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The Paella Challenge Returns to the Pearl on March 13


Paella Gaucho mussels CanterAre you ready for some paella?

The seventh annual Paella Challenge at the Pearl is fast approaching. It will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 13.

paella soul food half cropChefs from across the city and region as well as a few from across the country will gather to present their unique take on the dish. Some will be as classic as can be, others will feature outrageous combinations of ingredients designed to delight the palate and challenge the taster. High school culinary programs from the city will also be on hand to show what they’re learning while competing for honors.

Tickets are priced at $80.12 for those 21 or older and $27.37 for those under 21. Prices include all you can eat and drink. For tickets, click here.

If you’re not familiar with paella, it’s a Spanish dish that begins with garlic and olive oil and then builds layer upon layer of flavor. Most are made with rice, but pasta is not unheard of as the base. Then you use your choice of seafood, chicken, chorizo, meats and vegetables in flavorful combinations.

At the Paella Challenge, you’ll see chefs using large paella pans and cook stands created especially for the occasion. But you don’t need any special equipment. This recipe for French Paella, from Francoise Bernard’s “La Cuisine: Everyday French Home Cooking,” uses a casserole dish or Dutch oven that you can use on a stove top. That way, you can make some for your next special occasion.

Play with the ingredients and tailor them to suit your family’s tastes.

French Paella

1 pound mussels, scrubbed and debearded
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (3 1/2-pound) chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces
5 ounces boneless bottom round veal roast, cut into 1/2-inch dice
5 ounces boneless shoulder end pork loin, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 onions, chopped
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1 or 2 zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tomatoes, peeled seeded and coarsely chopped
3 1/2 ounces Spanish chorizo, sliced crosswise
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 cups rice for paella, such as Bomba or Calasparra (see note)
Pinch of saffron threads
1 cup fresh or frozen petit pois peas
1 can artichoke bottoms, drained and quartered
1 1/2 pounds langoustines or head-on prawns

Add the mussels to a large pot, cover and cook over high heat, stirring once or twice, just until they open, 3 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels to a bowl and remove 1 shell from each. Pour the broth through a fine strainer lined with a moistened paper towel into a glass measuring cup.

paella traditionalIn a very large flame-proof casserole, melt the butter in the oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, veal and pork and cook until nicely browned. Add the onions and bell pepper and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook for 10 minutes.

Stir in the zucchini, tomatoes, chorizo, garlic and reserved mussel broth. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes.

Add the rice saffron and enough water to barely cover the rice. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Add the peas and artichokes and cook until the rice is tender and the water is absored, 10 to 20 minutes. Add the langoustines and mussels in the half shell just long enough to cook the langoustines. Transfer to a large serving dish or a large skillet and serve.

Serve sangria as an aperitif, but no hors d’oeuvre. After the paella, you can serve a salad if you like and a light dessert such as fruit or ice cream. For wine, pour a chilled rose or light red wine.

Note: Check specialty food outlets like www.gauchogourmet.com for paella rice.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

From “La Cuisine: Everyday French Home Cooking” by Francoise Bernard

paella food bank

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Scenes from the Paella Challenge


Jesse Perez's paella from Arcade Midtown Kitchen

Jesse Perez’s paella from Arcade Midtown Kitchen

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?

Breckinridge High students make paella.

Breckinridge High students make paella.

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.

Seasons of My Heart chef Susana Trilling's paella

Seasons of the Heart chef Susana Trilling’s paella

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:

Tom C. Clark High's paella

Tom C. Clark High’s paella

Contemporary Paella

First – David Gilbert, Tuk Tuk Tap Room
Second – Flor Vergara, True Flavors
Third – Jesse Perez, Arcade

Classical Paella

First – Juan Sanchez, Groomer’s Seafood
Second – Angie Bridges, Copa Wine Bar
Third – James Foote, Victoria Country Club

People’s Choice

Lorenzo Morales, The Experiment

H-E-B High School Paella Challenge

First – Byron P. Steele
Second – William Howard Taft
Third – Robert E. Lee

Diego Fernandez of Starfish uses lobster in his paella.

Diego Fernandez of Starfish uses lobster in his paella.

Acadiana Cafe offered crawdad races.

Acadiana Cafe offered crawdad races.

Lorenzo G. Morales of The Experiment uses colorful cauliflower.

Lorenzo G. Morales of The Experiment uses colorful cauliflower.

Memorial High's paella

Memorial High’s paella

Goro Pitchford (left) of Godai Sushi makes a classic paella.

Goro Pitchford (left) of Godai Sushi makes a classic paella.

Sam Houston High's paella

Sam Houston High’s paella

James Moore of TBA makes breakfast taco paella.

James Moore of TBA makes breakfast taco paella.

Tatu Herrara of Los Cocineros makes a scallop treat.

Tatu Herrara of Los Cocineros makes a scallop treat.

Zocca's team makes paella.

Zocca’s team makes paella.

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The Weather’s No Challenge for This Year’s Paella Challenge


Don Pullum, recently seen on "The Taste," and his assistant assemble their paella.

