Sensational Servings with Mark Olson

Some people go for the farm animals, fair competitions, rides, music, or even to shop in the 200,000 square foot Exposition Center, but for the past 10 years many amateur cooks have attended the Wisconsin State Fair to see Blackhawk Technical College Culinary Instructor, Mark Olson showcase his talent.

A popular destination for food fans seeking new recipes, tips and tricks from a professional chef, August 4-14 Olson will host two cooking demos a day at 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. at the We Energies Energy Park.  The veteran BTC instructor has performed more than 200 demos at the fair dating back to the summer of 2006 when he was first hired.  Appropriately titled, Sensational Servings, Olson strives to do more than just follow a recipe.

“A big part of what we try to do is show people creative ways to use common foods, using techniques that are different than just frying or baking such as smoking, braising, sautéing or even poaching.  Often these are techniques that intimidate amateur cooks and what I want to do is show them it’s easier than they think.”

According to Olson, demonstrations are about 30-45 minutes and each one features a different recipe.  In addition to watching and learning how to prepare a meal, attendees get to taste samples, participate in a Q and A and leave with a booklet with all 22 recipes for that year’s fair.

An instructor at Blackhawk since 1993, Olson uses former BTC students to help him with the full day of prepping and cooking required to produce two shows a day.  Although the fair does provide a full kitchen on site, Olson brings his own equipment and shops for all the food.  In fact, he takes pride in the fact that one of the event parameters is to put an emphasis on using Wisconsin products, from cranberries to Wisconsin cheeses, ice cream, lamb, pheasant, cherries and more.

“We like to promote Wisconsin products and show people that they don’t have to go to the grocery store to get their ingredients.  They can get their goods from local farms too.”

Olson guestimates they will feed about 3,000 people during the 10-day fair and over the course of his 10 years working for event, he’s served more than 30,000 hungry fairgoers.

People interested in attending one of the Sensational Servings demos can get more information at or by calling 1-800-884-FAIR.