Corn Fest calls for creativity

By Nina Gougis

“Welcome to the jungle.”

That is how Corn Fest board chair Dave Emanuelson described the swarms of people, vendors and talent acts crowding the city streets on what would normally be a very quiet Sunday afternoon.

To Emanuelson, the large crowds were definitely a good sign, especially since the DeKalb Corn Fest music festival has not attracted as many people as they hoped for this year, due to a spell of rainy

weather Friday night. Emanuelson said the rainy weather cost the festival $10,000 of revenue.

“There’s a big pressure to increase numbers,” Emanuelson said. “Especially since the vendors in the booths pay rental fees. If they don’t make money, they’re not coming back.”

Along with increased publicity for the event, the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce also added new activities the last two years, including the corn creation and cake decorating contests.

As part of the Sunday afternoon corn creation contest, four categories were selected: relish, casserole, salad and corn bread/muffin dishes. All categories required that corn be the main ingredient.

Each dish was then judged according to consistency, flavor, use of the key ingredient and overall appeal.

Both contests attracted a small but diverse crowd of homemakers, working mothers, pastry chefs and college students who all had one thing in common – a love for cooking.

Annette Halbmaier, who created the winning sweet corn salad creation had never entered the contest before, but said cooking has always been a big part of her life. For her, the relaxed and friendly atmosphere of town contests attracted her to the event.

“I have always liked to enter town contests,” Halbmaier said. “It’s always about having fun.”

For pastry chef Julie Fritc-Doyle, being around others who love to cook and comparing her skill with others has made this experience worthwhile. Fritc-Doyle placed 3rd in the cake decorating contest and first in the cornbread/muffin category.

“It’s a great way to test your skills and compare them with others, but the best part is seeing people eat and enjoy what you made,” Fritc-Doyle said. “That’s the reason I became a chef.”

First place winner Michelle Bringas spent 12 hours decorating her grand-prize-winning Cornopoly cake. Her Monopoly-style cake featured well-known places in DeKalb like the Chamber of Commerce and DeKalb Municipal Building on each property section.

She said being involved in the community has been the best part of the experience.

“I realized that it’s the people behind these and other organizations, businesses and services who have been an integral part of many residents’ lives for so many years … who help make DeKalb such a great place to live,” Bringas said.

In addition to the $20 top prizes for each corn creation’s category, there was one $50 grand prize for both the cake decorating and corn creation contests. The 2nd and 3rd place cake decorators won $20 and $10.

Emanuelson said that even though these contests were not a large part of the festival, he does expect the number of participants to increase gradually over the next few years. For now, the greatest benefit of the program is that it can help attract a more diverse crowd, he said.

“It’s not a huge part of this event, but it is nice because it lets people get involved and it attracts people with different interests.”