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2012 Was a Year of Eating Well


The Pearl has become a food lover’s center for festivals as well as restaurants.

Bliss is aptly named.

As we approach the end of 2012, it’s time to look back on the many great flavors that we sampled. The list is lengthy, thanks to a decided upturn in culinary offerings across the city, both on the dining scene and for the food lover in general.

One of the biggest food stories of the year was the continued growth of the Pearl Brewery, which saw the opening of three praise-worthy eateries and a trendy bar. It also was the location of an increasing number of food festivals, meaning thousands from all over the city were showing up on a regular basis for cooking demonstrations at the Saturday farmers market, for paella, burgers and barbecue or tamales, and for the restaurants, all in the quest of good food.

A glimpse into the kitchen at the Granary.

The list of new restaurants includes the Granary ‘Cue and Brew, which restored beer making to the premises. Artisan barbecue, fine brews and an irresistible condiment known as ‘cue butter all made this a welcome addition. The Boiler House Texas Grill and Wine Garden delivers on the belief that quality grilled meat is prerequisite in the Lone Star State, and the massive setting, covering two stories, is epic enough to complement chef James Moore’s ranch-style fare.

The most intriguing addition, though, is NAO, the Culinary Institute of America’s full-service restaurant, which has provided San Antonio with its broadest and most authentic taste of South and Central American cuisines to date. These exciting flavors, from seafood stews and roasted meats to an inviting cocktail program, have somehow not been able to secure a foothold before in a city that values its Tex-Mex above all; yet in just a few months, NAO has developed a local following, and its client base should grow as word continues to get out to the rest of the country that the school has a campus and a destination restaurant here. When the visiting chef series returns, with culinary stars from countries as diverse as Brazil, Peru and Argentina, you’d be wise to make your reservations as soon as possible.

The CIA’s flagship restaurant in San Antonio.

NAO is also built on the concept of small plates, which has also not been widely popular in San Antonio. Yet Bite in the Southtown area and a revitalized Nosh on Austin Highway are joining in the effort to break that mold.

Southtown continued to attract diners from across the city, as Mark Bliss returned with a new restaurant, the aptly named Bliss. The warmth of the place, the impressive setting and the comfort of the food, especially when enjoyed at the chef’s table in the kitchen, all help place it among the city’s best.

Johnny Hernandez opened two distinct venues in the Southtown area, if not Southtown proper. They include the Frutería at the Steel House Lofts, where you can get everything from market-fresh fruit for breakfast to an impressive array of, you got it, small plates for dinner, and Casa Hernán, an airy catering facility and brunch spot in his own home.

Another welcome addition to the Southtown scene was the Alamo Street Eat Bar, a food truck park that featured crazy good burgers from Cullum’s Attaboy, the Peacemaker combination of pork belly and fried oysters from Where Y’At and the DUK Truck’s duck confit tacos. Add Zum Sushi, The Institute of Chili, Wheelie Gourmet and a few other visitors, as well as a great beer lineup, and you’ve got some wonderful fresh treats. And what do food trucks provide but small plates, albeit from different plates, giving you the feel of being on a tapas trail?

An “Eat Street” crew films at the Point Park & Eats.

Another food truck park that opened up north in Leon Springs was the Point Park & Eat, which also offers a great beer selection and a wide array of foods from a lineup that has changed in the months that it’s been open. The culinary confections come from trucks such as Skinny Cat, Gourmet on the Fly, Blazin’ Burgers and Say-She-Ate.

Television continued to discover may of these culinary gems. Say-She-Ate was one of four food trucks filmed for the TV series, “Eat Street.” The others include Rickshaw Stop, Tapa Tapa and Society Bakery. Meanwhile, PBS celebrity chef Ming Tsai came to town to film segments of “Simply Ming” with Diana Barrios Treviño from Los Barrios, Elizabeth Johnson of the CIA, John Besh of Lüke (visiting from New Orleans) and Johnny Hernandez at La Gloria.

Sustenio, with Stephan Pyles’ blessing and David Gilbert’s gifts, made people realize the Eilan Hotel Resort and Spa off I-10 was not just a pretty façade. Its menu, with much of the dishes derived from local meats and produce, features an exciting array of ceviches that captured the freshness of the sea and a number of dishes using South Texas Heritage Pork products.

The $13 Burger at Knife & Fork.

The gastropub movement continued with the opening of Knife & Fork in the Stone Oak area. An outgrowth of the Bistro Six food truck, it offered a $13 Burger worth every cent, an extensive cocktail program and a laid-back atmosphere.

