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Texas Declared Grand Champion in the New Mexico/Texas Chile War

LAS CRUCES -- They've been waiting for their turn for three years, and this year it finally happened. Texas defeated New Mexico as the overall grand champion at the New Mexico/Texas Chile War held Memorial Day weekend in Las Cruces.

Professional chefs and amateur cooks from both states competed in the following contests: red chile, green chile, unique chile, Texas chile and salsa. There also was a commercial salsa competition for restaurants, judged by the public. Overall scores were based on points awarded for first, second and third placings in each contest.

The Wine and Chile War Festival was sponsored by the New Mexico Wine Growers Association and New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service.

In the amateur competition, Vince Campbell, of Las Cruces, placed first in both the red and green chile categories. Elisa Romero, of Las Cruces, took first place in the amateur salsa competition and Kathy Wally Fesler, also of Las Cruces, placed first in the unique chile category. Campbell was selected as grand champion in the amateur division.

New Mexico restaurants dominated the commercial salsa competition with The Hacienda, of Las Cruces, placing first and second with hot and mild salsas, respectively. The Hacienda has won the commercial salsa competition for three consecutive years. Mario's restaurant, of Roswell, placed third at this year's event. "It was the closest voting I've ever seen," said Bill Gomez, Extension economist and festival organizer. "Only seven votes separated first and third place."

The professional chefs' competition turned the tables in favor of Texas. Competing for Texas, Jose Valdez, chef at the El Paso Airport and owner of Las Cruces' Los Portales restaurant, placed first in all but one catagory. His first-place entries included red chile, green chile, Texas chile and unique chile. Mario's restaurant, of Roswell, won the salsa division. Valdez was selected as grand champion of the professional chefs' competition.

For an added twist, cooks in the professional chefs' competition had to match their chile dishes with a complementing New Mexico or Texas wine. Valdez selected Black Mesa Wineries' white zinfandel to serve with his red chile meat entry and San Felipe Wineries' chardonnay for his green chile meat entry. For his Texas chile and unique chile entries, he selected Santa Fe Wineries' white zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon, respectively. Mario Reid, of Mario's restaurant, selected Ponderosa Wineries' chamisa gold wine to serve with his winning salsa.

The traveling trophy will be up for grabs again in 1997 as the New Mexico/Texas Chile War heats up each Memorial Day weekend.