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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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans out-Patriot the Patriots

Texans take down the Pats. Photo by Getty Images.

Every dog has its day. A broken clock is right two times a day. All the clichés about it being better to be lucky than good can apply here with the Texans 27-20 win over the Patriots. In a matchup that broke a record for the oldest combined age for opposing head coaches, 141 years old, Romeo Crennel beat his former boss Bill Belichick. There were other narratives at work here, as well as a few things (good and awful) that the coaching staff did.

First thing I saw that I liked was the spread and no-huddle on offense. If you've been following this series of articles, you know I've been on this train quite a while now. This allows Deshaun Watson to find the matchup he likes, exposes the defense because they can't sub, takes advantage of Texans' speed at receiver, and creates a tempo most defenses can't keep up with. Not to mention the spread is the offense Watson operated in at Clemson. 28/37 for 344 yards and two touchdowns of production from Watson was enough for me to say they need to have this as their M.O. moving forward.

Tim Kelly called a great game. He used the short, quick pass game in lieu of the run game. This also helped since Laremy Tunsil was out and Roderick Johnson had to play at left tackle. This offensive line is not very good at run blocking. Hence, why Watson was again the team's leading rusher with only 36 yards. Almost all of those were on scrambles. By going spread and no-huddle, Watson can take advantage of man and zone coverages to extend plays or scramble because most teams won't spy him. Even when they do, he makes them look silly.

Not everything was on the up and up. The defense continued to look like booty juice. Cam Newton threw for 365 yards and Damiere FREAKIN Byrd torched them for 132 of those yards! When I heard the quote from Crennel that defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver is getting the most out of his guys, I found it laughable. To double down on that, Weaver was quoted as saying, "This narrative that's being painted like my guys aren't disciplined and running around blocks, quite frankly and to put it bluntly, is bull---t!" Sorry guys, but you're both wrong. This defense can't fight its way out of a wet paper bag if you gave them knives. The worst part about it is that the offense's best chance at success sets the defense up for failure. Their hurry up scheme leaves little time for this porous defense to catch its wind. If they could get some turnovers or just off the damn field and get stops, it would help the offense.

With six games left, their three games outside the AFC South (Bengals, Lions, Bears) are all winnable. The two matchups against the Colts and the season finale against the Titans will prove to be their biggest tests. However, this is the same team that has four one possession losses. 3-7 could look a lot different if the offense stepped up against the Browns, or the defense made stops against the Steelers, Vikings, or Titans. Let's hope they can build off this win and salvage whatever they can of this season.

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