Meanwhile, the bistronomy craze — a hybrid of “bistro” and “gastronomy” — could be found in Laurent’s Modern Cuisine on McCullough Avenue. Next door to the still-vibrant and dependable Bistro Vatel, it proved that a segment of San Antonio does love its French food.

For those who enjoy a meal every now and then at home, the number of gourmet groceries grew, thanks to the addition of Trader Joe’s in the Quarry Extension and a second Whole Foods on Blanco Road, north of Loop 1604. The food warehouse Gaucho Gourmet expanded its hours to the public to six days a week, while Groomer’s Seafood reeled in even more seafood lovers, especially when lobsters hit a mouthwatering low of $5.95 apiece.

Classic cocktails have made a comeback.

San Antonio lifted it spirits high during the year. Distilled spirits, that is. Mixed drinks, both shaken and stirred, got a huge boost from the first annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference. But it didn’t stop there. The Blue Box in the Pearl and the downtown Brooklynite joined the likes of Bar 1919 in the Blue Star Complex and the bar at NAO as havens for hand-crafted classic cocktails. A rye sour shaken with traditional egg white, a real martini made with gin and a pisco sour bright with freshly squeezed citrus were all incentives that made exploring these nightspots fun.

Expect beer’s popularity to soar in the new year. Beyond the excellent brews at the Granary, we await Alamo Beer’s ambitious plans for a downtown complex that will feature a restaurant as well as a brewing facility as well as the launch of Branchline Brewery.

What else can we expect? The Pearl will continue to expand with the openings of Jesse Perez’s Arcade Midtown Kitchen and an as-yet-unnamed venture from Steven McHugh as well as the move of Green Vegetarian Cuisine, all of which will add to the draw of the campus. Culinaria has announced plans for a community garden center offering food and agricultural education for the city. Andrew Weissman is taking over the former Liberty Bar site on Josephine Street.

With these strides forward on so many fronts, the city’s culinary scene should continue to offer some enticing new flavors for anyone with a healthy appetite.

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Christmas Is Coming. That Means It’s Time for Tamales!


Tamales! returns to the Pearl Saturday.

Christmas meals mean tamales in many San Antonio homes. So, it’s a sign that the season is drawing near when the annual Tamales! Holiday Festival returns to Pearl Brewery.

The third annual celebration will be from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free.

“We’re so excited to invite all of San Antonio to come celebrate the holidays at our third annual Tamales! Festival,” said Elizabeth Fauerso, chief marketing officer at Pearl. “This event is becoming a real San Antonio tradition, and it’s so great to see people from near and far get together to enjoy great food, music and to honor our San Antonio culinary traditions.”

There will be more than 35 different tamale vendors, and visitors will be invited to explore the full range of tamales from traditional San Antonio classics to South American to sweet, vegetarian and many more. The Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio will partner with Pearl to bring the whole property to life with the new Brew House Plaza, Boiler House alley and outdoor kitchen. Regional amateurs, culinary students, popular restaurants and esteemed chefs will showcase a blend of innovation, experimentation and classic tamales. Among the participants are chefs Jesse T. Perez and Johnny Hernandez, Los Barrios and Tellez

The competition features such categories as best chicken tamal, best pork tamal, a wild card category and, new this year, best tamal using H-E-B Primo Picks products.

Pearl Farmers Market will still take place this Saturday, but it will be in the East Parking lot of the Full Goods building for this one time.

Pearl is located 303 Pearl Parkway. For more information about events at Pearl, visit www.atpearl.com.

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H-E-B Rounds Up Some Food and Fun, All in the Name of Charity


Where Y’at serves up New Orleans barbecue shrimp.

Shoppers in the area of Loop 1604 and Blanco Road know the H-E-B Plus there as a dependable source of great food to cook with. On Saturday, the store proved it once again, only this time the food was free and it was ready to eat.

Jason Dady serves up his nachos while his daughter, Tessa, watches. Saturday was her birthday.

The parking lot of the supermarket was the site of the first H-E-B Food Truck Face Off, and it brought four of the city’s mobile kitchens together for a friendly competition.

The competitors all had to use H-E-B products in their dishes, which were served up to hungry lines of people until their supply ran out.

The crowds enjoy the free food.

By the time the judges’ had finished their work, Pieter Sypesteyn of Where Y’At had taken first place for his New Orleans barbecue shrimp, made with Chimay ale and baguette, both included among H-E-B’s Primo Products.

