As we had anticipated we had the pleasure of attending the first edition of this new gastronomy competition on Monday 18 September, held in Saló lo Font in the Valencian town of Tavernes de la Valldigna.
This version of the traditional Valencian paella differs from the best known in three ways, firstly it includes small meatballs (or pelotas) made from minced beef flavoured with rabbit blood and pine nuts, red peppers which are used for decoration and the rice is cooked in chicken stock rather than water flavoured by the ingredients.
It is the paella cooked traditionally at the weekend by families in the four neighbouring towns of Tavernes, Barx, Simat and Benefaió in El Safor, South of Cullera and the Albufera Natural park where the round grain paella rice is grown.
The competition was the highlight of a three-day gastronomy fair held in Tavernes to highlight the local gastronomy and attract more tourists to the area.
The organisers, Carmen Pallares Fernando and Sergi Fem Terreta, with Antonio Serrano (Comer en Valencia) in collaboration, had put together a professional event, arranged funding from the Diputación, support from the Government in the person of Pilar Moncho Matoses the Deputy responsible for Tourism who presented the prizes.
The competition started traditionally with the drawing of lots by the 25 competitors to allocate cooking position and the time the paella had to be ready to go to the judges. An almuerzo followed during which the press and other communications organisations had a chance to interrogate the chefs.
Then under a big marquee the first batch of cooking got underway, despite a strong breeze which made control of the gas rings difficult but the organisers fortunately had lots of cardboard boxes to break up and provide wind screens!
Some of the competitors started with the red pepper cut in strips, others with the meatballs and the rest with the chicken and rabbit. Once the peppers are cooked they are reserved until the presentation stage. To the meat the vegetables are added, green and white beans then tomato and pimenton until softened. The stock is added, the rice and then the saffron and all is cooked out until the paella is nearly ready when the peppers go back on top.
During this period a parallel competition took place to see which of the local butchers best prepared a separate dish, figatells (believed to be the original hamburgers.) These are another local dish and well worth searching out if you are in the area. The meat which is generally pork shoulder and liver are spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon (and sometimes foie) are then wrapped in cawl fat and barbecued and eaten with fresh bread. Some longanizas also appeared to keep flagging spirits going and sponsors Mahou produced lots of cerveza to slake the thirst on a very warm day.
Next the judging takes place. The paellas are delivered to the judging area, lined up in a random, secret order and judged blind by a panel of experts from the press, social media and all under the watchful eye of president of the jury Juan Carlos Galbis.
Whilst this is going on the chefs turn their attention to making a dessert, the theme being mandarins which are just coming into season here in Valencia.
Once these are judged the official lunch can take place and subsequently the results of the judging and the awards ceremony. Lunch consisted of plates of jamon, cod croquettas and escalivet, pulpo (octopus) a la feria, then a plate of one of the competing restaurants paellas, a chicken stew and then a dessert. Wine on this occasion was provided by Vegamar with their Merseguera and Merlot monovarietals.
During the gastronomy fair Vera de Estenas and Bocopa had provided the wines and acted as sponsors. Other sponsors were Aneto, (chicken stock) DACSA (rice), Safrina (saffron) Vercher (mandarines) and Vaello ( the cooking equipment).
The first award was for the Figatells which went to Carniceria Olegario.
Best dessert went to La Picanterra, a regular contestant in these competitions.
The three best Arroces were;
- Casa Granero from Serra
- Alqueria del Pou, Valencia
- El Manantial, Algemesi
This was a well organised competition and hopefully will establish itself in the cannon of Valencian gastronomy.
And where to next? The show rolls on to Cataroja on Saturday with the All i Pebre competition in the port and El Palmar on Monday (also All i Pebre) for a contrasting eel and potato stew flavoured with pimenton. Needless to say although both towns are opposite each other on the Albufera lake the recipe is different!
And VÍ Vid will be judging the best monovarietals from Monastrell, Moscatel and Bobal from the Valencian Community on Thursday 21 September and Craft Ales from Valencia also on Monday 25th.