Cooks submitting entries for culinary competitions in this year’s Illinois State Fair are possibly facing a formidable opponent in Dianna Wara of Washington.
Wara, who has participated in cooking competitions for 25 years, was the Grand Champion of Culinary for the 2017 Illinois State Fair. At last year’s state fair, she was named Grand Champion in the candy category, the cake category and the canned vegetables and fruits category. This year, she submitted about 70 general entries in various categories. According to results from the Illinois State Fair website, her entries have won 10 first-place awards, 10 second-place awards, and six third-place awards. Her potica, a Slovenian nut bread that she submitted for the first time in competition, was the first-place winner in the miscellaneous foreign bread category.
“I entered in everything,” said Wara. “I submitted entries in canning, quick breads, yeast breads, cakes, candies and decorated cakes.”
Wara said she has always enjoyed particular success with yeast bread and cookies. But her most unique entry this year is in the decorated cakes category.
“The new trend right now is geode cakes,” she added. “My cake looks like a geode rock, and it is stunning.”
In addition to pre-submitting general entries, Wara will participate in onstage cooking competitions throughout the fair. Friday’s competition is dairy, and Wara plans to make a galette, a sort of rustic pie. For Beef Day on Saturday, she is planning to prepare a Hasselback steak. For Yeast Bread Day on Aug. 12, she will make Italian bagels, a personal favorite of hers. For Pie Day Aug. 14, she intends to bake a pecan, chocolate and pretzel slab pie. Her anticipated entry for Pork Day Aug. 15 is bourbon pork chops. Aug. 16 will be Cake Day, and Wara’s entry will be a chocolate-covered strawberry cake. Should she win one of the daily competitions, she will qualify for the championship round and a chance to win another Grand Champion of Culinary crown.
As usually appears to be the case, Wara’s family had input on which dishes she should submit for State Fair competition.
“What I used them for was to try different batches of things and tell me which one was the best,” said Wara. “For example, my chocolate fudge. I made two batches: one was with bittersweet chocolate and one I made with semi-sweet chocolate.”
Wara did not specify which version of chocolate fudge she submitted for the fair, but it earned her one of her first-place awards.
“I don’t really smack-talk, but of course there’s a part of me that wants to win,” she said. “I just do the best I can.”