His victory meant that Gordon Pictures, a Christian movie production ministry, would take home $10,000 from H-E-B. Sypesteyn also won the people’s choice award, which brought another $500 to the charity.

Jason Dady and his DUK Truck took second place with Not’Cho Dady, nachos made entirely with H-E-B Primo Products. His $5,000 prize will be going to Culinaria’s new educational center and community gardens.

Johnny Hernandez brought his True Flavors catering wagon out and made pulled pork tacos, which earned $2,500 for the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus.

Michael Anthony Romo and his MARS Mobile Kitchen also served up an heirloom tomato and watermelon gazpacho.

This is the first of H-E-B’s Face Offs. The reaction from the crowds should guarantee it won’t be the last.

Johnny Hernandez (center) and his team make pork tacos.

MARS Mobile Kitchen offers heirloom tomato and watermelon gazpacho.

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H-E-B, Food Trucks Team Up for Charity


Pieter Sypesteyn of Where Y’At

This Saturday morning, you can do your grocery shopping, have a snack or two, and help a local charity.

The parking lot in front of the H-E-B Plus at the corner of Loop 1604 and Blanco Road will be the setting of a Food Truck Face Off, featuring four mobile kitchens competing against each other. The fun starts at 10 a.m.

Each of the chefs will be using H-E-B products in their food. After their efforts are judged, the winner will be able to designate a charity to receive a donation.

The participants include Jason Dady’s DUK Truck, Johnny Hernandez’s True Flavors, Michael Anthony Romo’s MARS Mobile Kitchen and Pieter Sypesteyn’s Where Y’At.

The public can enjoy food from the trucks until noon.

 

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An Evening of Chefs, Cellars and Camaraderie


A member of the NAO team prepares bowls for Chefs and Cellars.

Chef Jesse T. Perez (right) plates one of his dishes.

It’s a fairly simple recipe. Culinaria’s annual Chefs and Cellars brings together a few of the city’s best chefs with some finely aged wines from private cellars. Nothing complicated, right? Yet the end result is a gustatory delight that always gains an alchemical element that comes from the camaraderie that occurs whenever people share common — or in this case, uncommon and exceptional — food and wine.

Kampachi, Uni and Yuzu Kosho from chef John Brand.

Sunday night’s dinner, held in the kitchens at the Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio, featured five teams going all out to create a memorable evening, which may explain why the event was sold out months in advance.

Chef Jason Dady and his crew presented an evening of tapas inspired by a recent visit to Spain and elBulli. Among the more than two dozen small plates he offered were salt-roasted prawns, boquerones, pan tomate, bone marrow tartare, corn pudding on a lime wedge, foie gras-eel croissant and garbanzo bean stew with lobster. Wine merchant Woody de Luna offered a series of Spanish wines including a 1978 Gran Reserva CUNE Viña Real and 2009 Raventos i Blanc de Nit Rose Cava.

Chef Johnny Hernandez plates a dish.

John Brand from Las Canarias and Ostra paired several types of sashimi-style seafood (Kampachi, Uni and Yuzu Kosho) and smoked roe with at 2001 Chablis Grand Cru Vaudésir Jean Paul Droin from Scott Duncan’s collection. He playfully presented a Monterey Bay sardine inside a decorative tin while Oregon sturgeon and American caviar were served in a salt cod box. Red deer striploin and foie gras with maitake mushrooms were paired with 1996 Chateau Cantemerle Haut-Medoc Bordeaux.

Jason Dady (left) slices Jose Andrews’ Jamon Iberico.

Lobster al Pastor was the starting dish from chef Johnny Hernandez, who followed it up with a chile relleno with cochinita pibil, a beef short rib with mole, and a grilled New York strip with plantain tamarind demi and a huitlacoche tlacoyo.

Chefs Jesse T. Perez and James Moore were partnered to showcase two talents who are opening restaurants in the Pearl Brewery this fall. Perez showed off plans for Arcade Midtown Kitchen, which specializes in American fare, while Moore, known for his work at Max’s Wine Dive, will be in charge of the Boiler House Texas Grill and Wine Garden. Among the dishes they served were a fresh lobster soft taco with sweet potato, shrimp and grits, Heritage pork belly with Granny Smith compote, red beet sorbetto, and smoked lamb chop and mushroom. Phil Seelig and Hien Nguyen offered the wines, including Pol Roger Brut Rosé 2002, two vintages of Sassicaia and 1975 Croft Port.

Chef John Brand’s team prepares a dish.

New to the event this year was the team from the CIA’s NAO under the direction of chef Geronimo Lopez. New World flavors and cocktails included honey-sous vide sweetbreads, pan-seared squab, cherry-smoked xuxu salad and wood-roasted wild boar chop. The pair of cocktails included La Entrada, made with cachaça, maraschino and Crème Yvette, and Interludio, a mix of grapefruit, Aperol, Campari and Pisco. Richard and Bunny Becker offered the wines to go with the meal.

It didn’t take much time before the guests started comparing plates and even sharing a few bites or sips — and the real reason this evening is a success each year became readily apparent.

For more information on upcoming Culinaria events, click on the ad at the top of the page. The next event is Feastivàl on Oct. 7.

Red deer striploin with foie gras, spice bread, a parsnip puree and maitake mushrooms from chef John Brand.

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Kicking Off Restaurant Week at La Gloria


Ribs with a tamarind sauce at La Gloria.

Tax-free weekend and the start of Culinaria’s Restaurant Week ended up overlapping this year, which left me thinking that I could save some money, increase my sartorial splendor (ha!) and have a great meal all in one trip.

La Gloria Ice House

So, after visiting a few clothing stores, I ended up at La Gloria Ice House in the Pearl Brewery Complex, along with the overflowing throngs that crowded Johnny Hernandez’s restaurant Saturday evening.

I stumbled in by myself, armed with the latest book I’m reading for one of my classes, a cheery volume of social science  called “Be Very Afraid: The Cultural Response to Terror, Pandemics, Environmental Devastation, Nuclear Annihilation, and Other Threats.”  I was ready to party.

Thankfully, so were the staff at La Gloria. My waitress soon presented me with a sweet-tart margarita on the house,  the kind of mental lubrication that made all seem right with the world.

Tuna ceviche at La Gloria.

Soon, I was presented with the first course of La Gloria’s dinner special for Restaurant Week, a scallop shell topped with an artfully arranged fan of tuna marinated in lime. The four slender strips of seafood appeared to be delicate, but their flavor was bold, as were the complementary items on the shell, from the habanero sauce to the single leaf of fresh cilantro on top.

I let out a big laugh when I saw the main course headed my way. After the dainty appetizer appeared a plate piled massively high with four beef ribs slathered in a tamarind sauce. Messy, yes, but I couldn’t stop myself from just tearing into the top rib, even as the sauce painted my face while my teeth tore into the meat, all dense and juicy and satisfying. Thankfully, there were plenty of napkins on the table.

Corn cake with pineapple.

I could only finish two of the ribs, but I managed to polish off the two quesadillas with fresh corn kernels buried in the melted cheese and the grilled onion that arrived perched atop the mountain of meat.

Dessert was a slice of custardy corn cake with fresh pineapple, not too sweet and light enough after the meat to finish off the evening on a pleasant note.

So, where are you headed during Restaurant Week? Lunch menus are $15, while dinner specials are $35 for multi-course meals. For a list of participants, click on the Culinaria ad at the top of the page.

La Gloria Ice House
100 E. Grayson St.
(210) 267-9040

 

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‘Nothing Significant Happens without Food,’ Johnny Hernandez Says


Johnny Hernandez applauds the graduating class at The Culinary Institute of America's main campus.

Johnny Hernandez, named one of the top five Latino chefs in the United States by Siempre Mujer magazine, returned to the college that launched his thriving career Thursday and served as commencement speaker at The Culinary Institute of America’s Hyde Park, N.Y., campus.

“You have chosen the most exciting career in the most exciting industry in the world today,” Hernandez told 88 recipients of associate degrees in culinary arts and baking and pastry arts. “We are at the center of every celebration, because nothing significant happens without food.”

The 43-year-old San Antonio native remembered the advice of his late father, who only had a second grade education but whose work ethic that inspired him to become the chef and entrepreneur he is today: “You have to do what you love, so you don’t have to work.”

Hernandez’s love has resulted in an expanding restaurant empire that includes La Gloria Ice House, adjacent to the CIA’s San Antonio campus, along with Casa Hernán and True Flavors Catering Company. Two more restaurants and his first cookbook are in the works.

In presenting Hernandez with the college’s Gold Medal following the address, CIA President Tim Ryan called him “a favorite son of San Antonio.”

