Saturday did not end on a pretty note, in terms of weather. Cold, miserable rain left the ground saturated and spirits low. Luminaria had to be postponed, and hopes were not high for the third annual Paella Challenge at the Pearl Brewery.
Yet on Sunday morning, the clouds fled the scene, leaving a healing sun in its wake that dried out the amphitheater and made for a perfect afternoon that drew hundreds of people who wanted to sample paella made by many of the city’s best chefs as well as several out-of-town visitors, including several chefs from the recent “Top Chef” Texas season.
Credit for the success of the event goes to organizer Johnny Hernandez, said David Kellaway, managing director of the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus, which is also at the brewery.
The event is a fundraiser for the culinary school as well as the educational arm of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“The energy and passion (Hernandez displays) towards educating our youth in the culinary arts cannot be quantified,” Kellaway said.
Hernandez, who owns La Gloria Ice House and True Flavors Catering, had wanted the lot power washed before the event, and it seems as if God obliged, the school official joked.
The styles of paella varied greatly. Jason Dady and his crew presented a version blackened with squid ink yet brightened with fresh green herbs. The folks from Max’s Wine Dive offered a Texas paella with game meats and a chipotle butter. Visiting chef Tim McCarty from Minnesota offered three P’s: pork, prawns and popcorn, with ribs and pork belly in the mix.
Mustachioed chef Ty-Lor Boring from “Top Chef” added a dramatic touch by firing his lobster directly in the flames of his burner. Last year’s champion, Jeff Balfour of Citrus at the Hotel Valencia, offered a paella that featured chicken and arrived topped with egg, which was meant to leave you wondering which came first.
In the end only three of more than two dozen entries would be honored. They were, in order, James Canter of Alhambra in McAllen; Zach Lutton of Zedric’s: Healthy Gourmet to Go, 9873 I-1o W.; and Peter Holt of Lupe Tortilla, which has a San Antonio location at 21103 U.S. 281 N.
Canter arrived at the winner’s table with his son perched high on one shoulder, prompting Kellaway to remark that he had already been given the best award of all.
This year, for the first time, San Antonio high schools were eligible to complete in their own division. Six schools showed up, including Burbank, John Jay, Lanier, McCollum, Memorial and Roosevelt. There was a lot riding on a terrific paella from the students, because the winning team will receive a four-day, all-expenses-paid trip to the CIA’s main campus in Hyde Park.
The winners, in order, were John Jay, Lanier and Memorial.
McCarty, who works for Sodexo, participated last year and was certainly enjoying himself once more. “As long as I make a great paella, I’m already a winner,” he said, while spooning up plates and handing them to the crowds that waited in line.