Hot-n-spicy competition at the Taos Chile Challenge
The heat was on at the 12th annual Taos Chile Challenge on Saturday (Sept. 22). Judging by the number of attendees sniffing back runny noses and wiping watery eyes, the 17 participating restaurants prepared powerful recipes.
The Judges’ Choice 1st Place Awards went to Eske’s Brew Pub (green) and Pepe’s Salsa (red). The People’s Choice 1st Place Awards went to Taos Retirement Village (green) and The Terrace at Taos Country Club (red).
This signature gastronomic event also included a battle of the breweries. The People’s Choice award went to Santa Fe Brewing (1st Place), Eske’s (2nd Place), and Enchanted Circle Brewing (3rd Place).
The event is the brainchild of the Taos Milagro Rotary Club. Working in partnership with The Terrace Bar & Grill at Taos Country Club, attendance seemed to be the highest this year by all accounts.
The main ballroom of the Terrace swelled with local businesspeople, creatives, philanthropists and of course, golfers. Even more people milled out on the terrace under the tents and in the sunshine of a perfect blue sky.
The Chile Challenge includes a morning golf tournament. The 1st place scramble went to Tom Blankenhorn, Jim Mitchell, Shaun Payne and Jay Wood.
“We had 112 players this year. It was really successful and it is all to benefit the Rotary’s ‘Dollars for Scholars’ program,” said Phillip Kim, assistant golf pro at Taos Country Club.
The Chile Challenge’s $25 admission fee, as well as proceeds from a silent auction and 50/50 raffle, are pooled to provide scholarships to high school students throughout Taos County. Over the past 12 years, Taos Milagro Rotary Club has awarded over $140,000 in scholarships to area youth, including seven scholarships to graduating seniors in the Class of 2018.
Lucille Gallegos-Jaramillo is this year’s club president. She explained that the Rotary awards four-year academic scholarships for students pursuing bachelor’s degrees and two-year scholarships for vocational schools. High school students apply for the scholarship each year, and the club ranks the applicants academically.
“When the students are in college, they have to maintain a 3.2 grade point average,” she said.
For the silent auction, local businesses donated a bounty of gift cards and merchandise equaling a total value of $24,000. In between chile and beer sampling, guests studied the bid sheets laid out on tables and taped to walls. The bidding was not for the faint of heart. For example, a Yeti Cooler ($250 value) donated by Río Grande Ace Hardware already had a high bid of $200 when an hour of bidding was left to go.
Back at the chile tasting tables, guests selected their choice by dropping a bead in the restaurant’s can. Winning restaurants received a plaque. “For bragging rights,” said Gallegos-Jaramillo. And the winning breweries won a brewmeister mug.
The chile contenders were a mix of traditional favorite restaurants, such as Antonio’s, which picked up two prizes for Judges 2nd Place (green) and Judges 3rd Place (red). Early on in the tasting, chef Antonio Matus looked confident and explained, “I’m serving vegetarian green chile and pork red chile.”
Though no one was shy when it came to talking about their chile.
Jacob Herrera is the food and beverage director of The Terrace. Hours before his restaurant claimed two prizes, he said their chile is “the best in the state and the world. You can quote me on that.”
The Terrace won for two recipes: People’s Choice 2nd Place green prepared by Jose Renteria and People’s Choice 1st Place red prepared by Alex Giordano.
Recently opened restaurants, such as Quecha Peruvian Restaurant also got in on the action. “We made the chile in the traditional New Mexican way but with a Peruvian twist,” said Nikki Barreto whose father Trotsky is the owner.
Chef Karin Snowflower of Taos Pueblo was the sole caterer to compete. “They said anybody is welcome, so I decided to enter my chile. I think I have a good chance,” she said.
No Taos beer event would be complete without the presence of the bourgeoning Taos Mesa Brewing. Peter Kolshorn, one of the brewery’s four founders, happily poured samples of Solstice Pale Ale (his personal favorite) and Mr. Pink Cherry Wheat.
Cast against a stunning background view of Pueblo Peak (a.k.a. Taos Mountain), Kolshorn of TMB said, “We love supporting the community.”
Eske’s Brew Pub had a notable presence with a “trifecta” at the Taos Chile Challenge: serving chile, beer and its Chile Beer Ale.