With the green fields of the Watsonville fairgrounds stretching out before them, the panelists are getting hungry at the second annual Burrito Bash.
Wisecracking and ribbing are already underway from judges, like Santa Cruz Sentinel advertising director Steve Bennett, before the burritos even arrive. It’s a few minutes past noon, and while beers are being poured, Charles Montoya, the Watsonville city manager, is making a cry for help. “It’s too early for Steve!” he exclaims, a plastic cup of Modelo in front of him.
“It’s never too early,” Bennett retorts loudly. “It’s cocktail hour somewhere.”
“No, it’s too early for us to handle Steve!” Montoya yells back.
I’d been invited to partake in this panel on Saturday, Oct. 15, based on a couple burrito guides I wrote, and I’m armed with a pocket full of pills to help me handle my lactose intolerance, a condition I developed a few years ago, presumably from eating too many burritos.
DJ Kenny Allen, of the Hippo, is standing behind us offering color commentary, as the five burritos start arriving, one by one, each cut in half, on paper plates. When we get to burrito No. 3, Allen notes that the judges become very quiet, except for a few yummy sounds. That carnitas creation, the People’s Choice Burrito from Jardines De San Juan, would end up taking home first place. The San Juan Bautista restaurant came up with it for the 2015 Burrito Bash, when it won that year’s People’s Choice award. It was so popular they had to put it on their menu, and it’s now their best seller, Chef Marcus Edwards says.
“It had the perfect texture to a burrito, crunchy yet soft, with the perfect spice to it,” judge June Ponce, of Sun Valley Berries, says fondly. “It was the perfect Hollywood burrito you’d expect in a movie, where you see the actor Brad Pitt biting into it, and it just goes everywhere.”