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State Fair of Texas Announces Judges for 2016 Big Tex Choice Awards

The concessionaires are ready, the food is hot and taste buds are tingling. The wait is almost over – the 12th Annual Big Tex® Choice Awards presented by the Dallas Convention & Visitor’s Bureau is just days away and its time to meet the lucky few who will crown the ultimate winners of this year’s Fair food competition.

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With 55 entries in the first round, the list of contenders was then narrowed down to 34 semi-finalists. From those 34 standout foods, eight finalists have been chosen to compete in the big event. The members of the Big Tex Choice Awards judging panel are faced with the trying task of evaluating this year’s food finalists and awarding the coveted titles of Best Taste and Most Creative. The 2016 Big Tex Choice Awards will host a master of ceremonies along with a panel of seven prestigious judges featuring a variety of personalities, from renowned chefs, a community advocate, a true Texas cowboy and other local celebrities, plus one lucky guest who will be drawn at random from the audience on the day of the event.

Now, with great pleasure, the State Fair of Texas is thrilled to introduce the emcee and judges who will serve as taste-testers for the big event:

Michelle Rodriguez – New Country 96.3 KSCS, Midday On-Air Personality

Serving as the emcee for the 2016 Big Tex Choice Awards is local radio host Michelle Rodriguez. Born and raised right here in Dallas, Michelle has been a State Fair of Texas fan from the womb – there isn’t a year she hasn’t attended the Fair. She was lucky enough to start her career in Country radio here in Dallas 12 years ago and was recognized for having one of the Best Radio Shows in Dallas in 2015. You can hear Michelle on Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on New Country 96.3 KSCS. She’s a lover of all things music and all things (fried) food. Michelle is excited to be part of this iconic event we all look forward to as North Texans year after year.

Don Gay – 8-Time PRCA World Champion Bull Rider and Commentator

Serving as a judge in this year’s competition, Don Gay is a world champion bull rider and commentator. Don earned membership in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) while he was a sophomore at Mesquite High School. He graduated in 1972 and qualified for his first National Finals Rodeo (NFR) in Oklahoma City, OK in bull riding, and went on to qualify at NFR for 13 years (11 consecutive). Don won a record eight PRCA World Bull Riding Titles and broke the PRCA’s Bull Riding single season earnings record for eight consecutive years. An original inductee into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1979, Don was joined by his father Neal in 1993, making them the only father-son team in the rodeo shrine. His father ran the famed Mesquite Rodeo, which still operates today. Don retired from bull riding in 1989 and has served as a TV color analyst for GAC, ESPN, TNN, FSN, OTDCH and RFD.

Eddie JacksonThe Next Food Network Star, Season 11 Winner

In addition to serving as one of this year’s judges, Eddie Jackson has mastered the perfect combination of two of his greatest passions: food and fitness! After retiring from the NFL due to numerous injuries, he took time off to spend with his friends and family, spending much of that time on what he believes to be the easiest way to bring everyone together – food. Eddie always felt at home on the field and even more so in the kitchen. Whether he was being taught family recipes by his father or grandmother, or coming up with his own culinary creations influenced by his travels with the NFL, he knew cooking was his way of sharing his love for food. It took just one taste from a close friend to sign Eddie up for Season 4 of Fox’s MasterChef competition, which began his culinary journey on the big screen. Eddie finished in the top six before he returned home, even more amped up to share his love of food with the masses. It was then that he started his own food truck, the Caribbean Grill. Since being crowned champion of The Next Food Network Star in 2015, Eddie went on to host a handful of shows on the Food Network including BBQ Blitz, Kids BBQ Championship and Eddie’s Gameday Playbook, with many more in the works.

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Mai Lyn Ngo – Deep Fried Fit

Mai Lyn Ngo is a Dallas-based food and fitness blogger with a motto all of us can live by, “I work out to eat.” She founded Deep Fried Fit to share her unconditional love of both food and fitness, while promoting a balanced lifestyle fueled by green juice and fried chicken. Serving as a Big Tex Choice Awards judge won’t be too challenging for this blogger, considering she is constantly trying the latest and greatest foods around Dallas and sharing her thoughts online. She hopes to inspire readers to step out of their comfort zones and try new things, whether it be a trendy restaurant or a hot fitness craze. Mai Lyn has been featured as an “influencer to follow” in several leading print publications and television programs in Dallas, including Modern Luxury, CW33, D Magazine and GuideLive. When she’s not working out, you can find her binge-watching shows on Hulu or soaking up the sun on a patio with a cold one (in each hand). It’s no surprise that Mai Lyn is a Fair food fanatic and loves to indulge in all the splurge-worthy treats offered at the State Fair.

