After all, what are we going to do with all this paella???? (For my Seinfeld Fans).
If you aren’t familiar with paella, it’s a dish that originated in Spain, with origins dating back to the eighteenth century. It’s a rice based dish that is typically saffron infused (giving the rice its signature yellow color) and has a variety of meats, shellfish and veggies. However, this particular Paella & Wine Festival is based around a very serious competition of over 60 chefs cooking up their interpretation of paella from traditional to vegan. Some Chefs were from California, but many had traveled from Mexico to bring their ‘A’ game. Judges came prepared with the best qualification ever: the ability to eat a lot of paella.
I arrived at the event early in order to scope out the grounds and get a feel for how the day would go. All of the paella competitors were assigned staggered serving times, so some had already started cooking. Others were holding off until later in the day. This allows an ongoing ‘flow’ of paella tasting, as this event goes from noon to 6:00pm!
Paella Judge Mitchell Thompson, Director at the Otay Water District, said that as a public service official he had to be fair and intended on tasting ALL of the entries. Vaya con Dios, Mitchell! That’s a lot of entries!
Here’s some early contestants getting their paella’s started. It was interesting to see so many different variations, even from the start.
This was the largest paella dish being prepared and is said to feed thousands! The pan was the size of a hot tub and had 4 to 5 cooks working on it at all times. Amazing!
Everyone was all smiles!
San Diego Local Chef – LaDuque66@yahoo.com
As noon approached, the line for attendees started to queue up outside of the event. The sun also decided to make a debut in full force, and it got hot very quickly! Thankfully there was no shortage of beer, wines and tequila to cool down with. We made our way over to some vintners to test out some wines from San Diego, Spain and Baja California. Some of my favorites were:
San Diego’s Vinavanti Urban Winery – The La Zingara White Wine was refreshing and crisp. All grapes are grown organically in San Diego County.
The Spanish Cune Rioja – a brightly colored Rosé made from Tempranillo grapes. Typically bright or dark colored Rosés have a lot of sugar content, but this was surprisingly dry with great floral notes. This is a Spanish Rosé I will be sure to hunt down!
Finally, mi favorito for the day was Puente de Rus Savignon Blanc. Crisp with pineapple and herb notes, light and paired perfectly with paella. This is one of those Spanish wines that you would find while traveling, not pay a ton for it, but then after your trip you’ll dwell about what a good value it was. You may find this wine locally in San Diego at Old Town Liquors. I did taste a lot of great reds by the way, however I’m a traditionalist; Whites and Rosés on a hot day, Reds at night.
Guests started to pour into the event, and the air filled with spice and smoke. Some of the paella chefs were starting to put the final decorative touches on their paella pan creations. Festival attendees circled around the booths, and a hush fell over the crowd as the judges stepped up with clipboards in hand. Nervous faces looked on as this was serious paella business!
After the judges left with their secret notes, it was time to serve up the paella and eat! Here’s some of the finished paella presentations. They were all so beautiful!
Paella by Los Chatos
Paella by Los Gregorianos
Paella by El Arte En Paella
One of the most surprising paella entires of the day was the vegan option by Awake the Great! The rice had great texture and the flavors were citrusy and smoky from the crunchy coconut toppings. I was so impressed with what they did!
After guests had paella and drinks in their bellies, things started to get muy divertida or fun. Hey, it’s a party!
Paella Man danced around the party and posted for pictures with guests as the mariachi band played on stage.
I have to say my MOST favorite part of the event, other than the amazing food, was in the VIP section (consider this upgrade for next year’s event). While judges were still tasting and deliberating, there was what I can only describe as a Sing Off. Chefs, guests and other VIPS would step up and belt out a song one after the other. Here’s an example:
My brain was trying to absorb everything at once, and my stomach was telling me to go take a nap. “Wow, these chefs can cook AND sing??” There was some serious talent at this event. Note to self: Step up my chef game and start singing while cooking.
The San Diego Paella & Wine event was a huge success, and I’m not proud to admit that it’s been a whole day after the event and I’m still full. I ate THAT much.
Can’t wait for this event next year, and here’s my tips if you’re planning on attending in 2017:
1. You are allowed to bring chairs and a picnic blanket. Take advantage of this and do it!
2. Wear a hat & bring sunscreen. Despite the threat of rain, in true San Diego fashion, we ended up with gorgeous weather.
3. If you are with a friend, I recommend splitting up into different lines. Most of the servings are rather large, so you can share and taste more of the offerings.
4. Drink water throughout the day. Stay hydrated and pace yourself, like these judges (below)…they did have to taste ALL of those entries after all!
¡Ay, Carumba! Only 32 more paellas to taste!
Until next year! For more information on this event, please visit: Paella & Wine Festival Congrats to the The San Diego Culinary Arts School for taking first prize!
Thank you to the Paella & Wine Festival for hosting me and my fabulous photographer for the day.
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