10 QUESTIONS

Ken Hoffman eats up the history of the corn dog, the ultimate carnival food

Who doesn't love a good corn dog? Photo by Kevin Brown/State Fair of Texas

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

The first inventor I ever met was during a trip to Taiwan. The island state invited U.S. columnists to see how Taiwan was re-inventing itself as a manufacturer of quality products. Its new slogan was a twist on the time-worn "Made in China." Now it was "Well Made in China."

A tourism host asked me, "Would you like to interview executives in our computer and electronics industry?" Uh … would it be possible to meet the person who invented the Whoopee Cushion? There's only one guaranteed laugh in the world, and that's when somebody sits on a Whoopee Cushion. Whoopee Cushions were always "Made in China," at least the ones I ordered from the back of comic books.

I was driven to a factory, 11 Allen 61, Lane 2, Section 8 on the outskirts of city center. This is where they made dribble glasses, itching powder, fake dog poop, fly in the ice cube and joy buzzers. That's where I met Fu-Yuan Shih, the inventor the Whoopee Cushion. If there's ever a Comedy Hall of Fame, he's a first-ballot inductee.

Fu-Yuan explained that the Whoopee Cushion was invented by accident when he toyed around with an inflatable ball with a flap. The ball sprung a leak, air escaped through the flap, and it sounded like the post-party at a baked bean convention. Fun fact: the first person to unknowingly sit on a Whoopee Cushion was Fu-Yuan's business partner, Chen-Mu Chen. Huge laugh.

A corn dog legacy
Meeting Fu-Yuan was a thrill, but I think I topped that this week at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. I had lunch with the great-granddaughter of Neil Fletcher Sr., the culinary genius who invented the corn dog. Jace Fletcher just started her own corn dog business, and she's debuting her Fletch shack at the rodeo.

Between bites of (what else?) a corn dog, I squeezed in 10 Questions for Fletcher. I had the "The Beef," with organic uncured beef. Ace photographer Brandon Strange vaporized "The Classic," with smoked pork and beef. Fletcher vanquished "The Spice," with sausage infused with jalapeño and cheddar.

Organic? Uncured? Infused? Times have changed in the corn dog business. But "not too much, they're still delicious corn dogs," Fletcher assured me.

Ken Hoffman: Let's shimmy up your family tree. How are you related to the creator of the original corn dog?

Jace Fletcher: I am the fourth generation. "Papa" Neil Fletcher, Sr., the inventor, was my great-grandfather. His son Neil (Skip) Fletcher, Jr. was my grandfather. His son Craig Fletcher was my father. I am an only child.

KH: Tell me about how your great-grandfather thought to shove a stick through a hot dog, dip it in cornmeal batter and deep-fry it.

JF: The story goes something like this. Papa Neil and his brother Carl Fletcher made their way to Texas in the '20s with their vaudeville show called the Madcap Players. The tent show was directed by Papa Neil and performed by his wife, Grandma Minnie, among a few other local actors.

It was when they set up at the State Fair of Texas to perform 'The Drunkard' that Papa Neil and Carl were challenged by a friend to come up with fast finger food to sell to fair-goers. They headed straight home to the kitchen to do some brainstorming.

They used supplies that were readily available, like wieners and cornbread batter. They introduced it at the State Fair of Texas in 1942.

Papa Neil and Carl made only $8,000 that year. They couldn't give their corn dogs away. Eventually they perfected the recipe and now it's a fan favorite.

KH: You can get a corn dog at a hundred different places at the rodeo and carnival. Why should someone buy yours?

JF: Our corn dogs are a fresh, hand-dipped product. Competitors may be selling a frozen product. My mom and I have our finger on the pulse of the operations, especially the food quality. Many of our head fry cooks have been cooking corn dogs to deep-fried perfection for longer than I've been alive. (She's 32.)

KH: The carnival grounds are like a corn field maze. I got lost between a turkey leg booth and a cotton candy pop-up. How do visitors find your stand?

JF: The name of our booth is Fletch. We are booth number J303 just outside the main door of NRG Center in the carnival area. We're facing the stage and the giant ice cream cone, next door to a stand called Fried What?

KH: How is your corn dog today different from the original created by your great-grandfather?

JF: All cornmeal batter recipes are fairly basic and similar in nature. Our Fletch recipe uses unbleached and unenriched flour and minimizes preservatives. We sell so many corn dogs that we don't require a long shelf life. My great-grandfather sold all-beef franks. Fletch goes further than that, offering organic, all-beef, grass-fed franks.

KH: You seem obsessed with quality. Tell me about the hot dogs you use.

JF: In addition to a classic, smoked pork and beef-blended frank, we offer a 100-percent organic, grass-fed, uncured, nitrate and nitrite-free beef frank. There are no preservatives, no hormones, just good ol' beef.

KH: Are people who eat a corn dog concerned with quality options?

JF: Yes! Have you seen the price of Kraft-Heinz stock this week? Everyone is obsessed with quality, not just me. It's becoming mainstream. Just because our food is deep-fried does not mean it is unhealthy and should be off limits. Without getting too scientific, we aim to keep ingredients clean, simple and delicious.

Continue reading on CultureMap to learn about the incredible assortment of sauces.

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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