From the Super Bowl to the Green Chile Bowl – a game we can win!

From the Super Bowl to the Green Chile Bowl – a game we can win!

Michael Herrera grew up in Greeley and Brighton, where the fields were full of chiles, and green chile was often on the table at home. But he didn't know that his future would be very, very green. Instead, he began his career with KFSC, the station started in the early '50s by the late Francisco "Paco" Sanchez, a Mexican entertainer who had trouble getting the word out about his events after he moved to Denver in 1948. Sanchez was the first Mexican to own a radio station in this country; although Herrera was born in Colorado, his parents were from Mexico, and he knew how important it was to communicate with the community.

But as his young family grew, Herrera wanted to find a more stable source of income. So in 1964, he took on a space at 2340 Champa Street, a former Safeway store that had become an automotive shop, and turned it into La Fiesta, a Mexican restaurant, supper club and gathering place. He worked with his cook to create the perfect green chile — a hot, hot mix of those Colorado chiles, onions, tomatoes and pork, of course. Fifty years later, that green chile remains the focus of the menu at La Fiesta, which today is only open for lunch on weekdays (and into the evening on Fridays). Michael Herrera still comes to his restaurant every day, though, watching his offspring serve up that same green chile to everyone from cops to music promoters to members of the Colorado Supreme Court — who've clearly judged his green chile to be very, very authentic.

The Super Bowl is over and better off forgotten — but the Green Chile Bowl continues to simmer. Before the game, Mayor Michael Hancock made a bet with Seattle mayor Ed Murray, promising to send him a snowboard and other swag from Icelantic as well as samples of some of this city's "amazing green chile" if the Broncos lost to the Seahawks. Although La Fiesta's green chile wasn't included in the wager, a few of the versions chosen by Hancock and his staff were almost as venerable. There was green chile from Brewery Bar II, which got its start in the Tivoli long before the old brewery was turned into a student union; from El Taco de Mexico; and from Chubby Burger Drive Inn, the joint on West 38th Avenue that waitress Stella Cordova purchased from her boss back in 1968. Cordova kept the name but added her own homegrown Mexican specialties, including the green chile she'd learned to make as a girl in southern Colorado. Although she passed away a few years ago at the age of 100, her green chile lives on at Chubby's.

But despite green chile's deep roots in Colorado, Hancock's wager really stirred the pot in New Mexico. "We New Mexicans were stunned this week to read that we have apparently lost our exclusive claim as home of the heavenly substance that makes living here all the more worthwhile," wrote columnist Joline Gutierrez Krueger in the Albuquerque Tribune. "Listen, Denver, you could have easily chosen Rocky Mountain oysters as your local culinary treat. Or elk meat. Or marijuana-laced brownies. Why our green chile?"

Well, for starters, Hancock didn't pick New Mexico's green chile — with the unfortunate exception of green from Little Anita's, an Albuquerque-based chain that specializes in the thin, green-chile-flavored water that's native to that state. The green that evolved from the chiles imported from Mexico centuries ago and planted in our state's soil is much heartier, filled with ingredients that would be considered sacrilege in New Mexico — tomatoes! pork! — and just as hot. And then, it's also hard to imagine a better culinary pick-me-up for sodden Seattle than a big bowl that tastes of earth and sunshine...and pig.

But those nuances were lost on the hotheads in New Mexico, who can only agree with Colorado's culinary community on one thing: You spell green chile with an "e," not an "i." Even as Hancock was shipping the victor the spoils last week, Richard Berry, the mayor of Albuquerque, was sending his own package to Hancock: fresh-frozen Hatch green chiles and Chimayo red chiles. And the taste test doesn't end there: Berry wants to challenge Denver to a chile cookoff.

To which we say: Bring it.

La Fiesta could be the perfect site for a green chile competition between Albuquerque and Denver; one of the restaurant's cooks, a New Mexico native, says he had to learn how to rethink green chile when he came to Colorado, because there's simply no comparison. And then there are all those learned Colorado Supreme Court justices, just waiting to referee the green chile bowl; they could even invite their colleagues from the bench in New Mexico to lift a spoon — although we have no doubt what the verdict will be.

Mayor Berry will be in Denver in early March for Downtown Denver's Rocky Mountain City Summit; his staff has reached out to Hancock's office to discuss the terms for keeping the rivalry alive with an annual Mile High Chile Challenge.

Yes, Albuquerque — whose elevation is around 5,000 feet — apparently thinks we stole its altitude, too.

