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SCV resident Merry Graham captures contest

Dessert to be featured at Z’Tejas Southwest Grill

Posted: September 12, 2009 5:29 p.m.
Updated: September 13, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Merry Graham puts the finishing touches on her Chile Choclate Lime Shooters for the judges at the annual Z'Tejas Southwestern Grill dessert contest. All entries were required to include some form of chili pepper.

Santa Clarita Valley resident Merry Graham whipped up her Chile Chocolate Lime Shooters to capture first place in a contest sponsored by Z’Tejas Southwestern Grill at South Coast Plaza.  

She’s passionate about cooking and now her skills have earned her a distinguished place in Southern California’s culinary circles.

The decadent dessert was selected from more than 20 submissions (only three were invited to the final competition), whose primary criteria was that the dessert contain some form of chile pepper. Judges, who included food journalists, evaluated each dish based on creativity, flavor and practicality. The dessert will be featured on the restaurant’s special Chile Fest menu Sept. 8-27 and a portion of its sale will be donated to the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

Graham learned about the competition through various Web sites including and, where she regularly searches for cooking contests.

“I’m delighted that my dessert was selected and am particularly excited that a portion of its sale will benefit the Lance Armstrong Foundation as my own father succumbed to prostate and liver cancer. I’m also a big fan of Lance’s and love watching the Tour de France,” said Graham, a 55-year-old homemaker and mother of four grown children. “Cooking is my passion and I’m glad to share this recipe to visitors of Z’Tejas.”

Z’Tejas Executive Chef Daniel Stevens said the dessert contest was very popular last year.

“It was so popular last year that we wanted to hold another competition this year,” he said. “Merry’s dessert stood out because the rich, decadent chocolate was offset by the fiery pepper flavor thus lending a particularly mouth-watering quality.”

The recipe contest was part of the festivities being held by the restaurant as an homage to the famous Hatch New Mexico Chile Festival, which has been in existence for 34 years. Each year, Z’Tejas pays tribute to this culinary celebration by offering a special menu and a month-long line-up of activities. In addition to Graham’s dessert, this year’s Chile Fest menu will include a number of appetizers, entrees and desserts that make use of a variety of chile peppers.

Among the judges were Susan Belknapp (OC Metro restaurant critic), Teri Williams (Great Taste Magazine editor), Sheryl Alexander (Gayot and Taste Magazine) and Brian Wolf, an ambassador for the Lance Armstrong Foundation who participates in numerous fundraising cycling event to raise money and awareness for the advances in research and treatment.

Z’Tejas Southwestern Grill is located on the east side of South Coast Plaza (3333 S. Bristol St., Costa Mesa). (714) 979-7469 or visit


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