Editor's note: This corrects the caption's information about the amount of money donated.
COSTA MESA — Z'Tejas Southwestern Grill might be better known for serving up Tex-Mex meals, but on Wednesday the South Coast Plaza restaurant kicked up its spice to a different level with "Chile Fest, the Ultimate Mixer."
Inspired by New Mexico's appreciation of the chili pepper, every year Z'Tejas combines its special Chile Fest menu with a benefit for local charities, donating a portion of the proceeds to the organizations. This year, four were chosen: Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Alzheimer's Assn., Beckstrand Cancer Foundation and the Friendly Center.
The charitable promotion began with a bartending competition, the Ultimate Mixer portion of the event, where representatives from each organization created a chili-infused cocktail.
There were no professionals at the bar, though the amateur mixologists had interesting backgrounds.
Matt Rogers, a season three finalist on "American Idol" and current host of Discovery Channel's "There Goes the Neighborhood," made it out to the Ultimate Mixer to cook up his arbol chili-infused vodka creation. The bright martini had Cointreau, sweet and sour mix, orange juice and the vodka infusion.
Rogers said he was excited to take part in the event as a supporter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation because the cause hits close to home.
"It was a no-brainer because our son has the disease," he said.
In March of 2008, Rogers' son was diagnosed and since meeting the charity at a golf tournament, Rogers has been vocal about the importance of research and finding a cure.
Before mixing his drink he told the crowd, "I'm 100% confident by the time he's 10 or 11 … it's going to be gone."
Tammy Klein, a housewife and bartender for the day, did some research when she was asked to whip something up for the Berkstrand Foundation. Klein discovered that capsaicin, the active ingredient in a chili pepper, is actually a cancer-fighting ingredient. Her drink, Spark in the Dark, was a chocolate concoction topped off with chopped serrano chilies.
The Berkstrand Foundation, which provides financial assistance and resources for people touched by cancer, is an important cause to Klein ever since her family member was affected by the disease and she realized a caregiver was not covered by that person's medical insurance.
"When I asked [the social worker] if insurance covered it, she said, 'no.' I asked, 'Well, what do families do that can't afford it?' and she said, 'They struggle,'" Klein said. "I had a really hard time with that."
Another local charity, the Friendly Center, was at the bar serving up a new spin on sangría that used Chilean wine, mango juice and Hpnotiq, a mixed liqueur. Laura "Gigi" Rothael has volunteered at the nonprofit for 15 years, which provides educational resources to children.
However, it was a contest, so someone came out a winner.
Mike Sanchez, brother of U.S. Reps. Loretta (D-Garden Grove) and Linda Sanchez (D-Lakewood), won for the Alzheimer's Assn. with his blended mango chili margarita, aptly named "Forget Me Not."
Just last year, Sanchez and his family were featured in an HBO documentary, "The Alzheimer's Project," where they discussed the difficulties of caregiving.
"It just lets people know that some of the difficulties they're facing can be dealt with," he said. "My dad, Nacho, has it … it's just one of those things. You deal with it day by day."
Although, the judges voted his drink No. 1 , Sanchez asserted that everyone is a winner.
"You know, these are four great organizations," he said. "You really have to applaud [Z'Tejas] for getting involved."
All four organizations will reap the benefits of the menu, which will be available for the next three weeks. The items on the Chile Fest menu include apricot-stuffed pork tenderloin, Southwestern paella and chili grilled shrimp salad.
A dollar from each item sold goes to the four charities involved.