This was a first for me. Judging a contest that is. The venue: The Oxnard Salsa Festival. Our challenge: sample a gazillion salsas created by local chefs and discern a winner. We were charged with rating them by appearance, texture, consistency, flavor, seasoning, and heat level. It seemed like a pretty easy task - you know, eat chips and salsa and pick what I like, things I'm really good at. And then we got started.
After tasting a few of the salsas I had that same panic I have sometimes when wine tasting (yes, I know, I shouldn't be taking my wine tasting so seriously that any level of panic is involved). "How will I keep them straight?!" "I like this one, but do I like it better than the one I tasted three salsas ago?"
Luckily, sitting at my table, was a man named Vince. Boisterous, friendly, and clearly an aficionado of judging at the salsa festival, he took charge, metaphorically holding our hands and giving us some wise words of wisdom. He reassured us we'd know a favorite when we saw it, "A good salsa is so good that you'd want to sit down with a basket of chips and eat the whole bowl," he said.
As we sampled, some were too spicy, some were too sweet, some had an off-putting look, and others a not so awesome texture. And then I met the mango salsa, some of the prettiest salsa I've ever seen: full of sunshiney chunks of mango with flecks of red and green pepper. It was sweet, yet had a subtle kick on the backside (that was the habanero talking), reminding you it was salsa and not a fruit salad. I loved it so much that after scoring all our salsas I had to move it to the other side of the table so I wouldn't eat the whole bowl. This was my winner, my favorite, and definitely the best thing I ate this week.
Turns out, this habanero mango salsa is the baby of one of my favorite Oxnard chefs, Martin Ledesma, of Sugar Beets Restaurant and it went on to win Best Fruit Salsa and tied with Cabo Seafood Grill and Cantina's salsa for Judge's Choice. The Oxnard Salsa Festival takes place the weekend of July 30th....be sure to stop by and check out the salsa tasting tents and try the mango salsa for yourself. Be prepared, you may want to pull up a chair and eat the whole bowl.