The name `Dacsa´ is synonymous with rice but its origin lies in the Valencian word for corn. The family firm based in Almasséra in Valencia´s Horta Nord was formed in 1968 to support the brewing industry. In 1982 they moved into the rice business as well, one of the best know trademarks in the Valencian Community.
In 2000 they were founder members, together with several other producers, of the governing body of the Denomination of Origin for Valencian Rice, set up to support the rice producers and promote the production and use of authentic Valencian rice produced in the Albufera and the Marjal, one of only three DO´s in Spain for rice growers ( the others being the Ebro Delta and Murcia).
By 2011 the rice-growing area of the Albufera had become a Natural Park adding to the cachet of Valencian rice as an ecological and healthy product.
The status of Valencian Paella is not in doubt, its popularity is un-dimmed, growing in fact as Valencians take their Sunday meal worldwide! The International Concurso de Paellas de Sueca went to Japan, China, the US, UK, New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere some years back. This last year has seen the creation of the London Paella School where Xavi Moreño and Javier Rejas are teaching Brits how to cook the authentic paella in response to the atrocities peddled by luminary cooks in the UK such as Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsey and Delia Smith all mixing meat and seafood and incorrectly adding chorizo!
Paella is still the most popularly cooked meal with many chefs perfecting their regional and seasonal variations and creating new rice dishes whilst the `Masterchefs´ investigate the varieties of rice to use in these recipes.
But, Paella Valenciana is essentially the people´s paella with families all having their own way of cooking them and regional and seasonal variations of ingredients. Fierce arguments about this are not unusual when a group of people are stood around the paella chef, all offering their own advice to the nominated `cocinero´ about how he or she should be cooking it! Paella is undoubtedly a social dish, indeed the proper way to eat it is for all invitees to sit around the paella pan and eat directly from it.
So, it is not entirely surprising that a league for amateur chefs should prove popular or indeed competitive!
Sunday last, the 26th of February saw the newly created Dacsa League commence with 100 participants all cooking paella in the Dacsa Stadium in Almasséra. A league designed for amateur cooks , ( although there may well have been some professionals lurking amongst them), Dacsa and co-sponsors Vicente Gandia ( wine from DO Valencia) and Coco-Cola provided the wood essential to cook it over and the stand on which to cook it, an apron and the means to get the fire started.
The only common ingredient for this competition was Dacsa´s rice. Otherwise the chefs, ( male and female) could, unusually in a competition) cook whichever paella they liked, reflecting the regional variations and their own personal touches. Competitors had come from Alicante in the South, Castellon in the North, the interior and Valencia itself so there was scope for plenty of variation to occur!
Sunday´s event was the first heat of the league, the second taking place on 2 April and the grand final on 14 May.
The first ten finalists were selected by a jury including Santos Ruiz, Director of DO Arroz de Valencia, Ximo Roviro ( journalist and presenter) and Juanjo Llansol Director of the Paella School for Valencians.
VÍ Vid knows a thing or two about cooking paella and so we went along to report on this initiative. The stadium was divided into `corrals´ for each of the chefs and their teams with access to this area limited to the chefs, judges and press. On a bright sunny day the whole area was under a fog of smoke from 100 fires and the smell of paella cooking was heavy in the surrounding streets!
We spoke to several competitors all of whom were supremely confident that they had the winning paella. We saw pelotas ( pork balls used in the Ribera) peas in their pods and red peppers ( typical of Castellon) and snails which are typical of paellas from the Camp de Turia. Overall the competition was a clear success with huge amounts of good humour and friendly competiton and rivalry.
It concluded with the first ten finalists emerging , whilst the families and supporters of the teams were allowed into the arena to eat their paellas.
Whilst the prize from this first event was a place in the grand final the winner of that will win 1500€ their weight in rice and a commemorative trophy. We will be bringing you updates as the competition progresses!