Jay Tamsi, CEO/president of the Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is unusually extra busy at this time as puts in the final touches of the 17th annual Latino Food Festival and Menudo Cook-Off.

The annual event will be held May 31 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Kern County Fairgrounds.

And while Tamsi began preparing for it since last year, the intensity of final steps rises as the day nears.

"The Menudo Cook-Off is our biggest event of the year; we draw thousands of people, not only for the food but for the entertainment and celebrations. I look at it as a reunion with good ol' friends and family."

Since the weather has been kind, Tamsi is expecting a bigger turnout. That, added to the fact that the headliner band is War, the multi-ethnic, legendary funk group best known for its '70s hits "Why Can't We Be friends?", "Low Rider" and "Spill the Wine."

"The band still has a loyal following for their feel-good and socially aware music in Bakersfield, from those who grew up on their music to the kids who grew up listening to it in their parents' homes," Tamsi said.

War released a new studio album called "Evolutionary." Featured guest appearances on the album include Cheech & Chong, Tower of Power, Joe Walsh and the USC Marching Band.

While the music lineup will also include local and other talent, Tamsi said a large number of attendees show up for the menudo.

About 60 to 70 menudo contestants show up with family and friends in tow to dish out what they hope is the best menudo, hands-down.

More than a dozen judges evaluate the contestants' menudo based on categories that include aroma, taste, originality and more.

"The menudo contest is always intense," he said. "Some people travel as far as Southern California or out of state to compete in this contest. Even chefs from area businesses come out. Competition is fierce."

For more information about sponsorships, vendors, the contest and more, please contact the Hispanic Chamber at 633-5495 or email officeadmin@kchcc.org. Tickets can be purchased at the Hispanic Chamber office at 231 H St. and other participating locations. Visit kchcc.org for additional details.

WOMEN WITH A HEART: Four local women were recognized last week as part of Garden Pathways' 13th annual High Tea in honor of Women with a Heart for Bakersfield.

The honorees were Irma Cervantes, multicultural communications manager at Bright House Networks; Nancy Chaffin, vice president of operations and administration at The Bakersfield Californian; Dr. Naina Patel, head of the Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center's Mind and Body Medicine Department; and Wendy Porter, executive director and founder of the Wounded Heroes Fund.

The women were recognized for their leadership, community involvement and personal achievements.

"We're thankful that so many joined us to celebrate the caring hearts of these incredible women, as well as the transformation of lives through mentoring and education," said Karen Goh, president/CEO of the nonprofit Garden Pathways. "We appreciate the trust and generosity of our community in supporting Garden Pathways. The ongoing investment of our donors, volunteers and partners indeed is changing the futures of families."

The women each thanked the group as well as loved ones who have supported them in their professional and community service.

Proceeds from the event benefit Garden Pathways' programs including mentoring at-risk families, teaching early childhood education and providing afterschool performing arts.

At the event, Raelene Roy shared a heart-wrenching story of living a life under the spell of an abusive, controlling relationship, prostitution and drug addiction.

She said she felt alone and not worthy of anything better in life until Garden Pathways stepped in and a mentor helped her see life beyond the chaos she had endured.

"We're very proud of Raelene and the progress and positive choices she has made on her journey of transformation," Goh said.

Olivia Garcia is a Californian columnist and editor of Bakersfield Life and BWell magazines. Send her tips at ogarcia@bakersfield.com. Her work appears here every third Monday; the views expressed are her own.

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