing a fried 12 ounce New York strip this year. It is wet aged from Halpern’s that is hand cut and sous vide right here behind our booth. I probably should’ve thought more about what I called it because people think we are making a chicken fried steak. But we are just deep frying it to perfection in beef tallow along with some great garlic french fries. Beef tallow is what McDonald’s used for many years to make their fries taste so good. But we serve it up with a jalapeno chimichurri and tri-color peppers, and it looks and tastes great.
That is simply amazing. Not only serving delicious food, but so high end for the fair.
It really is. I am charging 80 coupons for the plate, but it is huge and shareable. We really we wanted to give something extraordinary for the fair. You don’t get fried steak elsewhere. We also wanted to give our booth a cheffy feel, and not your average fair food.
80 coupons! You’re breaking some price barriers. Are people buying this?
It is pricey, but it is quality. It’s the same price as the fried lobster we sell and both are doing very well. We increased the size of the lobster tail so that is a good value.
You told us last year that you would be selling beer again, and try to beat the low prices we see at a few places found at the fair.
I am selling beer again at the fair, but it is hard to compete with the massive beer vendors doing 6 coupons. They sell a LOT of beer to get the good prices, and since food is our primary business I am at 8 coupons. But we have a good variety of beer and wine. I am putting out a new wine list today and we have some very good wines for people to enjoy. It does well. But if I were to get stuck with some wine, well, I can put a dent into a case of wine.
You have the new restaurant this year. How hard is that to run the booths at the fair and a restaurant.
It’s challenging, but I have a great family that helps. My niece is running the register at the restaurant right now. I am waiting for deliveries, and will distribute product the the various booths, then I will go to the restaurant and take care of some business. Meanwhile, we are also doing catering. I did catering for 400 people last week, then I was back at the fair. There is little sleep this time of year.
What do you like at the fair, besides your own foods?
I like the old school stuff like having a Fletcher’s corny dog while standing in front of Big Tex. I had a turkey leg at Smokey John’s. I really love seeing the kids run around, get into trouble and have fun. I’m not sure if that is old school, or just a good day at the fair.
That sounds like a good day.
Oh, I almost forgot to tell you! I am serving up The Platter. It has the fried 12 ounce steak, fried lobster with champagne gravy, fried jambalaya, onion rings, garlic fries, jalapeno chimichurri and your choice of fried cookie dough or fried PB&J. It’s 175 coupons, but individually the price would be much higher. We sell about two a day.
That sounds like the fair in a basket. It had to break the price point for food at the fair.
I think it did, but I really want someone to come up and tell me they have something bigger. You know if you have steak it is only right you serve up a surf and turf.
Abel, it is always a joy to speak with you and I wish you a good Fair. See you soon.