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At Pearl: Chilly Day, Hot Tamales!

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Tamales at Pearl Cold Crowd cropped

A robust crowd, intent on sampling a generous supply of not only tamales but pupusas, menudo, tacos and more, came out on a frigid Saturday for Tamales! at Pearl.

By frigid, we mean temperatures in the mid-30s in San Antonio.

The holiday spirit was alive, there were lots of good things to eat, music and even a pair of walking “tamales” to keep the bundled up crowd moving from booth to booth.

“This is my third trip to the hot cocoa booth,” said a man pushing a stroller with a 2-year-old girl bundled up in a pink blanket. The booth, in fact, was a lemonade stand, but we’d bet most of the people standing in that long line weren’t ordering anything served on ice.

Tamales at Pearl 2013 TrayMeanwhile, a panel of judges were sequestered in a room at the Culinary Institute of America, having tamales of many shapes, sizes and flavors brought to them on platters.

Shelley Grieshaber, the Pearl’s organizer of the event, welcomed judges Charles Gonzales of KSAT-TV, chef Johnny Hernandez, food writer Edmund Tijerina, CIA San Antonio Director David Kellaway and myself. It was going to be a tough task, but made a little easier — Grieshaber had already done the screening by culling through 240 different entries.

The winners who each took home $1,000 for the top tamales were Maria Martinez for her chicken tamal; Maria Shaw in the pork tamales category and Courtney Stone for her pumpkin praline sweet tamal in the wild card category.

What came to the judges were fiveĀ  finalists in each of three categories — pork, chicken and the “wild card.”

“(The wild card category) could be the most difficult category to judge — there are very different styles, but you need to judge each on its own merits,” Grieshaber said.

When all was said and done, many good tamales tasted and the difficult task of choosing the very best had been met, it was time to head back outside. And we were pretty sure it was even colder than we came in.

But, as Grieshaber mentioned earlier, “We couldn’t cancel. There wouldn’t have been a good date coming up (in December).

“It never really let up until 5:30 — many of our vendors sold out. I had so many emails from vendors thanking us for not canceling, thanking us for everything,” said Grieshaber, who estimated attendance at between 12,000 to 15,000.

And, it was a good time for the attendees as well. We asked a number of people if they were glad they came and answers were always “yes.” Featuring some of the city’s best chefs, caterers and favorite restaurants, Tamales! was a great way to open the holiday season.





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