Sights and Sounds from the 2017 California State Fair – Military and Veteran Appreciation Day

Beef ravioli or chicken pesto pasta? How about vegetarian Ratatouille?

California’s bravest military cooks didn’t have much of a choice when it came to selecting their MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) at this year’s 2017 MRE Cooking Challenge, but they ultimately decided where they’d take it.

Paired with veterans from different military branches, the cooks blindly selected an MRE and set out to create a gourmet feast using a few added ingredients and standard military grub.

The MRE Cooking Challenge, which was hosted by CalVet and the California National Guard, was part of Military and Veteran Appreciation Day at this year’s California State Fair and it drew a large crowd. Hundreds of spectators stopped by the Save Mart California Kitchen to watch the festivities unfold as cooking crews chopped, grated, steamed and fried their way to a championship.

The contest spanned seven hours and featured prominent judges Ali Wolf from Fox 40 News, Megan Telles from ABC 10’s Morning Blend, Carla Meyer from the Sacramento Bee, Captain Will Martin and Sgt. First Class Rebecca Wolkenhauer from the National Guard.

Only the most creative contestants made it past the first round and reached the championship.

Army veteran Jenny Ramirez and her state Army reservist and Sous-chef Penelope Knobloch added yellow squash and veggies to their Menu 13 cheese tortellini MRE to appease the judges and advance to the final round.

Meanwhile, U.S. Navy serviceman Edwin Coreas and California Army reserve Lieutenant Colonel Brian Anderson added pineapple, onions and a splash of lime to a Menu 24 southwest style beef and black beans MRE to impress the judges and meet Ramirez and Knobloch in the championship.

With just two teams competing for the top chef award, the cooking challenge really started to heat up after 5 p.m.

Thanks to a little ingenuity, Ramirez and Knobloch transformed their Mexican chicken stew MRE into a delicious trio of tostadas before topping their plate off with a peanut butter ball dessert.

Coreas and Anderson worked their magic in the final round as well, turning a pork sausage MRE into a penne pasta dish with a meaty, red sauce. The duo added an apple crumble dessert to top off their meal.

When the final votes arrived, the judges announced the winners to a roar from the crowd. Ramirez and Knobloch claimed first place and were given the top chef award for their tasty tostadas.

Ramirez and Knobloch

Jenny Ramirez (left) and her Sous-chef Penelope Knobloch (right) show off their first place ribbon following the 2017 MRE Cooking Challenge at the California State Fair.

With this year’s contest in the books, CalVet is already looking forward to hosting next year’s event.

In case you missed the event, click below to watch our promo and recap.




  1. I love MREs!!


  2. […] you missed the event last year, see our recap of the 2017 MRE Cooking Challenge. This year promises to repeat the fun with new contestants, celebrity judges, free swag and a […]


  3. Where’s the state fair?


    1. Steven Wilson · · Reply

      Hi Josh. The State Fair is held every year at Cal Expo in Sacramento. Click here for more details and directions:


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