Don Pullum, recently seen on “The Taste,” and his assistant assemble their paella.

A last blast of winter didn’t stop hundreds of hungry people from turning out Sunday to the fifth annual Paella Challenge at the Pearl Brewery Sunday. But the gray skies and perpetual threat of rain did force the chefs and the sellout crowd under the 281 overpass for some protection.

Jesse Perez of Arcade Midtown Kitchen is the people's choice winner.

Jesse Perez of Arcade Midtown Kitchen is the people’s choice winner.

The new location  may have put a crimp into the parking, but people really enjoyed the more intimate space in which chefs from cross the city and across the country competed against each other to create the best and the most unique variations on paella, the classic Spanish dish that generally starts with some olive oil and garlic and finishes with a hefty dose of culinary magic. And on a cold, damp Sunday afternoon, what could be more welcome than a plate of steaming hot food laden with everything from scallops to roasted pig to clams and mussels?

David Gilbert of Tuk Tuk Taproom

David Gilbert of Tuk Tuk Taproom

Quite a few people stopped by Don Pullum’s table to talk with the man who recently finished a season on ABC’s “The Taste.” His final dish on that cooking show had been paella — and he didn’t survive the round intact — so the Mason chef and winemaker was looking for a chance to redeem himself. People loved his combination of lobster, crawfish, shrimp, and more over rice seasoned with plenty of saffron and other seasonings, as they did creations from a host of chefs, including Susanna Trilling, Robbie Nowlin, Stefan Bowers, Angie Bridges, Zach Lutton, Steven McHugh and Jason Dady. Chef James Canter of Victoria County Club, who has taken top prize several years in a row, became a judge this year, but he also managed to have a booth out of the competition.

The end result was a tasty way of raising money for scholarships, which will go to local culinary students, organizer Johnny Hernandez reminded the crowd before handing out the awards to the following winners:

Cesar Cervantes of El Bucanero joined Jeff Balfour to create a winning paella.

Cesar Cervantes of El Bucanero joined Jeff Balfour to create a winning paella.

High school:

  1. Robert E. Lee
  2. Brennan
  3. Sam Houston

Classic:

  1. Tim Rattray, the Granary
  2. Michael Sohoki, Restaurant Gwendolyn
  3. Michael Skibitcky, H-E-B

Non-traditional:

  1. The winning team from Robert E. Lee High School.

    The winning team from Robert E. Lee High School.

    David Gilbert, Tuk Tuk Taproom

  2. Jeff Balfour, an upcoming Pearl restaurant, and Cesar Cervantes of El Bucanero
  3. Jordan Mackey, Las Ramblas, Hotel Contessa

People’s choice:

  1. Jesse Perez, Arcade Midtown Kitchen

By winning their division, the students from Robert E. Lee High School will be traveling to New York City and on to the Culinary Institute of America main campus at Hyde Park, N.C.

Susana Trilling makes paella with her team.

Susana Trilling makes paella with her team.

Paella from Stefan Bowers of Feast.

Paella from Stefan Bowers of Feast.

Members of the Memorial High School team prepare their paella.

Members of the Memorial High School team prepare their paella.

Paella from Tim McCarty of Rochester, Minn.

Paella from Tim McCarty of Rochester, Minn.

The folks from Acadiana Cafe stage crawfish races.

The folks from Acadiana Cafe stage crawfish races.

Paella from chef David Delgado of the San Antonio Food Bank.

Paella from chef David Delgado of the San Antonio Food Bank.

 

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Paella and Prizes Fill a Sunday at the Pearl


Students from Memorial High School accept the first place award for their paella.

Students from Memorial High School accept the first place award for their paella.

The storm clouds rolled past during the middle of the night, leaving Sunday with a healthy glow of light and a steady breeze for more than 1,000 to enjoy the 4th annual Paella Challenge at the Pearl Brewery.

Brian West (right) of the Culinary Institute of America makes paella.

Brian West (right) of the Culinary Institute of America makes paella.

The annual cook-off, created by chef Johnny Hernandez as a fundraiser for culinary scholarships, brought an array of chefs from across town as well as around the country and Mexico to participate.

The lineup included a number of long-time participants, such as Rene Fernandez of Azuca, Zach Lutton of Zedric’s and Jason and Jake Dady, while newcomers, including Mark Bliss of Bliss and Angie Bridges of Copa Wine Bar, dished up their best. Jesse Perez of Arcade Midtown Kitchen served up a seafood paella with fideo as the base, and Susana Trilling went with a traditional take that featured bright amounts of saffron and garlic in the base. Brian West and a team from the Culinary Institute of America weren’t in competition but they did serve up six different pans of paella to the hungry crowds.

Serving up Susana Trilling's paella.

Serving up Susana Trilling’s paella.

A fairly constant breeze made it hard for some of the chefs to keep their burners working steadily. Some used baking sheets to prevent the wind from extinguishing their burners. Others found that the fire would burn so hot that it had to be turned off to prevent the paella from burning.

