Thousands of Tucson's most refined taste buds converged on the La Encantada shopping center on Saturday, August 16 for the 4th annual SAACA Salsa & Tequila Challenge as dozens of chefs and mixologists competed for several award categories.
When the agave splinters and chili dust cleared, top honors went to an eclectic bunch of local restaurants and bars, including the JW Marriott Star Pass Resort, Armitage Wine Lounge, Hotel Congress, Wilko, Mouth of the South Salsa Co., Tucson Country Club, Fini's Landing, Pasco Kitchen and Lounge, and the Ritz Carlton, Dove Mountain.
Here's what a few of this year's winners had to say about their entry:
"First Place, People's Choice Salsa" for INSANE
"The Mouths behind Mouth of the South Salsa Co. would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who voted for us for the People's Choice winners! As a new Tucson family-based company, we appreciate the local support and are excited to make our mark in the industry and to share our salsa with the public."
"Best Mild Salsa" and "2nd Place, Judges Choice Best Overall" for Sweet Tomatillo Salsa
"This was an amazing event and it was my first time participating in this competition. There were a lot of great salsas from all the other restaurants that we had the pleasure of sampling. For our entry, the 'Sweet Tomatillo Salsa,' I made a simple smoked tomatillo salsa with roasted poblanos and Anaheim peppers, including caramelized shallots, Serrano peppers, garlic and cilantro, with a hint on lime juice. I had a blast competing with my fellow chefs and will be back next year to defend the title! I especially wanted to thank to all of the support from Hotel Congress and the kitchen crew.
"Best Alternative Salsa" for Kimchi By The Sea"
"So grateful to have such an awesome team at Wilko! This really was a group effort and I think the 'Kimchi By The Sea' shows what we are capable of. I really wanted this to be a platform to show the community that we are growing and doing a lot of new and fun things. We are so excited and honored to get this award and look forward to future opportunities to show Tucson what we do!"
"Judges Choice Best Overall 1st Place" for the Father Kino
"The great thing about our drink entry, the 'Father Kino,' is that it was created by Pasco's original opening staff. We had been making variations before we even got the keys or had a name for our restaurant. As the years went on, we made little changes to make it that much better. Last year we made our final adjustment, because we felt--as did our customers--that we nailed it! What's unique about the Father Kino is that every single one is made "à la minute," also known as "made-to-order." No sandbagging on this one; if we get an order of six, then we muddle six individual mixing glasses and each glass gets equal exact measurements so they're all exactly the same. Might sound a little strange to do in a fast-paced bar, but this drink deserves it and our guests deserve it!"
The full list of winners for the 2014 Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance (SAACA) Salsa & Tequila Challenge: