Spain's quintessential dish, paella, is a difficult one to make. "There is no such thing as the perfect paella," says Quique Dacosta. His restaurant in Alicante, Quique Dacosta, has earned three Michelin stars and been on the list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants for three years. The avant-garde chef was just one of the talented toques who made their way to the Magic City for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, which kicked off last night with a new event dubbed paella by the pool at the swank SLS South Beach.
Hosted by Spain's greatest import, Jose Andres, the intimate poolside paella soiree was one of the best SOBEWFF events I've ever been to.
Tickets were priced at $175, which paid for endless amounts of Belvedere vodka, oysters shucked on the spot, and pata negra topped with caviar.
Six chefs congregated and set up paella pans to feed well over 600 tasting portions. Amongst the chefs were local guys Giorgio Rapicavoli from Eating House who served up a paella chaufa and Diego Solano from Bulla. But the highlight of the evening was chef Andoni Luis Aduriz whose restaurant Mugaritz holds a three Michelin star rating and is currently number six on the World's 50 Best Restaurant list. For the past nine years, Mugaritz has managed to stay on the coveted list for its unconventional yet traditional fare that includes his signature starter of edible "stones."
And while Aduriz opted to serve torched pork belly over rustic bread instead of the classic rice dish, the Basque chef shared his tips on how to achieve perfection. "The secret is to get the rice to the ideal point. That and the broth," he says. "Once you have that you can do what you want. " But how does one get their rice to said point? "14 minutes since it begins to boil." Not a minute more or a minute less. "And you have to let it rest for five minutes." Ingredients in paella are a personal preference and Aduriz always likes his to always include calamari. "I look for different textures -- fish, shellfish, squid." Quique Dacosta disagrees. His perfect paella is the Valenciana kind, which oftentimes includes vegetables, chicken, rabbit, and snails.
For Dacosta, the perfect paella does not exist because the recipe itself is imperfect."Even socarrat is an imperfection" he says about the crunchy bottom layer found at the bottom of paella, which happens to be a favorite part of the classic dish. "You have to consider so many things - ingredients, ambiance, temperature, water. It's impossible to get a paella to taste exactly the same twice." His favorite paella of all time? "My moms is the best and least perfect."
"In Spanish cuisine we're always looking for authentic but the word authentic needs to be revised because when we talk about authentic we're not even sure what we're talking about."
Jose Andres socialized with fans and sprinted around tasting each and every paella, congratulating chefs on attending ad catching up with old friends, as well as new ones.
His baby, The Bazaar, served up "chef's garden" fideua, a traditional take on paella that instead of rice used noodles. Their secret is to keep the seal on top of paella so you stir rice for a bit and don't touch it to steam it and finish the cooking
But all was not authentically or traditionally Spanish. Rapicavoli kept things fresh with a paella chaufa, inspired by a recent trip to Peru. "There's a bunch of Spaniards here, so why make real paella when they're taking that of that."
It was Seamus Mullen from New York's Tertulia though that cooked the perfect rice. After running out before anybody else, the chef even decided to make another paella two hours into the event. His secret? "There's so many but one of the most important thing is that the stock has to come to a boil before you add rice. It's all about timing." The chef sears all the seafood first and then adds it in slowly once the rice is already cooking. "Shrimp is the last thing I add abut two minutes before the rice is about to finish."
Paletas were the perfect nightcap for a chill and chilly night.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha
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