The crowds didn’t seem to mind, as they waited patiently for dishes from Jeff White of Boiler House Texas Grill, Jeffrey Balfour of Citrus and Steven McHugh. One of the visiting chefs, Jehangir Mehta, known from his appearances on “Iron Chef,” looked out over the huge get-together and marveled at how well-run and fun the day turned out to be.

In the end, Hernandez announced the winners of this year’s high school division, which went to Memorial High School, followed by John Jay High School and Sam Houston. The winners earned a trip to New York, where they’ll visit the CIA’s main campus in Hyde Park and be able to shadow chefs in action.

The crowd listens to the winners being announced.

The crowd listens to the winners being announced.

This year’s judging was slightly different in that three top awards were handed out.

Clint Connaway of Max’s Wine Dive walked off with the people’s choice award, while Flor Vergara of Hernandez’s True Flavors took home the award for best contemporary paella.

The award for best classical paella went to James Canter, who won the top honor last year as well. Canter also was in charge of making the paella for Ben Ford’s team, which won the top award during the first Paella Challenge.

Canter, who is now chef at the Victoria Country Club, was in tears when he took the stage with his team to accept.

Given his track record, you can expect Canter to return for the fifth Paella Challenge next March.

The winners: Flor Vergara (right), host Johnny Hernandez, Clint Connaway and James Canter.

The winners: Flor Vergara (left), host Johnny Hernandez, Clint Connaway and James Canter.

 

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Paella’s a Dish You Can Make to Suit Your Tastes


Food lovers watch Zach Lutton (center) and an assistant create a massive paella with plenty of seafood in it.

Food lovers watch Zach Lutton (center) and an assistant create a massive paella with plenty of seafood in it.

Making a good paella is all about layering the flavors you have, which could be anything from lobster and clams to chicken and chorizo. Then there’s the sofrito, an aromatic mixture of garlic, tomatoes, peppers and onions cooked in olive oil, as well as saffron and rice.

Zach Lutton of Zedric's adds a prawn to his paella.

Zach Lutton of Zedric’s adds a prawn to his paella.

But the key ingredient, in Zach Lutton’s opinion, is the stock.

That’s what the owner of Zedric’s Healthy Gourmet to Go believes, and it’s what he says helped him win second place in last year’s Paella Challenge at the Pearl Brewery. This year’s challenge is Sunday, and Lutton will be back, hoping to move up to first place. To give himself a warmup and promote the event, he offered a demonstration of how to make the Spanish dish during a recent Pearl Farmers Market. If the reaction of the crowd is any indication, his bounteous tray topped with heads-on prawns, mussels, clams, baby octopi, chorizo, peas, red bell peppers and even some lemon halves should keep him in the running.

“The stock is the most important ingredient in the whole dish,” he said, adding that he had made his with both lobster bodies and chicken.  “It is the flavor of the paella.”

But that doesn’t mean you’re home free if you’ve got good stock. Paella takes practice, Lutton said.

“This isn’t a quick thing,” he told the crowded class during his cooking demonstration. “Take your time with it. Practice it a few times.”

To begin, decide the ingredients you are going to use. Start with the rice, which should be short grain, such as Bomba, not arborio, which is the rice used in risotto. If chicken is on the list, brown it in some olive oil at the bottom of the pan, but don’t cook it through. You can remove it and use the oil base to make your sofrito, though Lutton doesn’t. He slow cooks his for two hours and lets it rest over night.

But this the time to add it to the pan. Then the rice goes in and each grain gets coated. This is the point when the chicken returns to the pan as well as the chorizo, followed by the stock. Again, this is not risotto, so you don’t stir and stir until each last drop of stock has been absorbed. In fact, you don’t stir the dish at all as it cooks over the heat. But you do need to watch it. After 15 minutes or so, “when you see the rice coming up and the liquid disappearing, you’re headed in the right direction,” the chef said.

Zach Lutton dishes up paella.

Zach Lutton dishes up paella.

Be careful that too much liquid doesn’t disappear or you could burn your paella. Expert paella makers want a crusty bottom, which is also known as socarrat, but no one wants it burned. And Lutton advised beginners not to worry about that. He admitted that he doesn’t pay attention to that when he’s making paella, though it is one of the categories paellas are judged on in competitions.

He was more concerned about getting the seasoning right. Paella is a subtle dish, so a strong spice such as saffron has to be used judiciously. “Don’t add too much saffron, because it can overpower the dish,” he said. He limits his other seasonings to salt and pepper.

Shortly before the broth had been absorbed, Lutton and his assistants added the seafood to the top, again not stirring the mixture. Instead, they planted the bottom of the shellfish into the rice mixture, so the heat could cook them, allowing the mussels and clams to open. The enormous prawns were set in a ring at the center, while the baby octopi were arranged in a ring around the outside. Peas and red peppers were sprinkled on top, adding color as well as flavor.

The entire pan was then covered in aluminum foil so it could rest before serving. The crowd was getting a little hungry, waiting for a sample. “I promise y’all’ll eat soon,” he said with a chuckle. “Just give me about 10 more minutes.”

Tenting the pan allowed the steam to cook any of the seafood above the rice. It also released an enticing aroma that had people eager to try a dish, which Lutton and one of his assistants spooned up in generous amounts, making sure people could taste whatever they wanted from the array of meats that had been included.