Dan O’Malley – 97.1 The Eagle, On-Air Personality and News Director for The Russ Martin Show

Next on the judging panel is Dan O’Malley, the cohost and news director of The Russ Martin Show from 3 to 7 p.m. on KEGL-FM 97.1 The Eagle. Dan joined The Russ Martin Show in 2002 as an associate producer and worked his way up the Tree House ladder to become the “Voice of Reason” on the show. His broadcasting career includes work at heritage radio stations KZPS and KVIL, plus The Texas Rangers Radio Network and The Dallas Cowboys Radio Network.

Kent Rathbun – Renowned Chef and Restaurateur

The next judge is no stranger to the kitchen – Kent Rathbun’s roots are firmly set in food. At the age of nine, he discovered his passion for culinary creativity and began learning the skills and techniques needed to become the renowned chef that he is today. After rapidly rising through the ranks of some of the world’s finest kitchens, Chef Kent Rathbun continues to demonstrate his culinary skills not only with the expansion of his restaurant concepts, but also with his full-service catering company and line of at-home products, Kent Rathbun Elements. By creating an astounding culinary legacy in Texas, Rathbun has also thrived in the national scene. Both his restaurants and catering company have received recognition as the pinnacle of fine dining and have been honored with numerous accolades. He has repeatedly appeared on a number of TV shows, including the Food Network’s “Chef du Jour,” Cooking Live with Sara Moulton, “Ready Set Cook,” the CBS Early Show, the Rosie O’Donnell Show and NBC’s Today Show. In 2008, he competed on the Food Network’s hit series “Iron Chef America” and defeated grill master Bobby Flay in a frenetic culinary battle. Rathbun was honored to be one of the featured chefs for the Bush 2001 Inaugural Ball and has participated in the Pre-Super Bowl Event, “Taste of the NFL” for the past 10 years.

Tiffinni A. Young – Dallas City Councilwoman, District 7

Returning to the judging table again this year, Tiffinni A. Young is a Dallas native, community leader and Dallas City Councilwoman for District 7, which includes the Fair Park area. Councilwoman Young was reared in Pleasant Grove where she was a member of Golden Gate Missionary Baptist Church, and still is today. She attended the Law Magnet High School and is a proud graduate of Lincoln Humanities/Communications Magnet High School and Florida A&M University. Tiffinni attended the School of Law at the University of Arkansas for two years and spent her last year of law school as a visiting student at Texas Wesleyan School of Law. Ms. Young was appointed to serve on the inaugural City of Dallas Youth Commission in 1994 and was later appointed to the Park & Recreation Board to represent Districts 4 and 7, respectively. She was elected to the Dallas City Council in June 2015, as the District 7 representative. Her dedication to community and compassion for people has shaped her call and commitment to make Dallas a better city, Texas a better state and our country the best it can be, one person at a time.

The food fun begins when the doors open for the 12th Annual Big Tex Choice Awards, presented by the Dallas Convention & Visitor’s Bureau. The event will be held this Sunday, August 28 at 2 p.m. in the historic Tower Building at Fair Park. Attendees get the chance to sample all the tasty concoctions and cheer on their favorites while they compete for the titles of Best Taste and Most Creative. Tickets to the event are $100, with all proceeds going to the State Fair of Texas Youth Scholarship Program. Each ticket includes one admission ticket to the State Fair, a Fair-branded baseball cap and a commemorative Big Tex refillable cup. Don’t wait – buy your ticket online at BigTex.com today!

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About the State Fair of Texas

Since its inception in 1886, the State Fair of Texas has celebrated all things Texan by promoting agriculture, education, and community involvement through quality entertainment in a family-friendly environment. The State Fair of Texas is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with proceeds helping to preserve and improve Fair Park and underwrite museum, community and scholarship programs for inner city youth and students pursuing agricultural careers. The 2016 exposition runs September 30 through October 23 in Fair Park. Visit BigTex.com for more information.

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