Do you like your paella loaded with lobster, shrimp, clams and mussels? Or maybe you’d prefer one with several types of pork? Chocolate mushrooms and fiddlehead ferns?
Whatever your taste in paella, it was probably available at the sixth annual Paella Challenge, which drew chefs from all over San Antonio, the region and a few other states. It also drew more than 1,000 people to the back of the Pearl Brewery on a Sunday afternoon to eat their fill while enjoying a glass of wine or a beer or two.
Goro Pitchford of Godai Sushi Bar spent his first visit to the Paella Challenge making a classic version of the dish, while Tim McCarty, visiting for the sixth time from Rochester, Minnesota, made a Bloody Mary paella. James Moore of TBA made a breakfast taco paella with barbacoa, carnitas, bacon, eggs, tortilla strips and two types of salsa. Lorenzo Morales of the Experiment used orzo instead of the more traditional rice and added a host of colorful cauliflower.
In addition to sampling all of the various paellas, interested home cooks could also watch the chefs put their versions together. Jesse Castellon of Spork in McAllen was using pork lard rendered from South Texas Heritage Pork, while his assistant, multiple Paella Challenger winner James Canter, seasoned the paella pan as it heated with a handful of fresh thyme. Brian West of Smoke used the meat from a pig’s head, the skull of which he displayed at his booth. Moore layered the flavors of his, starting with the bacon before adding the onion and poblano pepper, following by barbacoa, which he deglazed with mezcal.
More high schools than ever got into the spirit of the event as well, turning out beautiful paellas in a chance to bring home some glory.
Organizer Johnny Hernandez of La Gloria, True Flavors Catering and other restaurants, had originally scheduled the event on the first Sunday in March, but after two years of bad weather that weekend, he chose to move it to this weekend. Compare last weekend’s cold, wet, depressing weather with Sunday’s sun-warmed spring day, and you’ll see what a good choice he made.
The attendees, of course, were the ultimate winners of the day, getting the chance to try all of these great variations. But in the actual categories, the winners of this year’s Paella Challenge are:
First – David Gilbert, Tuk Tuk Tap Room
Second – Flor Vergara, True Flavors
Third – Jesse Perez, Arcade
First – Juan Sanchez, Groomer’s Seafood
Second – Angie Bridges, Copa Wine Bar
Third – James Foote, Victoria Country Club
Lorenzo Morales, The Experiment
H-E-B High School Paella Challenge
First – Byron P. Steele
Second – William Howard Taft
Third – Robert E. Lee