Cletis Escobar may not have won H-E-B’s “Quest for Texas Best” contest, but he was the only barbecue sauce entry that made it to the top 25 out of 600 entries across the state.
To him, that is good enough, he said after he returned Thursday from the Houston-based judging of the final round of entries.
Cletis’ barbecue sauce, the Four Escobars, named after his wife Michelle, two children and himself, was one of 25 finalists in H-E-B’s “Quest for Texas Best” Primo Pick competition to find the best new product to possibly be featured on H-E-B's shelves. If he had won, he would’ve been one of four winners to receive a cash prize and consideration for space on H-E-B shelves in 2015, according to a press release.
As part of the last round of judging, he had to present his food to a judging panel of H-E-B officials, professional chefs and food journalists on Wednesday.
“It was great. It was very exciting, very nerve-racking,” Cletis said. “We met a lot of people. It was fun and H-E-B did a great job of making us feel at ease. I wanted to represent Waxahachie very well, and I think we did that.”
He and his family had to arrive about an hour early to lay out the food and his three flavors of Four Escobars — Original, Honey and Raspberry. He said one of the aspects that made him nervous the most were the many cameras taking pictures of everything, from setting out the plates to the mixing of ingredients. He had to remember to breathe in through his nose and out through his mouth, and not lock his knees, he said.
“He did good,” Michelle said. “I know him well enough to know he was nervous. Once he stumbled over those first few words at the beginning, he loosened up. He did well. He got a few laughs out of the audience and his judges. I wouldn’t have changed anything. The top prizewinners that we all fell in behind were very deserving. I can’t imagine how we could’ve competed. They were very unique. Two or three out of the four were organic, very healthy food-driven and their stories were great. We’re very proud to come in behind them.”
Grand prize ($25,000 and featured placement as a Texas Best pick) went to Nanette Watson’s Frio Farms from Concan. Watson’s product included various extracts using only Tahitian vanilla beans and controlling temperature, the number of beans used and the quality and type of alcohol used, according to an H-E-B press release.
First place ($20,000) went to Hector Alba from Arlington. His MaxFrut product is said to have “delivered a sweet, fresh alternative to high calorie frozen desserts.” It’s Texas’ first frozen whole fruit bar, according to the release.
Second place ($15,000) went to Pilar Gonzalez’s Habibi Gourmet in Mission. The product “blends fresh ingredients and yogurt to create a 100 percent natural DIP-IT.”
Third place ($10,000) went to Sara Vela’s Vela Farms in Victoria. Vela’s various products, like Fig Preserves and Ginger Habanero Jelly, are “sweet, spicy and always full of fresh produce from the farm.”
Judges for Four Escobars did come up to Cletis and his family afterward to let them know how much they enjoyed the barbecue sauce, he and Michelle said. The uniqueness just wasn’t there to give it that edge to the final four, Cletis said.
As for what’s next, the family may try creating an organic barbecue sauce, Cletis said.
Michelle also said the family will continue to work with H-E-B liaisons to see what other opportunities there might be to help get their product on H-E-B shelves.
Currently, Four Escobars is also sold in Waxahachie’s Niños Mexican Restaurant, and a few other Waxahachie and Ennis stores, Cletis said.
“We feel good. I think we’re definitely moving in the right direction” Cletis said. “It’s just a matter of time before we’re on the shelves at an H-E-B.”
The family said they couldn’t have done it without the community support and the support from Ennis H-E-B to try out for the competition.
“The encouragement and support, it means a lot to us, knowing there’s so many people out there that are behind us and encouraging us to just keep moving on and give us great feedback on our barbecue sauce,” Cletis said. “I can’t say thank you enough.”