When most publications get a press release announcing an upcoming event, editors will start thinking of ways to cover it. But when it came to the L.A. Paella and Wine Fest's international paella competition, one media company decided to join in — and it won.
A group of Spanish journalists representing the Latin alternative-music magazine Al Borde took home the title of Best Paella in L.A. on Oct. 3, beating out 38 other teams, including several L.A. restaurants, and chefs who had traveled from Mexico, Europe and even the Canary Islands to participate.
"I kind of felt bad because I know a lot of people there were professionals and they devote themselves to doing these kind of things," says team member and home chef Pablo Scarpellini. "I am not a professional."
Scarpellini is a Madrid-born correspondent for Spain's El Mundo newspaper and the editor in chief of El Clasificado, a weekly classifieds publication that's kind of like a Spanish-language Pennysaver. El Clasificado's parent company, Norwalk's EC Hispanic Media, owns six other brands, including Al Borde, which focuses on rock, indie and alternative music from Latin America. The company decided to have some of its employees enter the competition as a fun branding opportunity for Al Borde. It never expected to win.
The paella made by the L.A.-based Al Borde team — which included EC Hispanic Media's director of content (and Madrid native) Alicia García de Angela, along with business supervisor (and Cantabria native) Abraham Velez — was based on a recipe that Scarpellini uses to cook paellas for family and friends. Over the years, his paella became an office favorite and he has taken on official cooking duties at all company parties.
While some of the other competing groups were putting Mexican ingredients such as jalapeño and mole into their paellas, Scarpellini says Al Borde's stayed more within tradition, using chicken, seafood and saffron in a fish stock (aka paella mixta). Cooking it was a team effort: Scarpellini brought bags of special rice varietals back from his last visit to Spain, García de Angela prepared the fish stock in advance and even Scarpellini's 7-year-old son helped out, cutting the bell peppers. "We put some love into it," Scarpellini says.
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The paellas were judged by a panel that included the consul general of Spain and the director of the Culinary Art School in Baja California. Second place went to Hermanos Ezquer, a Tijuana family, and third place went to Canary Island celebrity chef Piño Moreau, better known as “The Paella King.”
Los Angeles restaurants Don Chente, Gasolina Cafe and El Cid also competed, with El Cid taking home the prize of Best Decorated Paella. El Cid recently hired Juvenal Rodriguez, formerly of vegan restaurant Elf, as its new executive chef; he's revamped the Silver Lake institution's Spanish menu and now oversees Sunday paella nights.
For now, the Best Paella in L.A. exists only as a one-time creation — there are no restaurants that serve it. After the event, Scarpellini received several offers to cater private events, which he accepted. He says he may pursue his love for cooking as a small business on the side. If nothing else, it could be a good opportunity to talk to people and find stories.
"We didn't expect to win — we were just trying to compete and do a nice paella," Scarpellini says.