According to Jay Leno, salsa has become America’s best-selling condiment, surpassing the longstanding ketchup. However, don’t believe everything you hear from late-night comics with preternatural-sized chins. Mayonnaise easily takes down ketchup and salsa.
But salsa, which is the Spanish term for sauce, is still kicking ass and making flames. So when I was invited to judge a salsa-tasting contest, I said yes. Friends would say this was a marriage made in heaven – or, depending on the heat level, hell. I’m no chillihead, but some like it hot. And I do.
I was asked by the Fort Worth chapter of the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas to judge the salsa competition held on Saturday, June 13 at PRoPER on Magnolia. My fellow judges had far more salsa bona fides: Becky Renfro Borbolla of Renfro Foods Inc. and Ramiro Ramirez of Salsa Limon and La Perla Negra. Why was I chosen? Bud Kennedy was probably busy. Bud’s loss was my gain.
Ramirez began his career with a food truck, expanded it to a restaurant of the same name and recently opened La Perla Negra, which offers Latin-inspired coastal cuisine. Quite a success and he knows his food. Borbolla, of course, is part of Mrs. Renfro’s Foods, a specialty foods company that started in the Renfro family garage in 1940.
Becky said she had never judged a salsa contest, but when Mrs. Renfro’s has a new salsa in the planning stages, she’s the key tester. The Mrs. Renfro’s salsa brand now ranks No. 10 out of 500 salsa brands in the United States, and is one of the nation’s top five best-selling salsas distributed in the specialty food category. A few years ago they offered a Ghost Pepper salsa made from one of the hottest, if not the hottest, peppers available. It sold amazingly well. They know their stuff.
In other words, I was the amateur among these seasoned (ha!) professionals. Ramirez set up our categories for judging and I added one: Would you eat it again? We had eight entries and so we began, chips and spoons in hand. Soon we were adding beer to the mix.
The competition was tough and not just for our taste buds. There are some great salsas out there. Several family recipes were among the offerings and they are lucky families. There were also some that were decidedly different. One had nopales, a stem from a cactus plant. Very tasty, particularly as your tongue is burning from the other salsas. Another had some mango in it, adding some welcome sweetness.
After some heated discussion, we got our votes ready. The competition was heated and the crowded bar was getting ready to hear our top picks. But then, like a scene from a Rocky movie, another contestant came in. He was working the noon rush at a restaurant and dashed over to enter his salsa before he headed back for the dinner rush. Could we really taste another salsa? Were our taste buds finished for the day? The week?
We struggled up off the mat and gave it one last try. A few crunchy chips later and it was decided. The late entry came in second, if I remember right, as “Eye of the Tiger” blared in the background. I might be exaggerating about “Eye of the Tiger.”
But it was exciting, fun and tasty. Fort Worth, the heat is on, you make some good salsa.
Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas Fort Worth Chapter