One Haute Tamale

Appears in the October 2022 issue.

Kathy Contreras’s are stuffed with untraditional goodness

By Peter Gianopulos

One afternoon, self-taught tamale maven Kathy Contreras experienced a flash of insight: Really good tamales, she realized, aren’t that different from expertly baked bread. Eaten straight, without much extra fuss, both can be tasty. But a kind of alchemy occurs when you start packing either of them with decadent fillings. 

So she threw convention to the wind and started stuffing her tamales—which can be purchased by contacting her through—with decidedly unconventional fixings. 

Think Italian beef and giardiniera. A white-bean French cassoulet purée dotted with duck confit and sausage. And nibbles of Buffalo chicken soaked in hot sauce and blue cheese. 

“Ever notice,” she asks, “how cheap tamales are all masa with very little filling? Not mine. I work hard to ensure the perfect filling-to-masa ratio.” 

Contreras, who’s worked in the restaurant industry most of her life, realized she had a cross-cultural hit a couple of years back when her Mexican-born husband and all of her neighbors in Aurora raved about her genre-bending creations. Recently, she’s whipped up tamale specials for local eateries and sold them at pop-ups, including at Cantigny Park. 

But her ultimate dream is to launch her own tamale-centric food truck. “I never knew, until recently, how many people love tamales,” Contreras says. “It’s a universal love that cuts across everything—age, color, and ethnicity.”  

Photo courtesy of Antonio Contreras