Navajo Technical College earns top prize at Chili Fest

By Shondiin Silversmith
Navajo Times

GALLUP, October 4, 2012

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(Special to the Times – Donovan Quintero)

Navajo Technical College culinary student Lorencita Billiman poses with her chili sauce Saturday at the first-ever Gallup Chili Fest in Gallup. Navajo Technical College was given the people's choice award.

N avajo Technical College took home the People's Choice award during the first annual Chili Festival and Car Show at Rio West Mall in Gallup.

764 tasting tickets were sold as hundreds of people came in and out of the Chili Fest tent with small cups full of red or green chili. As more and more people came, more votes were submitted as chili goers voted for their overall people's choice for chili.

"We really felt great about it. It was the most honorable because it was people that liked the chili," Culinary Teaching Assistant Raina Marianito said.

Marianito said that the four students prepped a week in advance for the chili fest.

"They got a chance to research different chili ideas and test what types of chili's they wanted to do," she said. "They tried out several recipes through-out the week and they chose what tasted best."

Marianito said she thinks what made their chili so special was the training they received at NTC.

"We're a culinary arts program and we were competing against local restaurant's that have been in Gallup in years. We just barely got our program started," she said.

Top students in the culinary arts program were selected to participate in this event including Rotasha Nez, Randy White, Dexter Dale and Lorencita Billiman.

A fellow culinary arts instructor Brian Tatsukawa also accompanied Marianito.

Marianito said that this was a great learning experience for her students. She said it was able to build the confidence within her students.

"We also got bragging rights," Marianito said laughing. "It was a lot of fun and the students had a great time."

NTC took home a $250 cash prize and a trophy.

Alongside the people's choice award were the judge's choice of best red chili, best green chili and best salsa.

Ten unidentified judges went through the 10 restaurants competing for the bragging rights of best chili or salsa.

Mall Manager Kimberly Mans said the judges based there decision on a blind taste test. The judges selected the chili based on aroma, taste and flavor.

Winner of best red chili went to Glenn's.

Winner of best green chili was a hard decision, according to Mans, but the restaurant that took it was the Chili Factory. Mans said a judge's comment was "a fiery bite of something different." The Chili Factory was presented with a green chili trophy and a $150 dollar cash prize.

Winner of best salsa went to Route 66 Railway Café. Mans said Railway Café's salsa was able to win by one point in the judging. Railway Café was presented with a $150 cash prize and a chili trophy.

Gallup resident Samantha Morre said that for the first chili fest it was a lot of fun. She liked "all the competition for best chili." Her chili of choice was from Glenn's but she liked Railway Café's salsa.

Rhonda Begay of Gallup said the event was perfect for families. Begay brought her family out to the event and over all they thought, "it was a great event. The chili vendors were great. They had great customer service. They helped you know what type of chili you tasted."

Besides chili, those in attendance were able to view custom cars and trucks during the car show. The winners of the care show were selected based on people choice. First place went to a 1972 Chevy Pickup owned by Robert Ewell of Grants, N.M. Second place went to a 1989 Chevy 4x4 owned by Leo Joe from Rehoboth, N.M.

Mans said that this year's festival exceeded everything he expected and they look forward to hosting it again next year.

All proceeds will benefit the Community Pantry.

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