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Salsa Chefs: Rising Stars 

click to enlarge Salsa Chef All Stars on the Arcata Plaza - PHOTO BY BOB DORAN
  • Photo by Bob Doran
  • Salsa Chef All Stars on the Arcata Plaza

Recipe for a special day:

Choose a Saturday morning in Fall.

Make it sunny and set it at a pleasant temperature.

Go to the Arcata Farmers' Market.

Walk around the Plaza until you reach the corner of 9th and H streets.

Taste six different variations on the theme of salsa.

Vote for your favorite salsa.

Applaud the young chefs.


This recipe was realized in September when market visitors, on reaching the specified location, were greeted by the sight of 24 young people dressed in elegant chef's jackets busily serving food to an expectant crowd from a booth that sparkled with their eagerness and energy. I was there in an official capacity, as one of the judges of the "six different variations on the theme of salsa" that the young chefs created and served.

First, a bit of background: The 2010 Salsa Chef AllStars event that unfolded to great public success that day rounded out the Junior Chef after-school summer program sponsored by Harvest of the Month, whose goals are to promote reading while increasing enjoyment and consumption of fruits and vegetables. Students have the opportunity to taste and explore a different fruit or vegetable each month. In the Junior Chef Program, students mix math, science and art as they learn about nutrition and develop cooking skills.

Both the program and the event were organized and sponsored by the Humboldt County Office of Education (HCOE). Nutrition Education Program Manager Linda Prescott, Nutrition Educator Megan Russin (of HCOE) and Project Coordinator Lynette Mullen (of Projects Delivered) managed different aspects of the event. The spark that set the organization of the Salsa Chef AllStars in motion was the idea of combining an event and a contest to connect the students with local chefs and the community, and at the same time mark Local Food Month (September) with its focus on products of local farmers. 

The salsa event came at the end of a preparatory process that occupied participants through the month. Megan Russin worked with each team of four 4th-6th graders from six local schools explaining the event and its rules, and conducted a "food preference" lesson. The students then identified produce and herbs, tasted many locally grown fruits and vegetables, rated their choices and chose the main ingredients they wanted for their salsa.

Teams were required to use at least two locally grown ingredients. They were also asked to pair their salsa with a food that would complement its flavor and allow the public to enjoy it without the need for plates or eating implements. (With napkins as the only disposable item, the event was very low waste.)

Six chefs from local restaurants and catering companies were paired with the teams. The chefs met with the students, helping them refine their recipes through experiments using the ingredients they had chosen. Afterwards, the students focused on their final tasks: writing their recipes on boards for display and preparing the set-up for their space at the booth, where they would present their salsa and offer it for tasting, all showing the same creativity they put into developing the salsa recipe. The chefs prepared the salsa for the event.

Cards with recipes for each salsa were available at individual booths, so people could bring home a tangible memory of their tasting experience. And the junior chefs were ready and eager to answer all the questions posed to them, first by the seven judges, then by the public detailing the various ingredients of their salsa -- nutritional characteristics, etc. The other judges, besides me, were Amy Berkowitz (KHUM), Portia Bramble (North Coast Growers' Association), Lauren Fawcett (North Coast Co-op), Susan Jansson (HealthSport), Heidi Moore (HCOE) and Alex Stillman (Mayor of Arcata).

Catering to the judges' and the public's questions and requests to taste the salsas kept the students busy during the event. Then, each judge announced the winner for one of the seven categories and the winning team was presented the respective award. A People's Choice Award was based on 215 votes cast by the public.


The Awards:


Best taste & People's choice

Arcata Elementary School -- Sassy Summer Salsa -- Rosa Dixon of Natural Decadence Catering


Best use of local foods

Ambrosini School (Fortuna) -- Fireworks Salsa -- Angi Caudill of Scotia Inn & Dorris and Daughter Catering


Best presentation

Lafayette School (Eureka) -- Fresh Confetti Celebration Salsa -- Beverley Wolfe of Avalon & BIZOU


Best written recipe

Pine Hill School (Eureka) -- Color Me Yummy Salsa -- Rita Pimentel of Rita's Mexican Grill


Best flavor pairing (with the food accompanying the salsa)

South Fortuna Elementary -- Rainbow Fango Blast Salsa -- Melody Dale of Curley's Bar & Grill


Mayor's choice

Trinidad Elementary -- Burst of Summer Salsa -- Josh Wiley of Plaza Grill


There were many aspects of the event that pleasantly surprised me, including the variety of results from the creative process each team went through, as shown in each recipe, pairing with accompanying food, booth set up, and the name they chose for their salsa. Doesn't your mouth water as you go down the list of names? Doesn't a voice inside you say, "Yes, please, I'd like to have some"?

If you missed the event, you would probably like to know what you missed in terms of tasting experience. That would take an amount of space that exceeds the allotment for this column, so I will offer a partial list of locally grown ingredients found in the salsas to show the range of flavors involved: bell peppers of various colors, cucumbers and lemon cucumbers, fennel, figs, jalapeƱos, green and red onion, radishes, strawberries, various types of tomatoes, watermelon. In the fresh herb section we had: basil, cilantro, dill and mint. The recipe for the salsa that received the People's Choice Award is printed here. Additional information, including the other recipes and a short video, can be found on the North Coast Journal's website.

How many of these students will go on to become chefs we will not know for some years. For today, they can all be proud of their achievements.


