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Mary's tamales 

Unless you stayed until the Tamale Eating Contest and the Chihuahua Costume Contest at the fifth annual Tamale Festival in Atascadero, you may have missed Emcee Franky's announcement: Chef Mary Sanchez of Mary's Cuisine Catering Services won both the Traditional and Gourmet Tamale competitions. Which is impressive, considering the blind tasting consisted of more than 30 entries per category. Last year, she took second in the Traditional category.

Despite my dear Latina friend Mara poking fun at me for being allowed to judge as a non-Mexican, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was struck by how creative the Gourmet Tamale vendors were this year: from enchilada-inspired to campfire smoked to something I'd like to name "Strawberry Shortcake Surprise."

I have to say Sanchez's savory pork tamales had it all: The overall aroma was fresh ground corn and farmers' market herbs and tomatoes. My taste buds were mariachi dancing to the smooth and light texture of the masa and the balance was perfect: just the right amount of salt and filling, a generous amount of spice. Drizzled with a gorgeous salsa and sour cream, it was downright dreamy.

I'm glad Ms. Sanchez took home two massive trophies. Her tamales sold out by 1:30 that afternoon, and I'm hoping the word is out.

Mary's Cuisine Catering Services (based in SLO) offers Mexican food and grill. Chef/owner Mary Sanchez may be reached at (805) 260-6042, on Facebook, or email mary_kjd@yahoo.com. Δ

Flavor writer Beth Giuffre is still dreaming of Mary's tamales. Send salsa and sour cream to bgiuffre@newtimesslo.com.

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