Navajo Culinary Students' Fruit Salsa Wins Over Tasters at Gallup Chili Fest
Only a few simple ingredients made the fruit salsa at the 2nd Annual Gallup Chili Fest competition on September 28 such a hit: "watermelon, mango and pineapple with different chilies from across the world,” explained Navajo Technical University instructor Chef Raina Marianito of Churchrock, New Mexico.
Two culinary arts students Randy White of Crownpoint, New Mexico, and Robert Bedonie from Naschitti, New Mexico, worked alongside their instructor Marianito, who was certified as a sous chef by the American Culinary Federation last year.
“We like to keep it traditional, but we wanted to make it a point to put our own flavors and our own self into it,” Marianito said of their salsa.
The trio's fruit salsa won the prestigious people’s choice award for the best salsa at the competition held at the Rio West Mall in Gallup, New Mexico.
A total of 11 food preparers competed in this year’s Chili Fest, and were critiqued by thirteen judges evaluating two divisions – individual and restaurant. People who bought a $5 tasting ticket also got to vote for their favorite in each category, and it was these voters who selected Navajo Technical University's unique salsa.
Whereas last year Navajo Technical University won the overall people’s choice award, this year the award was divided among all three categories, which NTU shared with green chili winner, the Chili Factory, and red chili winner, Rebecca Silva.
“It’s a big learning process because the students get to be out here with the people and they get an immediate response back,” said Marianito, who prepped the chilies and salsa with White and Bedonie a week leading up to the event. “You get the feeling that you made something from your heart and people love it. That makes you feel good inside.”
While the gratification of serving a dish that is made from the heart is what motivated Marianito, second year competitor Randy White was proud of the school he represented – which was the only competitor that wasn’t a restaurant and wasn’t from Gallup or Grants.
“It was amazing because I got to do it with this on my chest,” stated White, as he pointed to Navajo Technical University’s embroidered logo on his chef coat. “It was just amazing.”
Also participating in this year’s Chili Fest cook-off included Grandpa’s Grill, Sammy C’s Rock N’ Sports Pub & Grille, Fire Rock Casino, and Railway Café. Individuals competing included Lester Sandoval, Sophia Arviso, Victoria Garcia and Otis White.
Organizers of the event said they had close to 4,000 attendees this year, which also included a car and bike show, live music and dancers, chili trivia, and several children’s activities. In winning the people’s choice award, Navajo Technical College was awarded a trophy and a $150 check.
For more information about Navajo Technical University's American Culinary Federation accredited culinary arts program, contact chef Raina Marianito at 505.786.6126.