Does the Calgary Stampede just try to mix together wild and crazy midway food to push the culinary envelope every year? Well, kind of.
The Calgary Stampede’s food revolution started a decade ago, coinciding with the rise of food in pop culture.
James Radke Midway manager with the Calgary Stampede remembers their first foray into something new after keeping the foods generally the same for the 90 years prior.
They’ve added a number of new foods this year (check out editor Darren Krause’s Midway taste testing in the video below) and they plan to ride the food craze until it bucks them off.
The Midway’s wild food: Starting slow
“So, we slowly started small. And you know, I can remember deep fried coke coming around a long time ago, and everybody was shocked with that. It didn’t really taste good,” Radke said.
“But it was just the idea of fusing two different things, which was funnel cake batter and Coca Cola product, fusing those two together to create something new and unique.”
While the new foods are now an annual rite of passage for Calgary media, a lot goes into choosing the foods that make the midway grade.
Radke said they work with their vendors – who come from all over North America – as they are quite often doing the fair circuit all over finding new and emerging food items. They pair that with trends on Twitter and Instagram from all over the world to identify the most popular.
“Somebody that’s at Coachella might have invented something new and unique and different that can translate up into Canada and Calgary,” Radke said.
From there it’s conversations with vendors, who test the products in their kitchens and they have the ability to test some of the foods in kitchens before they get accepted. They meet with their vendors every November to discuss what might be on the menu for the upcoming Calgary Stampede.
“It can be new and unique and different. But if it doesn’t taste good, that’s not cool. So, it still has to taste very good,” Radke said.
The real boom started with cricket pizza, Radke said. And that’s when they realized they had a winner with wild – and tasty – food offerings.
While he’s still a traditionalist, Radke said this year the funnel cake pizza is one he’s excited about. He said it fuses two traditional foods on the midway into one delicious treat.
Vendors in on the midway food craze
Jason Au with Tin Lizzy Concessions from Vancouver brought in the deep-fried chicken skins this year, after rolling with deep fried hamburgers last year. The skins were the media pick for best new savoury midway food at this year’s Calgary Stampede.
“Everything can be deep fried,” Au said.
“We’ve basically tested and tried that, for sure. At a fair, the weird to the unique, something you can’t find anywhere out there, deep fry it and it will pique curiosity.”
He’s seen the rise in the food biz go along with concession sales at major expositions across North America.
“Everybody’s watching the Food Network now. They interested in what’s out there, what’s new, ‘oh that would be interesting let’s try that,’” he said.
“It makes us think about what would be interesting for the public to see and want to really try and test. That’s where we fill that void.”