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Correction: This story has been updated to correct the age and gender of Rocky Coronado.

Detroit — The star of the show at a local cooking contest Sunday was the molé, but a sauce is only as good as its cook, and the contestants tackled the recipes with know-how and a nod to tradition.

On Sunday at El Kiosko in southwest Detroit, 18 contestants shared their take, and their pride, on the traditional sauce of Mexico at the fourth annual Holy Molé! contest. They cooked molé that represented different regions of Mexico as well as new creations from the United States.

Molé, which can be made with chili peppers, sesame seeds, chocolate and other ingredients, was around before the Spanish colonized Mexico. Molé Poblano is a blend of indigenous ingredients and the European ones.

"And thus we have a national dish that is Mexican, it's not one or the other," said Maria Elena Rodriguez, author of Detroit's Mexicantown, and one of the contest's molé judges.

When the event began four years ago, its organizers wanted an opportunity to show off what Rodriguez described as one of the "best kept secrets" in southwest Detroit, the cooking of the area's Mexican American population.

On Sunday, Amparo Luna of Detroit took first place in the competition for her molé from the Oaxaca state of Mexico.

According to Sebastian Vega, 13, who translated for the 84-year-old, Luna works hard on her food and she wants others enjoy it.

Molé often includes at least 20 ingredients and often takes two to three days to make, said Rodriguez.

"It's like what she did in Mexico. What her parents did. What her grandparents did," Vega said. "It's a tradition."

Aida Villa of Detroit earned second place in the competition for her sauce from the Puebla state of Mexico. She said she has placed first or second in three of the four years the competition has been held.  

Villa, 46, said it takes her two or three days to make the molé. It's a team effort, she said. 

"Even the kids are helping. So everyone is helping and having a good time," Villa said.

Rocky Coronado's third-place Molé de Tejas had a unique American twist. Coronado, 39, replaced the peanuts in a traditional molé with pecans. Coronado also smoked all ingredients. 

"It's basically barbecued molé base and pecans," said Coronado of Detroit.

When third place was announced in the competition, Coronado was honored.

"It means a lot," said Coronado, who serves vegan Mexican food and recently moved to Detroit from Austin, Texas. "Coming here, I knew zero people. It means ... what I'm doing here that's so drastically different from what everyone else is doing, (is) being supported by everyone in the neighborhood."

ecarter@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @EvanJamesCarter

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