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The tamal: it's not just for the # 2 Dinner any more.

If proof were needed, the 3rd annual Tamalada Throw-Down, held at The Spire at Sunset Station last week, would surely supply it in spades. Eight chefs vied for honors in three categories: Traditional, Contemporary and Sweet. The competition was fierce. And the winner was, ta dah, Rosario's. And Rosario's. And Rosario's.

Yes, Lisa Wong and her chef Letty Canizales walked away with the top spot in each category with a tamal de chicharron en salsa verde, a tamal vegetariano de calabaza y queso, and a tamal dulce de piña y nueces. Let this be a battle cry to all the rest of you: a gauntletâ??or at least a shuck--has been tossed for next year's event.

And there are some likely contenders. Second place in traditional went to Chef Chuck Large at the RK group for his chicken mole rendition, and third was garnered by Chef/owner Mike Behrend of Green Vegetarian Cuisine--stepping out of his comfort zone with a chorizo version.

Behrend also tied for third in the contemporary category with an extremely pretty tamal verde wrapped in collard greens and sauced with a vibrant tomato sauce. It would have scored higher if the greens had been more tender, making for an easier-to-eat package. Second place here went to Chef Mario Perez of the San Antonio Food Bank Community Kitchen (this is encouraging for those who contributeâ??or should contributeâ??to the Food Bank) for a green-tinted tamal making use of Soyrizo, a chorizo substitute. Perez also had some student help, by the way. The other third-place tie was awarded to Chef Kris Martinez of Aldaco's at Sunset Station.

Winners in the sweet category were the San Antonio Food Bank, again, and Chef Cindy Olivares of Flour Power Café for a candied jalapeño tamal. A tamal that didn't win, but that bears mention, was the contemporary submission by Chef Mike Romano of Mike's in the Village in Bulverde, a favorite haunt of some wine worthies of my acquaintance. Garnished with an imposing, whole crawfish, his tamal made use of the mud bug in many ways, and only a too-loose texture kept it from scoring higher.

Not only are tamales not just for combination plates any more, but they're also moving out of the Mexican mainstream. San Antonio might as well lead the way.

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