Everything’s on the Table at the OC Fair

At the risk of stating what almost everyone already knows, the OC Fair opens today, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 11. This year’s theme is “Come and Get It,” and maybe it’s just a coincidence but it sure seems like there are even more bacon-wrapped deep-fried fantasies promised than there were last year. Download the fair’s free smartphone app to find your preferred food or activity, as well as your car, when it’s time to leave. I’ll be taking a look at the famous food later, as well as seeing chef Michael Chiarello when he appears Thursday, Aug. 1. But for the moment, I’m all about tabletops.

Among the competitions, I always inspect the collections, and of course the preserved food—a few years ago I even won a Judge’s Award ribbon for my multi-citrus marmalade. But the table design category has always fascinated and mystified me. I love to set a nice table, and I have kind of a thing about vintage linens, but the fair entries make my efforts look sort of Spartan. This week I tagged along while the first group of table design entries was adjudicated. Yes, the first group—the tabletop competition is so popular that due to limited space, there are two flights. The second group of entrants will set up and be judged July 30.

The judges are Barbara DesRochers and Diana Perkins, respectively owner and director of sales of Santa Ana’s Country Garden Caterers. They have more than 40 years of catering and event-planning experience, and a table they designed for a professional organization competition was awarded first place, voted on by 3,000 of their event-planning peers. DesRochers and Perkins are the kind of people who know the difference between a dessert and a 5 o’clock tea spoon—and in case it seems such esoterica isn’t important, take a look at the judging criteria.

I was impressed with their serious approach. They meticulously check for correctness, but also find good things about every entry, which are anonymous at this point. (Names are revealed when winners are posted.) Experts in your category of choice are exactly who you want judging your work. OC Fair table setting entrants can totally rest assured in this regard. Winners will be posted on opening day, and on July 30 for the second group.

(Turns out I’m not the only one pondering table design at the fair. I read this week that Orange County Register columnist Marla Jo Fisher has entered the tabletop competition, and will be setting up with the second group. Her column—available here, behind a paywall—included an enlightening chat with last year’s winner.)

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