Arcata Elementary's Sassy Summer Salsa prepared with Rosa Dixon of Natural Decadence Catering


2 cups seedless watermelon, finely chopped into 1/4 inch cubes (not crushed) *

1 cup cucumber-peeled and finely chopped into 1/4-1/8 inch cubes *

1/2 cup seedless red grapes, quartered

1/4 cup red bell pepper finely chopped into 1/4-1/8 inch cubes *

2 tablespoons jalapeƱo, seeded and minced *

1 tablespoon radish, minced *

1/3 cup cilantro, minced *

3 tablespoons basil, minced *

2 tablespoons mint leaves, minced *

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon champagne vinegar

1/8 teaspoon salt 

* locally grown


Add all ingredients in a large bowl.

Gently stir together, being careful not to crush the watermelon.

Chill for 24 hours.

Garnish with fresh mint and lime zest and serve with a light tortilla chip.



Ambrosini Elementary

Chef/Restaurant Name: Angi Caudill/Scotia Inn & Dorris and Daughter Catering

Name of Salsa: Fireworks Salsa


* locally grown

1 cup *red heirloom tomatoes

1/8 cup *cucumber

1/8 cup *fennel

1/8 cup *tomatillo

1/8 cup *white bell pepper

1/8 cup *red onion

1/8 cup *jalapeno

1 sprig *fresh dill

5 sprigs *cilantro

1 teaspoon each fresh lemon & lime juice

1/4 teaspoon salt


1. Chop all produce and place in a food processor.

2. Pour in lemon and lime juice, and add salt.

3. Blend all ingredients in the food processor for 20 seconds.

4. Serve and enjoy!

Lafayette Elementary

Chef/Restaurant Name: Beverley Wolfe/Avalon

Name of Salsa: Fresh Confetti Celebration


* locally grown

1 cup *lemon cucumber, peeled and chopped

2 cups *sungold cherry tomatoes, cut in half

1/2 cup *purple pepper, minced

2 tablespoons *red onion, minced

4 teaspoons *jalapeno, minced

1/4  cup *cilantro, chopped

1/8 cup fresh lime juice

1/8 cup fresh lemon juice

10 average size *basil leaves, chiffonade

4 tablespoons pumpkin seeds

1/4  teaspoon salt

1/4  teaspoon pepper

2 Tablespoons olive oil


5.  Combine lemon cucumber, sungold tomatoes, purple pepper, red onion, jalapeno, and cilantro in a large bowl.  Stir until mixed.

6.  Pour in lemon and lime juice and stir.

7.  Add basil and pumpkin seeds.

8.  Add salt, pepper, and olive oil.

9.  Stir until well mixed and serve with blue corn chips.


Pine Hill Elementary

Chef/Restaurant Name: Rita Pimentel/Rita's

Name of Salsa: Color Me Yumm


* locally grown

1 1/2 cups *strawberries, diced

1 cup pluots, diced

1/2  cup *red cabbage-thinly sliced then chopped

3 tablespoons *red onion, minced

2 tablespoons *jalapeno, minced

1/4  cup *cilantro, chopped

Juice of 1 lemon

Juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoons white vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup sunflower seeds


10.  Combine strawberries, pluots, red cabbage, red onion, jalapeno, and cilantro in a large bowl.  Stir until mixed.

11.  Add vinegar and olive oil.

12.  Squeeze in lemon and lime juice and stir.

13.  Add salt and cinnamon and stir.

14.   Sprinkle sunflower seeds on top and serve.

South Fortuna Elementary

Chef/Restaurant Name: Melody Dale/Curley's

Name of Salsa: Rainbow Fango Blast


* locally grown

1 mango, peeled and chopped

4 *figs, minced

1/2  cup jicama, minced

1/2  cup *cucumber, minced

1/4  cup *red bell pepper, minced

2 teaspoons *red onion, minced

2 tablespoons *cilantro, minced

1 tablespoon *jalapeno, minced

2 medium size *mint leaves, minced

Juice of 1/2  of a lime

Juice of 1/2  of a lemon

1/2  teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon mandarin orange juice, fresh or from a can

1/4  teaspoon ginger, peeled and minced

Season with salt and black pepper to taste


1.  Combine mango, figs, jicama, cucumber, red bell pepper, red onion, cilantro, and jalapeno in a large bowl.  Stir until mixed.

2.  Add mint and stir.

3. Pour in lemon and lime juice, and balsamic vinegar, and orange juice and stir.

4. Add ginger, salt and pepper.

5. Stir until combined and serve.

Trinidad Elementary

Chef/Restaurant Name: Josh Wiley/Plaza Grill

Name of Salsa: Burst of Summer Salsa


* locally grown

1 bunch *radish, shaved

2 large *shallots, minced

1 *jalapeno, seeded and minced

4 cloves *garlic, crushed and minced

1 bunch of *green onions, chopped-white parts removed

1/4 cup *red bell pepper, julienned

2 tablespoons *fennel frans, chopped

1 *fennel bulb, diced

4 oranges, segmented

Juice from one lemon

Juice of 1/2 of an orange

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pinch of black pepper

2 teaspoons olive oil


1.  Add all ingredients in a large bowl.

2.   Stir carefully so you do not break up the segmented oranges.

3.   Serve on top of grilled fish, over salad greens or grilled vegetables.



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