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Pork Rules at Paella Challenge

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Jeff Balfour's paella

Want to make your own award-winning paella at home? Start with a whole roasted pig.

That was chef Jeff Balfour’s secret at Sunday’s second annual Paella Challenge at the Pearl Brewery.

“We took a roasted whole pig, a happy little Texas pig,” said a beaming and exhausted Balfour of Citrus at the Hotel Valencia, 150 E. Houston St., shortly after winning the award. His team used the shoulder and the butt among other fleshy parts in the paella itself and then garnished each serving with succulent bits of tongue and cheek.

It was over the top and gave Balfour victory in the competition. “We placed third last year and first this year,” he said, while holding the crown-shaped award.

Jeffrey Balfour of Citrus with his award.

Balfour offers paella at Citrus, but it’s a made-to-order version. For those who couldn’t make Sunday’s Paella Challenge but want to try the chef’s winning creation, it will likely be offered for a few nights in the near future, he said. Call 210-230-8412 for more details.

Winning second place was the team from Lüke, which is near Citrus at 125 E. Houston St. “They’re practically just right across the street from us,” Balfour said.

Chef Stephen McHugh, who worked with John Besh on the Lüke team, also used pork in their paella. Pork belly, actually, which was mixed with crawfish. McHugh was grateful for second place considering it was the team’s first time to participate.

Third place went to Jhojans Priego of Villa Rica in Veracruz, Mexico.

Last year’s champion, Ben Ford of Ford’s Filling Station in Culver City, Calif., had planned on defending his title. But word had it that a bad case of food poisoning prevented him from showing.

Crowds enjoy the perfect weather as well as the excellent food.

What he missed was an imaginative array of paellas that used ingredients in wholly unexpected ways, said Leslie Horne of Aurelia’s Chorizo in Boerne. Truffles and foraged mushrooms as well as her chorizo were among the ingredients the throngs sampled in the various dishes served throughout the day.

“The imagination that went into all of these dishes was most impressive, to say the least,” Horne said. “They went the whole hog with Jeffrey’s.”

The most creative, in her opinion was a Thai green curry paella from Jeffrey Axell of the Grand Hyatt, 600 E. Market St. The dish was a way of showing off the restaurant’s new Asian fusion cuisine.

Ford may not have made the event, but other chefs from around the country did. A few included Kent Rathbun of Abacus in Dallas, Peter Holt of Houston’s Lupe Tortilla, Dale Miller of Sperry’s in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and Tim McCarty of the Mayo Foundation in Rochester, Minn., who was grateful for the balmy weather.

Paellas of all different flavors filled the event.

Local chefs who served up paellas to the hungry masses included Craig Bianco of RK Group, Brian West of the Hotel Contessa, Jason Dady of the Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills and others, and David Wirebaugh of the downtown Hyatt Regency.

Johnny Hernandez of La Gloria Ice House at the Pearl and True Flavors Catering organized the event, which benefits scholarship programs at the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus and the Education Foundation of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

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