“Today marks the beginning of a great future that is only limited by your ability to dream big … with the solid foundation of the great culinary education you received here at the CIA,” Hernandez, who earned his CIA degree in 1989, advised graduates. A member of the college’s Alumni Council and Latin Foods Advisory Board, he has been a strong supporter of the CIA San Antonio, raising funds for college scholarships through his annual Paella Challenge contest.

 

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Casa Hernán Brings a Rustic, Hacienda-Style Elegance to Catering Scene


Nothing says San Antonio hospitality quite like a freshly made margarita.

San Antonio chef and caterer Johnny Hernandez is inviting people into his home.

Bistec tacos are one dish available at Casa Hernan.

Casa Hernán, just off Southtown at 411 Cevallos, is a catering venue that is now open to the public for private party rentals. The opulent space reflects the hacienda style of interior Mexico, from the koi pond at the front entrance to the colorful dining area with room for several food stations.

The dishes at Casa Hernan.

Hernandez, who also operates La Gloria Ice House at the Pearl Brewery,  has had the place decorated with an elegance mixed with a bold, traditional color scheme that is both energizing and tranquil and makes you feel far from the neighboring railroad tracks and right at home next to La Tuna Grill.

At the opening party, the chef and his catering company, True Flavors, put on a spread that included samples from the various menus clients can choose from. Dishes included fish in an hoja santa sauce, several ceviches, bistec tacos, sopes and cochinita pibil as well as tres leches cake  shooters for dessert.

You don’t have to wait for an invitation to a private party to see Casa Hernán. Come September, Hernandez is opening the space for a monthly Sunday brunch with each focusing on the regional foods of interior Mexico.

For more information, visit trueflavors.com.

The main dining area at Casa Hernan.

 

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Light Three Candles for the Pearl Farmers Market This Saturday


The Pearl Farmers Market turns three on Saturday.

The Pearl Farmers Market, 200 E. Grayson St., celebrates its third birthday this weekend in style.

The fun at the Pearl begins Friday evening with the final Spring Echale! featuring performances from Chico Trujillo, Ana Tijoux and Bombasta. Showtime is 7 p.m.

Then, on Saturday, Pearl marks its birthday with tastings from San Antonio chefs, giveaways and live music for the whole family. It’s a great way to get some last-minute gifts for Mother’s Day.

“Pearl Farmers Market, where each vendor is located within 150 miles of San Antonio, has become a major source of food and fun for our community. For three years, we have connected with the people that grow our food, raised awareness of seasonal eating and the struggles of farming, and brought people together with local food at the center,” said Tatum Evans, Pearl Farmers Market Manager . “We are thankful to the farmers who plant, grow, raise and harvest our food and thankful to the thousands of shoppers who attend market on Saturdays.”

“Going into our third year at Pearl Farmers Market is just as exciting as the very first day we opened. We see new customers every market day who become regular shoppers every Saturday. Local restaurants, individuals, visitors, and families have become part of the Pearl Farmers Market community,” said Cora Lamar, president of the Pearl Farmers Market Association and owner of Oak Hill Farm. “We at Pearl Farmers Market enjoy bringing San Antonio the best LOCAL produce, meats, eggs, and value added foods every Saturday of the year.”

Among the chefs who’ll be on hand are Jeff Balfour (Citrus), John Brand (Las Canarias and Ostra), Chad Carey (The Monterey), Jason Dady (Tre Tratorria, Bin 555, Two Bros. BBQ), Mark Weaver (Tre Trattoria Alamo Heights), Matt Hanck (Tre Tratorria Downtown), PJ Edwards (Bin 555), Jeff Foresman (The Westin), Jason Garcia (Ocho), Steven McHugh (Luke) and Rob Yoas (RoMo’s Café).

Additionally, MesAlegre returns with a complete sensory experience for food enthusiasts with a fantastic lunch prepared by La Gloria’s Johnny Hernandez. There is availability for 40 reservations, please call 210-434-4388 for more information or to make reservations for MesAlegre.

Market hours are 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

 

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Paella and Perfect Weather, Just as Johnny Hernandez Ordered It


Zach Lutton of Zedric's makes his paella, which won second place in the challenge.

Ty-Lor Boring uses his burner to cook lobster.

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.

"Top Chef" favorite Lindsay Autry

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.

The student team from Lanier placed second in the new high school challenge.

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.

Winning chef James Canter celebrates with his son.

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.

It's paella for all, with many of the chefs, including Steven McHugh of Luke, making multiple trays.

It's paella for all, with many of the chefs, including Steven McHugh of Luke, making multiple trays.

 

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