Only Lutton seemed to find fault with the paella, which he said was slightly soupy. “But it’s still good, no matter what,” he added. “That stock is awesome.”

Zach Lutton's paella

Zach Lutton’s paella

If you want to make your own paella, be aware that proportions vary depending on the size of the pan used. Pans run in size from 7 1/2 inches to those more than several feet wide. Your best bet is to find a recipe, such as Leslie Horne’s for Texas Quail, Chorizo and Mushroom Paella, which was created for a 15-inch paella and serves about six people. You can find paella pans and burners at GauchoGourmet, 935 Isom Road, and Melissa Guerra Tienda de Cocina in the Pearl Brewery, 312 Pearl Parkway.

You can also make paella any way you like. In Spain, you might find some cooks using pasta instead of rice. You could use only vegetables or only seafood, eliminate the seafood entirely or add what you have in the freezer.

I judged a non-traditional paella challenge in Austin last fall alongside James Canter, the chef who won last year’s Paella Challenge. We tasted a Hawaiian paella seasoned with jamaica, or hibiscus flowers, and another topped with fried eggs and avocado in a ranchero style. One team offered a chicken tinga paella with radishes and cotija cheese. There was even a dessert paella, which was actually more like rice pudding. The winner was a soul food paella made with pig’s feet, ham hocks and chicken gizzards among an array of down-home ingredients. The pictures below illustrate that the type of paella you make is bounded only by your own imagination.

For information on the fourth annual Paella Challenge, click here.

Paella Ranchero

Paella Ranchero

Soul Food Paella

Soul Food Paella

A Hawaiian paella with shrimp, pineapple, artichokes and hibiscus rice.

A Hawaiian paella with shrimp, pineapple, artichokes and hibiscus rice.

Chicken Tinga Paella

Chicken Tinga Paella

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Are You Ready for Paella? The Annual Challenge Returns March 11


Jeff Balfour's winning paella from 2011.

Have you ever wanted to taste the cooking of a few of the contestants on “Top Chef”? You’ll get your chance at the third annual Corona Paella Challenge on March 11.

Lindsay Autrey, who made it to the top three this season, will be at the Pearl Brewery, 200 E. Grayson St., for the event, along with Ty-Lor Boring and Keith Rhodes, both of whom were also involved in the season that was partially filmed in San Antonio.

Chef Jeff Balfour of Citrus in the Hotel Valencia, 150 E. Houston St., will be defending his title as champion of the event.

Other chefs making paella for the crowds to sample include Jeff Littlefield of Waterfront Resort, Tim McCarthy of the Mayo Foundation, Jhojans Priego of Villa Rica, cookbook author and Seasons of My Heart Cooking School chef instructor Susana Trilling, Jason Dady of Bin 555 and Tre Trattoria, Steven McHugh of Lüke, who placed second last year, and Jeffrey Axell and David Wirebaugh, both of the Hyatt hotels.

Enormous paella pans cook enough of this Spanish rice dish for 50 people at a time.

The event is hosted by chef Johnny Hernandez of La Gloria at the Pearl, and proceeds will benefit The Culinary Institute of America­, San Antonio, and the Educational Foundation of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“Our goal is to raise awareness about the world-renowned culinary campus we have here in San Antonio: The Culinary Institute of America,” Hernandez said. “We are committed to increasing the opportunities for scholarships and funding for young chefs interested in a career in the food industry.”

In addition to an array of outrageous and outrageously good paellas, there will be wines from Spain and a line of craft and imported beers.

San Antonio band Bachaco will perform its blend of reggae, dancehall, and ska mixed with South America’s own Caribbean legacy rhythm of Cumbia.

The event runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets cost $50 for adults or $25 for children under age 12. Tickets can be purchased at www.culinariasa.org/wine-festival/main/tickets.php and at Pearl during the event.

 

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Ask A Foodie: Got a Good Paella Recipe?


Create your own paella with the flavors and ingredients you prefer.

Q. Looking for a good paella recipe to make this weekend. Do you know of any? Thanks.

—Terry

A. You can make paella a host of different ways, as the recent Paella Challenge at the Pearl Brewery demonstrated. You can use any cut of pork, Thai curry or crawfish, if you choose. Let your imagination run wild.

I prefer at least to build on a traditional recipe that reminds of when I first had paella. I was in Barcelona back in high school. It had a number of ingredients I don’t remember ever having had before, including squid, saffron, chorizo and artichokes. Rice was about all I recognized, but I loved the dish from the first bite.

I wish I had my host’s recipe, but the closest I’ve found is Janet Mendel’s Paella with Seafood from “Tapas and More Great Dishes from Spain,” a much-used cookbook I picked up in Spain on a subsequent visit. Her version is a good template that you can alter to suit your personal tastes. I would use chorizo, for example, and probably substitute more shrimp and scallops for the squid, simply because I’ve never cooked with squid. (Why, I don’t know.) I’d also use clams instead of mussels. I also like to garnish the dish with some fresh green herbs, such as cilantro or parsley.

