Someday paella will move the world. And if it doesn’t, it will be very close. Alien to Talibanism, Valencia once again became the scene of World Paella Day, where 10 chefs from around the world put rice as the protagonist in an idyll that would have little to envy football.
There are rowdy spectators, revelation teams, fratricidal duels and some favorites on the base. From South Korea to Uruguay; from China to the United States; from Ireland to Costa Rica; from Peru to Ireland and from Belgium to Spain, of course. This is how the qualifying rounds have been in which chefs from a dozens of countries reinterpret paella.
And yes, because the purchase they made in the Central Market de Valencia is the most diverse, capable of terrifying the purists of Valencian paella (which is magnificent), but that would have made more than one cry in the sky.
Onion, black beer, pear syrup, duck breast, saffron, tofu, salicornia and even guinea pig, a rodent similar to a guinea pig typical of Andean cuisine … The shopping list seems like a party organized at the United Nations where everyone wants to bring a piece of their country and faith that it has been.
There are nerves, competition, some pique (inevitable, fair and necessary) and a time trial that turns chefs into the protagonists of SpeedOnly here there are no buses about to explode, but something much worse: paellas that can be passed!
A world map with a common denominator
An American with Mexican origins, a Uruguayan who enters a contest with his grandfather (a 91-year-old Spaniard born in Tui who went to Argentina almost 80 years ago), a ‘Costa Rican’ from Valencia’s Horta Nord, a Chinese with almost two decades of work in the Levantine capital and, of course, a woman from Alicante who dominates the art of flaming rice like few people.
Change the scene, all competing away from home and where the burners are buzzing. Battling in search of the socarrat, The rules of the ‘Club de la Paella’ is that there are no rules. Just rice and whatever comes up.
To agree, the jury is clear about it and distributes their scores in an equitable way to know what to expect: presentation, flavor, combination of ingredients, socarrat and cooking of the rice.
A Show where there was room for dry rice -a fundamental requirement of the preparation- and all kinds of flavors, with some lameness at the point of rice generally because a certain chaos took hold of the fact of taking out a dozen paellas at the same time.
In that bloodless war, options of cuttlefish with pumpkin, potato with cod, black beer with oysters or the display of seafood that the Chinese contestant wore in the semifinals, and of a certain purism, curiously embodied by the representatives of Peru, Uruguay and the Czech Republic. Seeing is believing.
An idyll between good vibes and flavors with a lot of contrast where you had to wake up in the cooking and also in the presentation of the fund, where the Spanish representative wins by the hand, which gets rid of the Czech contestant in a previous phase.
More or less like a Royal rumble in which a bad crossing sends you to the street, as in the case of the United States – Belgium confrontation, with two high-class rice dishes that opted for the American side, led by Natalie Curie, an Angelina but of Mexican parents.
With rice DO Valencia championing the event, in which Visit València (the city’s tourist brand) has given the chest to put on the international map a contest that is already underway second edition and it seems to last. And it is that paella is among the most sought after dishes in the world.
It can only be one
Are not The immortals, the famous movie of the eighties, but almost. After ventilating in a battle against chrono With five participants, the final was going to be dispatched among some of the morning’s big favorites. Spain, of course; but also Uruguay, Costa Rica, the United States and China, which threatened to strike with a Valencian paella.
The finalists bet on a winning horse, going to purism as a stake. Vicente Aguilar, the ‘Costa Rican’ from Valencia, played an “anti-Covid paella” of vegetables because, in his words, “it is cheap, healthy and delicious.”
Bihnji Jiang, the Chinese participant (but a Valencian for twenty years) trusted everything to a Valencian paella and, if we talk about purism, the Alicante rice of Noelia Pascual, from Elche, should be highlighted, who did not allow any margin to the rivals as if this out a climb to the Tourmalet.
“Background of rabbit and chicken, serrano snails and albufera rice”, he argued on the basis of his plate that it was by far the best measure of broth, giving margin to the socarrat but with a coarse grain and loaded with flavor.
More imaginative was Natalie Curie, who opted for Cajun style pumpkin and pork rib, and Javier Piñero, Uruguayan, who marked a vegetable rice but topped by a piece of sirloin house brand.
Tight jury negotiations and easily recognizable faces of approval (much more than in the first phase, where the grimaces were more evident) made it clear that the final was going to be tight on a few heads. With that wicker and after several minutes of tension, the contestants’ state of nerves was clear.
On the one hand, the Old World and the responsibility that the best paella in the world ran the risk of being outside of Spain. On the other hand, the interest of four chefs to show that the most international of our dishes can have good luck in other borders.
In the end the logic prevailed in a loose, flavorful, well-measured grain of broth and that he had not needed to resort to the pipette to remove some of the liquid and Noelia Pascual, chef of the Elche restaurant Cachito, takes the award home and leaves the national paella honor intact.
How could we say honor without paella is better than paella without honor.
Images | World Paella Day / Visit València
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