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Avocado Throwdown Showcases Local Cooks' Culinary Creativity

Avocados. Many people's experience with them doesn't go much further than the standard bowl of guacamole. Which is precisely why Avocados from Mexico sponsored an Avocado Throwdown this past weekend at Warehouse Live. The unique contest challenged Houston cooks and chefs to use avocados to create a one-of-a-kind dish -- sweet or savory -- for a chance at winning $1,000, along with a great deal of fancy cookware.

A total of 17 teams, most of them with little to no professional culinary education or experience, submitted an array of green dishes for event attendees and judges to sample. Some participants entered the competition for the money, others for the fun, and others for the fame and glory.

"I love to cook, and my son is really great at blending things. So, when I heard about the contest, I thought that my son and I should enter together -- just for fun," shared Kathy Flannery, who, along with her son Mike, submitted avacoladas (spiked avocado smoothies) and avocado-stuffed pasta shells topped with an avocado-cilantro-lime sauce.

Also submitted for tasting were such diverse entries as bacon-wrapped avocados; 'cado crab fiestas, a mix of avocado and crab with pico de gallo, cream cheese, and cocktail sauce; "chocolate" pudding, composed of 92 percent avocado; and avocado-mint ice cream topped with candied bacon. Popular food truck H-Town StrEATS submitted its signature fried avocado taco.

The brave participants had their creations judged by Chef Aquiles Chávez of La Fisheria; Syd Kearney, Houston Chronicle Whine & Dine Editor; and Celeste Terrell and Kathryn Herod, the duo behind Well Done cooking classes on 29th Street.

Despite the creativity found in every dish prepared for the competition, only first, second and third place were awarded. Prior to the winner's announcement, Chef Aquiles told me, "You'll see that the sweet dishes are going to come out on top; they were the most creative."

And, sure enough, the sweet avocado creations trumped the savory. The prizes were awarded as follows:

1st place: Avocado cheesecake with mango whip and lime reduction by Michelle Ramsey 2nd place: Sonoro-cado pies by Dr. Mike Ray 3rd place: Avocado-mint ice cream with candied bacon by Dan Cutts

Pat Grier's RAWsome Avocado Choco-LOT pudding received an honorable mention.

Matt Timms, the throwdown host, one of Food & Wine's 40 Under 40 food people to watch, served as the enthusiastic event host. As cheerful and enthusiastic as he was throughout the event, even he seemed at a loss for words as first-place winner Michelle Ramsey teared up while Timms announced that she had won.

In the end, the Avocado Throwdown was both fun and educational. Who knew the bright-green vegetable that serves as the core component of guacamole had so many potential uses? Not I. Thanks to the event, I started researching the many uses of avocados; look for a post next week about my findings, along with some recipes that display the "talents" of this often-overlooked ingredient.

In the meantime, you can browse the full list of participants, the dishes they submitted, and their corresponding recipes on Matt Timm's website.

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Carla Soriano