That sounds like a lot of substitutions, but it is still built on a great base of rice with saffron and seafood stock, chicken, vegetables including peas and artichokes as well as green bell pepper and roasted red pepper.

Paella with Seafood (Paella con Mariscos)

1 dozen mussels, scrubbed and steamed open
1 pound large or jumbo, uncooked shrimp
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds chicken or rabbit, cut in small pieces
10 ounces squid, cleans and cut in rings
2 small green peppers, diced
2 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 1/2 ounces peas or broad beans or green beans or quartered artichokes (par-boil beans or artichokes)
6 1/2 cups water or stock
1 pound Spanish short-grain rice
1/2 teaspoon saffron (or more for a bright yellow color)
Crushed peppercorns or freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons salt
1 roasted red pepper, cut in strips
Lemon, for garnish

Discard the empty half shells of the mussels. Strain the liquid and reserve it. Cook 6-8 unpeeled shrimp in boiling water for 1 minute. Set them aside and add the liquid to the mussel liquid . Shell the remaining prawns.

Heat the oil in a paella pan or large frying pan (about 16 inches across). Fry the chicken pieces, adding next the green peppers, then the tomato, garlic and peas, beans or artichokes.  Combine the reserved liquid and stock or water to make 6 1/2 cups. Add all but 1 cupful of the liquid to the paella. Crush the saffron in a mortar or in a teacup using the butt-end of a knife. Dissolve it in a little water or white wine and stir into the paella with the pepper and salt. Add the peeled prawns. When the liquid comes to a boil, add the rice and continue to cook on a high heat for 6 to  8 minutes. Then reduce the heat and continue to cook until rice is just barely tender, adding the additional liquid as needed, about 8-10 minutes more. Don’t stir the rice, but shake the pan. Garnish the top with the reserved mussels, cooked prawns and strips of roasted red pepper. Let the paella rest for 5 minutes before serving with lemon wedges.

Makes 6 servings.

From “Tapas and More Great Dishes from Spain” by Janet Mendel

If you have a question for Ask a Foodie, e-mail walker@savorsa.com or griffin@savorsa.com.

Photo courtesy Johnny Hernandez

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Pork Rules at Paella Challenge


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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Upcoming Events


March 17

Hand-on Teens Spring Break Camp: Sushi 101

11 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Central Market, 4821 Broadway, 210-368-8617 —  The Cooking School staff will help teens learn to roll their own sushi. On the menu: Miso Soup; California Rolls; Shrimp Nigiri; Tempura Shrimp Rolls; and Dessert Sushi. No raw fish will be served. Cost: $40.

March 19

Cooking Class at Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard

There’s an olive in my soup! Check out this cooking class at Sandy Oak Olive Orchard near Elmendorf. Class begins at 11 a.m. Sandy Oaks chef Cathy Tarasovic will inspire your inner soup-making creativity— plus come out to see the newly remodeled kitchen and teaching area at Sandy Oaks.  $45 per person. For more information on Sandy Oaks and to register for classes, click here.

March 20

The Spicy Indian

4-6:30 p.m., Central Market, 4821 Broadway, 210-368-8617 — Raghavan Iyer, award-winning culinary instructor and cookbook author, will lead a class in Indian spices. Savor the bounty of vibrant flavors, sensuous sauces and unusual combinations in this interactive class that includes such dishes as: Potato-Pea Cakes with a Tomato-Jaggery Sauce; Sprouted Bean Salad with Potato Croutons; Fresh Spinach-Red Lentil Soup with Chiles; Poached Catfish in Caramelized Onion Sauce; Plump Garbanzo Beans with Mango Powder, Black Salt and Pomegranate Seeds; Basmati Rice with Yogurt & Fresh Curry Leaves; and Red Bananas with Cardamom over House-made Vanilla Ice Cream. Cost: $65.

March 22

Miami Spice

6:30-9 p.m., Central Market, 4821 Broadway, 210-368-8617 —The Cooking School staff will add some spice to your cooking as you learn to blend the flavors of Florida and the Caribbean with dishes that will please your palate and expand your repertoire: Hearts of Palm and Orange Salad; Grilled Tuna with Mango-Ginger Mojo; Caribbean Rice and Black Beans; Spicy Cuban Guava-glazed Ribs; Yuca Fritters with Pickled Onions; and Key Lime Cheesecake. Cost: $45.

March 23

Learn @ Lunch: Spicy Italian

Noon, Central Market, 4821 Broadway, 210-368-8617 — Mary Martini,  Cooking School manager, will help you spice up your Italian repertoire with these easy-to-prepare and delicious-to-eat recipes in our one-hour, lunchtime class: Spiced Italian Salad with Spinach, Artichokes and Pepperoncini; Italian Sausage Bread; Pasta with Sundried Tomato Arrabbiata Sauce and Meatballs; and Italian Spiced Plum Crisp. Cost: $25.

March 24

Chiles! Chiles! Chiles!

