MARICOPA — It’s the time of year local chefs, and those who love them, have been waiting for. Aprons are about to turn red, sinuses are about to be cleared and competition is about to heat up for this year’s Maricopa Salsa Festival.
Saturday’s festival will once again be held at Copper Sky Regional Park from 2 to 8 p.m. There will be 16 salsa chefs competing for the best in the categories of overall, hot, mild and unusual for cash prizes. Last year, the group Crazy Cranberry won the overall prize, Mickey’s Salsa won both the hot and mild categories, and Tango Mango won for best unusual.
Organizers from the City of Maricopa tried to rejuvenate crowd sizes last year with a pair of adjustments, both of which were deemed successful. The first was expanding the hours of the festival to allow for people to more easily stake out time in their day to go. The other was creating an app through which people can vote for their favorite salsa.
The app allowed the community to have more of a say in the competition, said Niesha Whitman, special events and marketing manager for the city. In the past, celebrity judges were the ones who decided the winners. The app also provides information on parking and shuttles, past winners and vendors.
Whitman said that much to her surprise, the app worked perfectly fine in its first year. Organizers had brought paper ballots to the festival just in case voting didn’t work, but that wasn’t necessary. Now, celebrity judges will just vote for their own category.
There will also be 17 nonprofit organizations, 24 businesses and 13 food vendors with booths to give people plenty to occupy their attention. Entertainment includes folklorico groups, community performers and headliners About Last Nite, a cover band from the Valley.
Returning alongside the Salsa Festival is Maricopa Science City, which brings hands-on activities that focus on math and science. There will be 14 booths there, including one by Microsoft, and an egg launch hosted by council member Nancy Smith.
“We want to have another reason to bring the community together,” Whitman said. “We felt it would be more successful if it was added onto this, and not just a standalone event.”
With piñata busts, salsa lessons, a chili pepper eating contest and a beer garden with open fencing, there should be something for everyone.
“It’s pretty much all local chefs,” Whitman said. “So come out an support your community and show people what we’re all about.”