Despite a number of obstacles due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2nd annual Salsa Showdown kicked off the 2020 UNM Gives United Way Campaign recently, and after 200 bags of grab & go chips and salsa were distributed to faculty, staff and students, both in Ballroom C of the SUB and outside under a beautiful blue October New Mexico sky, there is a winner.

Each grab & go bag was carefully prepared by UNM Food Catering using the recipes submitted and packaged in numbered cups. State health orders were strictly followed in food preparation and distribution during the event.

There were nine salsas to sample submitted by students, faculty or staff and prepared by UNM Food Catering. Tasters were asked to vote online for their favorite two. Nearly 150 votes (147) were cast with Salsa #2 coming out on top with 76 votes or 52 percent of the vote. The winning recipe was submitted by UNM student Faron Stout, who is the grand prize winner of one year of free UNM parking (equal to current parking pass). 

“It came as a great surprise,” said Stout, who was making her first venture into a cooking competition. “In times like these any positive feedback is so welcome and the news brought me a lot of joy. I have a passion for spicy foods and some validation was definitely appreciated!! I think the key, at least for me, is developing flavor in roasting and charring the vegetables and peppers. I love fresh pico for the bite, but if you sear white onion you get a wonderful smokiness and depth of flavor that is amazing. Charring the peppers definitely takes away some of the heat, so I use a variety of peppers to layer spiciness.

“The current 'sur-reality' that we live in has changed my relationship with food for the better. Even though these are terrifying times I hope that everyone uses the change of pace to tap into their passions and bring some joy to the mundane. Here's to resilience and creativity, two of the greatest human strengths.”

The runnerup in this year’s Salsa Showdown was Salsa #7, submitted by Rosa Isela Cervantes, director of El Centro de la Raza. Cervantes’ Salsa #7 tallied 46 votes or 31 percent of the vote. 

“I hope that folks enjoyed the various salsas,” said Cervantes. “I have never entered any food competitions and only really did it because of a dear friend and mentor who suggested that I do so. Therefore, I submitted the recipe in a way to honor our group, the SinV's, a group of amazing individuals that met at UNM through El Centro over 20 years ago and to this day remain supportive and connected to each other.

“I think the great thing about this salsa is that you can really see all the various ingredients come together for a great taste, even when you may not think that some of the ingredients belong in a traditional salsa. Additionally, each ingredient really maintains its own integrity.”  

From a giving standpoint, Cervantes noted that she typically donates to UNM gives towards scholarships, such as the Ida Romero Memorial Scholarship that El Centro facilitates.

“This is important to me as I was a recipient of scholarships as an undergrad and they really helped me in my academic journey,” said Cervantes. “Further, having worked with students over the past 20+ years, I have seen the direct impact that scholarships have on students. Not only do they have a financial benefit which is much needed, but they also motivate students and give them a sense of validation that they do belong in higher education. I think this is especially the case for Latina and Latino students, first gen or really any student that has ever been marginalized or made to feel less than in their educational journey.”

Last year's salsa showdown was a huge success with 100s in the campus community stopping by the SUB to sample more than 40 different salsas. Despite the ongoing pandemic, campaign organizers managed to come up with a way to host the event once again this year.

“After the success of last year’s Salsa Showdown, it was important to find a creative way of holding it again this year,” said Abra Altman, co-chair of the UNM Gives United Way Campaign. “My staff and I began planning in early summer and came up with the grab & go idea. With the weather on our side, we were able to bring the Showdown outside and catch passersby who were delighted to sample the salsas. 

“It was exciting to host a fun, safe, socially distanced event to promote the annual kick-off of the UNM Gives United Way campaign – an important time of year when faculty and staff have the opportunity to support a great cause.”

For more information and ways to donate, visit the UNM Gives United Way campaign.