6:30-9 p.m., Central Market, 4821 Broadway, 210-368-8617 — The Cooking School staff will utilize a variety of chiles and show you how to spice up any meal. Menu includes: Emily’s Favorite Shrimp Salsa; Rajas (Poblano Strips in a Cream Sauce); Spiced Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with an Ancho Bourbon Sauce; Chipotle Sweet Potato Gratin; Spiced Spinach; and Cajeta Crêpes with Spiced Nuts. Cost: $45.

March 25

Traditional Italian Spices

6:30-9 p.m., Central Market, 4821 Broadway, 210-368-8617 — Gina Stipo, cookbook author, culinary instructor and culinary tour leader, will lead a class that uses fresh herbs grown in the Tuscan countryside as well as those that coursed through the area during the spice trade hundreds of years ago. Stipo’s menu includes Risotto Milanese con Zafferano e Piselli (Saffron & Pea Risotto); Crespelle con Asparagi e Besciamella (Nutmeg and Black Pepper Infused Asparagus Crêpes with Besciamel Sauce); Tagliatelle con Anatra Medievo (Tagliatelle Pasta with Medieval Duck Ragu that includes Cloves, Cinnamon & Black Pepper); and Pere in Vino Rosso con Cannella Mascarpone (Pears Poached in Spice-infused Red Wine with Cinnamon Mascarpone Cheese). Cost: $65.

A Taste of New Orleans

7 p.m., the County Line, 10101 I-10 W., 210-641-1998 — Chef Garrett Stephens resumes his monthly Pitmaster Cooking Class at the County Line with a four-course dinner offering “A Taste of New Orleans.” After a reception featuring Hurricanes, he’ll lead a class in making the following menu: Grilled Oysters Rockefeller with Crispy Pancetta and Gruyère, Creole-grilled Mirliton Ratatouille, Nawlins’ Style BBQ Shrimp, and Bananas Foster with County Line Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. The class comes with a souvenir recipe book. Cost: $50, plus tax and tip.

March 26

One Dish Meals

9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Culinary Institute of America, Pearl Brewery, 312 Pearl Parkway, 210-222-1113 — What could be more simple and convenient than preparing a one dish meal? Whether it’s a fresh, crispy salad on a hot summer day or a hearty baked casserole served in the middle of winter, one dish meals fit the bill. In this hands-on class, you will discover easy-to-master cooking techniques and flavorful recipes for an exciting assortment of delicious, everyday selections. From slow-cooked braises to simple pasta dishes that can be assembled in minutes, you’re sure to enjoy the globally inspired cuisine featured in this class.  As a participant in this class, you will receive a CIA logo apron and a copy of the CIA’s “One Dish Meals” to take home. Cost: $250.

Olives Olé International Olive Festival

Paella at Olives Ole, by Leslie Horne, producer of Aurelia's Chorizo. Photograph by Tracey Mauer

10 a.m.-4 p.m. San Antonio Botanical Gardens, 555 Funston Place — Les Dames d’Escoffier celebrates the olive in this day-long event at the beautiful Botanical Gardens. Health and wellness seminars, international olive oil tasting, cooking demonstrations, gourmet concessions and the region’s largest olive bar will be offered. Check out the popular food booths, such as the made-on-site paella and the grilled veggie sandwiches. Purchase your own olive trees and talk to olive tree growers to find out the best variety of olive tree for your area. Cost: $15.

March 29

A Big Night

6:30-9 p.m., Central Market, 4821 Broadway, 210-368-8617 — Mary Martini, Cooking School manager, will lead a class themed after the foodie favorite, “Big Night.” You will learn to prepare the famous timpano that was arguably the star attraction in the 1996 film as well as other memorable recipes. Menu includes: Mixed Green Salad with a “Big Night” Frittata; Seafood Risotto; the Famous Timpano filled with Meatballs, Pasta and Rich Ragù Sauce; and Chocolate Grappa Cake. Cost: $50.

March 30

Wine Tasting with Riedel

6:30-9 p.m., Central Market, 4821 Broadway, 210-368-8617 — Buzz Whalen of Riedel Crystal of America, Inc., will lead a tasting in which you’ll compare four wines in your own set of Riedel Vinum Wine Glasses (which you will take home—$116 retail value) to the wines in a standard glass. Discover for yourself how the proper container enhances both the taste and aroma of each selection. Four distinguished American wines will be sampled: Sauvignon Blanc; Chardonnay; Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Food will be paired with each wine. Cost: $80. No discounts or coupons will be accepted for this class.

April 2

Gourmet Meals in Minutes

9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Culinary Institute of America, Pearl Brewery, 312 Pearl Parkway, 210-222-1113 — With today’s hectic pace, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to prepare creative and flavorful meals. But it is possible. Inspired by the CIA “Gourmet Meals in Minutes” cookbook, this course focuses on culinary foundation techniques that will help enhance your kitchen knowledge, hone your skills, and increase your speed and efficiency. You’ll learn to prepare a variety of foolproof recipes that save precious minutes at mealtime without sacrificing flavor. Forget takeout—get ready to cook at home! As a participant in this class, you will receive a CIA logo apron and a copy of The Culinary Institute of America’s Gourmet Meals in Minutes to take home. Cost: $250.

