Father-daughter duo wins Fiesta Grilldown at PACfest

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Carne asada contest fires up 10 teams of two to compete for the win.

By Te Keyshia Johnson


Retired San Antonio police officer Juan M. Ayala has been experimenting with carne asada ever since he got married in 1971. Throughout the years, he has tried different spices and seasonings to give it flavor, until one day he concocted a special sauce and called it Reel-e-hooked.

His whole family was indeed hooked, and this year his special sauce made him and his daughter winners April 23 at the Fiesta Grilldown carne asada contest at Palo Alto College’s PACfest.

The contest, which took place in the campus central courtyard, attracted 11 entries on Palo Alto College’s Facebook page, but only 10 teams of two could participate in the contest.

“The teams were provided with all of the appliances needed to prepare the best carne asada,” said Yvonne Zamora, multimedia specialist at Palo Alto College.

The contestants were able to put their own originality into their carne asada plates by bringing their own seasonings, she said.

Each team was issued a Smokey Joe grill, bag of instant light charcoal, one pound of unseasoned fajita meat, pair of grilling gloves, two aprons, a mixing bowl and presentation plate. A community produce table contained a variety of fresh produce, such as onions, Serrano peppers, jalapeño peppers, lettuce, tomato, cilantro, limes, garlic and avocado.

The contestants had one hour to finish their carne asada plates.

As soon as the alarm clock buzzer started, all of the contestants looked ready and determined. They worked together with their partners and formed strategies. One teammate would cook the fajita as the meat sizzled. The other would chop onions, cilantro, bell peppers and limes until tiny enough to stir inside the mixing bowl. Spectators gathered and watched the team as they were in the zone.

When the hour was almost up, the five judges took their seats at the judges’ table with smiles on their faces and forks in their hands.

Zamora said the guest judges — Blondie, Nugget and producer Rossi Ramirez from 94.1 FM’s morning show, Mr. Piñata and Univision 41 weather reporter Keyhla Calderon — were the highlight of the Grilldown.

The judges took selfies eating the carne asada. They brought humor to the contest, which made it seem more like fun rather than a competition, Zamora said.

Although the judges said they enjoyed all of the carne asada plates, there only could be one winner.

The winner was “Success in 2 Worlds,” composed of Ayala and daughter Monica Ayala, coordinator of TRiO Upward Bound at Palo Alto College.

They won eight box seat tickets to the Missions baseball game, two $50 gift cards for H-E-B and two PACfest medals.

Juan M. Ayala, 64, has always been great at cooking carne asada for their family, his daughter said. She said she knew her dad would be the right person to team up with for the contest.

“I felt extremely confident in winning this contest because of my awesome dad and his special sauce, Reel-e-hooked,” she said.

She said the name of the sauce was inspired by her dad’s love of fishing. His special sauce has a concoction of spices, and he says he puts a pinch of “love” to make it taste great.

The timing didn’t bother Ayala and her dad because she said they were having fun with the contest and enjoying quality time together.

They are already planning to compete in the next Fiesta Grilldown and they are determined to win again, she said.


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