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'I was hooked': Veteran Iowa State Fair cooking competitor shares her story

Diane Rauh has competed at the Iowa State Fair for 16 years, and this time around, she's making her presence known in about 30 different cooking categories.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Local 5 and CW Iowa 23 are bringing exciting 2022 Iowa State Fair experiences to you, from live newscasts to an interactive Local 5 Weather Lab experience. Come see us in front of the Administration Building (Grand Concourse) each day between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Want to know what it's like to go all in at the food competitions at the Iowa State Fair?

"I like to tell people it's kind of like making Thanksgiving dinner 10 days in a row," Diane Rauh said.

Rauh is hitting about 30 different categories this year, essentially three a day. It is a schedule she calls manageable — something she's perfected over the last 16 years.

"I started in 2006. And my first year I did 10 entries. And I won one blue ribbon," she said. "And I was hooked. That's all it took."

That first entry, an appetizer her family loved, won her the coveted Iowa State Fair blue ribbon, her name in the paper and a passion for competition.

She draws inspiration from everywhere looking for that next winner. Her binder is full of recipes, some new and some family treasures.

"I wouldn't say I'm addicted, but I do like to bake and cook. My mom was a wonderful cook and baker. So I do use a lot of her recipes too, for the fair," Rauh said.

And the family kolaches, written in her grandmother's own handwriting, is one class Rauh would really like to win.

"They are a lot of work, but I would really like to get that mastered and get a blue ribbon in honor of my grandma," she said.

RELATED: Massive baked potato 'The Finisher' crowned People's Choice Best New Food at the 2022 Iowa State Fair

In these halls, perfection is most definitely the name of the game. Every entry is scrutinized by the judges.

"I made four dozen rolls one time to get four that matched with even brownness and even size and, you know," Rauh said. "So my family ate the rest but it just, it's a lot about presentation and taste and all of that."

But she says that's the fun and the challenge of these contests. While the competition is fierce, the atmosphere is friendly — and all about the tastes of Iowa.

"Really celebrating it. Yeah. And the people are so nice. They're all — the volunteers, all the judges — they're more than happy to talk to you," she said. "So if you know, ask them, you know, maybe what you could do better next time, they'll tell you."

Because at the Iowa State Fair food competitions, there's always room for improvement.

Rauh says if you want to compete but don't know where to start, come and sit for a while at the competitions, see them for yourself and talk to the judges. 

The beginner categories are always an option — one Rauh encourages for hopeful participants. 

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