April 9

Baking at Home: The Desserts

9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Culinary Institute of America, Pearl Brewery, 312 Pearl Parkway, 210-222-1113 — Impress your family and friends with the delectable desserts featured in Baking at Home. During this class, you’ll learn fundamental techniques and simple recipes for preparing a selection of irresistible favorites. Through chef demonstrations, informative lectures and kitchen production, you’ll discover how easy it can be to create impressive, professional-quality desserts in your own kitchen. Improve your baking skills today and astonish your loved ones tomorrow!  As a student in this class, you will receive a CIA logo apron and a copy of “Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America” to take home. Cost: $250.

Sharpen your knife skills on April 30.

April 30

Sharpening Your Knife Skills

Since knives provide the foundation for good food, it’s essential for every cook to understand how to get the most from this indispensable implement. In this class, you’ll learn all about knife selection, maintenance, and usage. You’ll also discuss and practice proper knife care, knife handling and safety, and knife cuts. From creating a dice to producing a chiffonade, you’ll gain the skills you need to take your cooking to the next level. As a participant in this class, you will receive a copy of the CIA textbook “In the Hands of a Chef” along with a CIA logo apron to take home. Cost: $250.

May 2-6

Mediterranean Cuisine Boot Camp

7 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Culinary Institute of America, Pearl Brewery, 312 Pearl Parkway, 210-222-1113 — This five-day gastronomic excursion highlights the renowned cuisines of the northern Mediterranean, including Provence, Southern Italy, and Spain, and explores many of the lesser-known but up-and-coming dishes of Greece, Turkey, and North Africa. From pasta and phyllo to tapas and tagines, you’ll study the ingredients and dishes associated with the bountiful Mediterranean table. As a Mediterranean Boot Camp participant, you’ll receive two chef’s uniforms, each with a jacket, pants, and a neckerchief. Paper chef’s hats, side towels, and aprons will be provided in class. Cost: $1,750.

May 7

The Flavors of Asia

9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Culinary Institute of America, Pearl Brewery, 312 Pearl Parkway, 210-222-1113 — Discover the treasures of the Asian kitchen. The styles, culinary traditions, and flavors that encompass Asian cuisine are as vast as the continent itself. In this one-day exploration of the intricacies of Asian cookery, you’ll explore the cuisines of Vietnam, Thailand, China, Japan, Korea, and India. You’ll discover intriguing new ingredients and techniques unique to the Eastern world, and also learn how to incorporate everyday food items into your Asian-inspired dishes. Then, using the cooking methods, ingredients, and flavor profiles discussed in class, you’ll prepare a variety of authentic Asian dishes. As a participant in this class, you will receive a CIA logo apron and a copy of the CIA “Flavors of Asia” cookbook to take home. Cost: $250.

May 11

Culinaria Begins, with Sip, Savor & Shop

6:30 p.m. Sip, Savor & Shop at The Shops at La Cantera, kicks off Culinaria’s lineup of events.  The Shops at La Cantera will host the annual Sip, Savor & Shop event as you sip your way through an amazing wine tasting, savor the flavors in San Antonio style with an array of restaurants showcasing their culinary talents. Then shop at the wide variety of retail outlets offering special shopping incentives and giveaways. This event will showcase the best of San Antonio’s wine, fashion and food. $35 pre-sale, $50 at the door.  Click here for Culinaria ticket purchasing.

May 12

Culinaria: Winemaker Dinners
7 p.m., various restaurants throughout the city.  San Antonio’s best chefs will be creating exquisite menus that pair up with educated winemakers for intimate dinners around the city. Seize the opportunity to gather and dine with these esteemed guests. There are many delectable options to choose from and we don’t envy the decisions you will have to make! Advanced ticket sales only. Click here for Culinaria ticket purchasing.

May 13

Culinaria: Becker Vineyards Winery Lunch
Noon, Becker Vineyards, Stonewall (off Highway 290 east of Fredericksburg)
Spring is in full swing and the Beckers host a multi-course luncheon at the winery.  San Antonio and Hill Country Stars will create amazing dishes paired with visiting winemakers who will share their winees and histories with guests, one of Culinaria’s sell-outs every year, book your seat fast! $65 pre-sale only. Click here for Culinaria ticket purchasing.

Culinaria: The Black Tie
7 p.m., Westin La Cantera Resort, Palo Duro Room.
During this formal evening chefs and winemakers host an intimate gathering where the best cuisines and wines are paired with careful consideration. A dazzling mix of entertainment and knowledge, the Black Tie is back with a vengeance and ready for your presence. We have to be honest, seating is very limited. Don’t wait on securing your tables or tickets. $250 per person or tables available. Advanced ticket sales only. Click here for Culinaria ticket purchasing.

Culinaria: Best of Mexico
7:30 p.m., Villita Assembly Building downtown.
Welcome to the fastest growing event on the schedule. Passion reigns supreme as rich flavors are infused with colorful culture! Trends are shared and demonstrated celebrating all the treasures of Mexico as chefs from Mexico and San Antonio compare and contrast all that Mexican cuisine has to offer. Spirits, (tequila!) wine, and beer play their part too — remember this haute event as you plan your weekend of celebrating in San Antonio! $50 pre-sale, $75 at the door. Click here for Culinaria ticket purchasing.

