My Nana's Salsa Challenge 2009 at Tempe Beach Park

If you're one of those people who look forward to the complementary chips and salsa at sit-down Mexican restaurants more than the actual meal, you were probably at (or are kicking yourself for missing) My Nana's Tempe Salsa Challenge and benefit for the Arizona Hemophilia Association at Tempe Beach Park this weekend.

More than 85 professional and amateur chefs from across the state were on hand, hoping to be crowned the Almighty Ultimate Grand Puba of salsa-making in either the hot or mild categories. Well-knowns from restaurants like Salty Senorita and Dos Gringos pitted themselves against relative unknowns like Downtown Phoenix Public Market staple Gage the Heat, Sassy Senoritas, and Edwardo's Sweet N' Heat Salsa.

When we say hot salsa, we don't mean make-your-mouth-tingle-just-the-slightest-amount hot, we mean, oh-dear-lord-where-is-the-nearest-glass-of-milk-my-mouth-is-on-fire hot. It was not for the weak of taste bud, but for those who could withstand the fire, the payoff was large.

Contestant Jeff Coronado's has won awards at the event for the past three years, including the Best in Show Grand Champion award. He said there isn't a real secret to winning, but that "balance" is what keeps his Phat Boys Salsa hot. 

"It has the right amount of everything," he said.

Even if salsa wasn't your condiment of choice, there were plenty of other things to distract. A Margarita Mix-Off had local bartenders doing their best to impress a group of judges with their take on the drink, including one guy who made like a combination of a trained circus seal and Tom Cruise in "Cocktail," tossing bottles in the air, balancing things on his forehead, and pimping himself out to the crowd for applause.

Of course there were also plenty of scantily-clad ladies. Come on, when you think windy day at the local salsa festival don't you envision as little clothing as possible.

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Yvonne Zusel
Contact: Yvonne Zusel