By FRANCISCO E. JIMENEZ
Jay Cantu has a voice made for radio, and like most San Benitians, a taste for tamales.
As the third of five judges announced for the Fifth Annual San Benito News “Best Tamales in Town” contest, which is scheduled for 12 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13, Cantu will harness his experience helping his grandmother sell masa at a former tortilla factory.
“It’s good because I am actually from San Benito,” Cantu, who for a number of years was a radio personality on KISS 106.3, said of his participation as a judge in the contest. “I live in Harlingen, but I won’t admit it. Actually having ties and going back and doing stuff with my home city, and being that it is a long-standing contest already, it’s pretty cool. I like it.”
Having worked in radio for approximately 16 years, Cantu now works as a manager for Clear Channel Radio, which operates numerous local stations including KISS 106.3, FM 100 KTEX, Wild 104 and 105.5 The X.
“I am the digital director, so I do everything that has to do with digital for all the stations here,” explained Cantu, who got his start in radio working for a station in Bryan, Texas as an Aggie. “I’m in charge of that. I am on the air every now and then just so I won’t rust up when they need me. This is my 16th year [in radio].”
As a child growing up in San Benito, Cantu dedicated much of his time to helping his grandmother run her local tortilla factory, La Mexicana, in the La Gallina neighborhood.
“We owned it for a long time. During the week of Christmas, it would shut down for everything else and all we would sell—it almost feels like it was 24 hours—was the masa for the tamales,” recalled Cantu. “It was just nonstop. I remember the lines of people just coming in. We would stop the tortillas, we would stop the barbacoa… we stopped everything just for the tamale masa.”
When asked about his preferences when it comes to tamales, Cantu prefers the old school brand.
“It has to be the classic bean tamales,” said Cantu. “It has to be. I know a lot of people like the meat ones or whatever, and I’ve had them all from venison to the crazy ones to the borrachos and all that, but my favorite is the classic beans.”
There is no charge to participate in the contest, which is open to the public.
To join the contest, bring one dozen of your best tamales to the News office, located on 356 N. Sam Houston Blvd. in San Benito, by noon on Friday, Dec. 13. Judging will begin shortly thereafter and a winner will be announced once the scores are tallied.
Entries will be judged based on taste, texture, originality and presentation; the winner will be awarded a $100 gift card to a sponsoring business, not to mention an article published in the following issue (Dec. 15 weekend edition) featuring the winner.