May 14

Culinaria 5K Run/Walk
7:30 a.m.; The Shops at La Cantera
Now through May 6-$25, May 7-12-$30, Race Day-$35
This is the first 5K event at the Shops at La Cantera and promises to be a hit with the running community. The smooth and fast 3.1-mile loop course will take runners past all the major shops right down the main streetscape. Runners will start in the parking lot and head south on the road that bisects the old and new sections, finishing the race along the scenic perimeter road and entering back where they started. Post race refreshments include great wine, beer and food offerings shared with good friends. All registrants will receive a cotton Culinaria t-shirt and wine glass.  Register online now. Click here for Culinaria ticket purchasing.

Culinaria: Wine/Food Seminars
(Times Pending: Check closer to the date for further information)
Whether you’re an aficionado or a novice, the wine and food seminars are both educational and your chance for a glimpse into the hot topics of what Culinaria is all about-the food and the wine. Click here for Culinaria ticket purchasing.

Culinaria: The Grand Tasting
7 p.m., The Grotto at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center
It’s the event your friends will be talking about all year — and the one you’ll absolutely regret missing! Chefs dazzle your palate with trend- oriented fare and take new spins on old classics. San Antonio’s famed River Walk sets the stage for a night on the town as well as giving your heart everything it desires. An array of wines and beverages complement the cuisine and round out an event that also features lively entertainment. You will cherish the festival glass you receive that commemorates the evening you just experienced. $75 pre-sale, $100 at the door. Click here for Culinaria ticket purchasing.

May 15

Culinaria: Sunday Brunches
11:30 a.m.; various restaurants. (Check for details closer to the date.)  Start your final day of the festival week off right with one of San Antonio’s amazing brunches. You can be sure that delightful drinks will be part of the menu as well. $60. Click here for Culinaria ticket purchasing.

Culinaria: Burgers, BBQ, Beer & Texas Spirits

Noon – 4 p.m. at the Pearl Brewery. Texans love their burgers, barbecue and beer… and in San Antonio, everyone from our local hangouts to the finest of dining establishments offer their best version of the classic backyard fare. This casual event provides you the chance to sample some of the goodness. Add in craft beer, cocktails or maybe a glass of pinot and you’ve found a perfect Sunday afternoon. $35. Click here for Culinaria ticket purchasing.

May 21

Risotto: Classic Skills and Techniques Demo

10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Culinary Institute of America, Pearl Brewery, 312 Pearl Parkway, 210-222-1113 — In this culinary demonstration, you will explore the principles of risotto cookery. Besides the essential components of the perfect risotto, the class will focus on the use of seasonal and regional ingredients to prepare dishes beyond the classical Risotto Milanese. As part the session, you will taste and explore a variety of risottos and discuss preparation and ingredient options. Added bonus: Your fee for the demonstration will be credited to enrollment in a future class. Cost: $39.95.

June 4

Everyday Grilling

9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Culinary Institute of America, Pearl Brewery, 312 Pearl Parkway, 210-222-1113 — Grilling isn’t just for steaks and burgers—this popular cooking technique can be used to produce a variety of foods with exotic flavors. Focusing on the lessons and recipes from the CIA Grilling cookbook, you’ll learn the tips and tricks for preparing nearly any food on the grill. From zesty appetizers to mouth-watering entrées to luscious desserts, there’s no limit to what you can prepare over the flame. Join us for this introductory class and we’ll satisfy your passion for outdoor grilling and culinary adventure. You will receive a CIA logo apron and a copy of “The Culinary Institute of America’s Grilling” cookbook to take home. Cost: $250.

South American Ceviche Demo

10 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Culinary Institute of America, Pearl Brewery, 312 Pearl Parkway, 210-222-1113 — You will watch our chef-instructor prepare a variety of South American ceviche recipes. You’ll not only learn new culinary techniques and sample each of the delicious items prepared, you will also receive a copy of the recipes to take home. Our menu of the day features Columbian fish ceviche, Ecuadorian shrimp ceviche, Peruvian ceviche, and Tiradito. Added bonus: Your fee for the demonstration will be credited to enrollment in a future class. Cost: $39.95.

June 11

The Italian Table

9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Culinary Institute of America, Pearl Brewery, 312 Pearl Parkway, 210-222-1113 — Satisfy your craving for true Italian cuisine. In this hands-on class, you’ll embark on an exploration of traditional Italian home cooking inspired by The Culinary Institute of America’s new release, “A Tavola!” Emphasizing seasonal foods, handcrafted ingredients, and the flavors and textures of a perfectly cooked meal, these delicious age-old classics—from antipasti to stews, braises, and simple pasta dishes—will help you uncover the secrets of authentic Italian cooking. As a participant in this class, you will receive a CIA logo apron and a copy of “A Tavola!” to take home. Cost: $250.

If you have events to include, please e-mail griffin@savorsa.com or walker@savorsa.com.

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