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Eat the day away at fest

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Utahns will have a chance to experience the foods and fun of another culture at "Salsa-Bration!" The 6th Annual Utah Hispanic American Festival takes place 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday at Franklin Covey Field, 1300 S. West Temple. Admission is $5 for adults. Children under age 10 are free. Cost of food is extra.

Festivalgoers can sample Colombian, Peruvian, Mexican and other cuisine from 13 different food booths, while being entertained by music and dance groups throughout the day. They can also shop at an open market filled with artwork and crafts.

Past festivals have attracted around 15,000 people. Organizers want to expand the event to include families of all backgrounds.

"Our target group is mainstream Utah," said Maria Garciaz, one of the event's organizers. "The festival is being presented by the Hispanics of

Utah to non-Hispanics, primarily because there's a gap in terms of Utah's cultural sensitivity in many ways. Like the Greek Festival and the Asian Festival, it's an opportunity to let them see what we do. In the children's tent, they can learn how to make masks, how to make tortillas, the different dances and what piatas are."

Esther Ornelas, owner of LaHacienda Mexican Restaurant, plans to serve tamales smothered in chili verde, tacos filled with carne asada (marinated beef) and carnitas (shredded pork with an orange-flavored marinade), and a platter with a chili verde smothered burrito, rice and beans. Last year at the festival, the most popular dishes were the carne asada tacos and chile verde, she said. To speed up the food line, her booth will have a condiment bar where folks can add different types of salsa, guacamole, onions and so on.

Ornelas moved from her native Jalisco, Mexico, 30 years ago and learned by working in other restaurants. Five years ago, she mortgaged her house to open her own restaurant at 145 E. 1300 South. Four months ago, she opened a second one at 1259 S. Redwood Road. She and her four children work nearly nonstop to keep the restaurants going, she said.

"These are my own recipes, the way I used to cook at home," she said. "Everything is home-made. I don't cook by measuring spoons, I just know how it is supposed to taste."

Ornelas said doing a food booth is a good way to acquaint the public with her restaurant.

"The festival gives you an opportunity to try a little of all different kinds of food without having to go to a restaurant and buy a whole meal," Garciaz said. "I'm Mexican-American, and last year I was able to try some different foods I had never tried before. There was one booth that had fruit with chile powder, and that was something new to me."

Top national and local musicians and dancers will perform everything from salsa and merengue to Tex-Mex and tango throughout the event, said Garciaz. Banda Campesino headlines Friday night's entertainment, and nationally known Eddie Santiago takes the stage Saturday night.

"We're trying to introduce music to Utah that you're not going to hear on the usual radio stations," said Garciaz. "You either have to go to New York or California to hear these groups. Also, we have many of the good local groups that you see at the other Utah festivals."

The two-day festival was envisioned by the Bill Garcia, a Salt Lake advertising executive who died in a plane crash in 1996. Proceeds from the festival benefit the Bill Garcia Memorial Fund, which assists local youth educational programs.

E-MAIL: vphillips@desnews.com