 
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5 comments
Twistee
Twistee

I remember when Denver used to say it was "little LA" in the 80s.  It looks like we STILL have an identity crisis here.

charles.gonzales60
charles.gonzales60

I grew up in New Mexico and now live in Houston, and travel to Denver a lot for my job. In Texas they have nothing close to Green Chile, therefore when I do visit Denver I frequent the several New Mexican restaurants through out the Denver area. 


Though I am always happy to get New Mexican food, even in Denver,  the Denver restaurants have never met the quality of true New Mexican food only found in The State of New Mexico. Basically, it is good enough in Denver. It is the same in Phoenix that also has many New Mexican style restaurants. Again just good enough in Phoenix.


But please understand that New Mexican food is a tradition that goes back to when the Spanish settled in the 1500's and 1600's, and brought their mix of food combined with the established Native Americans. It was never taken from Mexico and reinventing with pig poop.  


New Mexican food is very special because of a growing climate only found in New Mexico. And through the many generations of New Mexicans, it has become a tradition only unique to The State of New Mexico. As a New Mexican we are very proud of our heritage and our food, and even though others have tried, we can't be fooled by even good enough. 


Maybe you win, but you will never steal or re-invent New Mexico's pride, traditions, and our food.






GregComlish
GregComlish

The "Denver Green Chili" wager is an embarrassing and best forgotten episode in Denver's History.  The mayor literally took New Mexico's most iconic food from New Mexican restaurants and relabeled it "Denver Green Chili".  And this wasn't "just" one restaurant.  Three of the Six restaurants selected by Denver’s mayor to represent "Denver Green Chili" serve “New Mexican" cuisine: Little Anita's, Jack-N-Grill, and La Casita.  A fourth,  El Taco De Mexico, describes itself as traditional Mexican with flavors from Mexico City.  So right off the bat we have four out of six clear instances of false conveyance.  The remaining two restaurants serve "Authentic Mexican" cuisine and don't list a region.  Might the two remaining restaurants have authentic roots extending back to Denver's traditional Mexican heritage?  Doubtful.  Why?  Because Denver doesn't have a traditional Mexican heritage because DENVER WAS NEVER PART OF MEXICO.  That area was sparsely inhabited Indian Territory that was claimed by the French and sold to America under the Louisiana Purchase before Mexico was even founded. Den-Mex is not just a misnomer, it is a patently fraudulent attempt to harken back to a bullshit mythical Mexican past that never existed.  The Hispanic population in Denver is overwhelmingly from parts of Mexico and Latin American where Green Chile is not a traditional food.  I’m sorry if the Denver tourism industry lied to you about your history, but by now you should know the truth.  Maybe you should try stealing Louisiana’s cuisine if you haven’t already. 

Away from Denver, there was a legitimate Spanish presence in the area that is now Colorado, mostly confined to a number of small farming communities along rivers in the southern part of the state.  After parts of this territory were incorporated into Colorado, these traditional communities were systematically marginalized by Colorado’s Anglo immigrant population.  And here’s the thing, guys: the marginalization never really stopped, did it?  It was only 25 years ago that Colorado voters amended their constitution in ballot initiative to declare English to be the sole official language of Colorado.  And right now, as I type these very words, Tom Tancredo, possibly the most prominent, racist, anti-Hispanic public figure in the United State today, is running to be Colorado’s next governor.  The guy who called Miami a “3rd world county”, is running even in the polls against the incumbent.  And wouldn’t you know it?  Tom Tancredo loves “Denver Green Chili”.  So I hope you’ll understand when New Mexicans object to their neighbors stealing their most cherished cultural icons and falsely conveying them as their own.  I hope you’ll understand when New Mexicans object to the false narratives peddled by bullshit Chambers of Commerce to promote their own tourism industry.  And I hope you’ll understand the particular ethnic sensitivities surrounding this issue given Colorado’s troubled racial past and present.  

jolinegkg
jolinegkg

Um, I work for the Albuquerque JOURNAL. The Tribune, which I also worked for, ceased publication six years ago. And New Mexico green chile is still superior.

Larr
Larr

@jolinegkg Absolutely!! I'm a native of Colorado and I certainly agree that New Mexico chile is by far better than Colorado's chile. I travel to New Mexico every season to buy my chile for the year. Colorado chile is mediocre at best, and the growers here know it. That's why they plant the seeds from the real "Hatch" (New Mexico) chiles here in Colorado, so they can TRY to cash in on the "Hatch" chile name. However, it's the soil, sun, and the growing season that truly makes New Mexico "The Chile Capital of the World". Often imitated...NEVER duplicated!!

 
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