Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An extraordinary day!

Since there is no such thing as an "ordinary" day here, I thought I would start with an extraordinary one that we experienced about a week after we arrived. While we live in Loreto Bay, this development is within another community, Nopolo, that had it's beginnings many years before Loreto Bay began. One of the residents in Nopolo are our good friends Manfred and Sheila, who built their home more than ten years ago when there were few other people living here.

Last weekend they held the First Annual Paella Cook Off at their home. This was a combined fundraising/social event that had it's beginnings this past spring while Manfred and Sheila were travelling north for the summer and met a group of motorcycle riders when they stopped at a place called Catavina, about halfway between Loreto and the Mexican/US border. As you might have guessed, these were not your typical "bikers". In fact their conversation started over a glass or two of wine, in the hotel parking lot.

It turned out that the "bikers" were in fact partners in the Roganto winery based in Ensenada, to which they were returning after their excursion down the Baja on a fleet of BMWs and Harleys. Included in their on-road support was a trailer, well stocked with cases of wine and gourmet foods, which were shared all round, later that evening, in the same hotel parking lot.

Skip forward to this fall when Manfred and Shelia were making the return trip home to Nopolo and, as promised, stopped at Roganto in Ensenada to visit their new friends. During the course of that visit, and sampling more of the fine wine, conversation naturally turned to food, and specifically paella.

Now, Shelia is a wonderful cook, and Manfred, being suitably proud of his wife's culinary talents, could be excused a little modest bragging about her skill at making THE BEST paella. This statement was immediately challenged by several of the vintners and before long plans were being made for the First Annual Loreto/Nopolo Paella Cook Off. Always ready for any excuse for a bike ride and good food and wine, a group of about twelve from the winery decided to travel the day and a half south to Nopolo, carrying with them all of the necessary equipment and supplies to enter three teams in the event. It was left up to Manfred and Sheila to organize things at this end, and recruit some local teams for the competition. Cathy and my contribution was to supply our portable PA system for the MC to use and play suitable "paella music" and take pictures of the competition and celebrations.

On the appointed day we arrived at their casa to find two of the ubiquitous "cervesa tents" shading about 150 chairs with tables in a vacant lot next door and all the preparations well under way for the six competing teams who were set up in the back yard of the house. In addition to the three teams competing from Ensenada, there were three "locals" competing; a team representing Loreto Playa and Dali Deli (two local Loreto businesses), Petite Paella with Loreto Bay employee Hector Morales with assistance from his girlfriend, and, of course, Sheila, who was also acting hostess to the party.

Mostt of the teams were using large paella pans which would hold enough food to serve at least 30 or more people and they each contributed all of their ingredients to the cause. Each pan held pounds and pounds of seafood, the finest shrimp, scallops and lobsters along with all the vegetables and rice Over 150 people attended, donating 150 pesos each for a plate to sample as much paella as they could eat, with beer and water available for purchase and liberal tastings of samples from the Roganto cellars. Fine wines were also available for purchase, with a portion of the proceeds being contributed to the cause. By the end of the afternoon over $2,000 USD had been raised which was then divided between the Loreto Internado (residential) school and D.I.F. a social service agency with broad responsibilities to benefit those with the greatest needs in and around Loreto.

The Judging was handled by two serious teams of local experts, one team judging the very important presentation, which, as you can see from a few of these pictures, was a very tough competition in itself. The second team of judges had an even tougher challenge, to award the first, second and third prizes for taste, sampling only the rice from each pan, so as not to be overly influenced by morsels of the delectable seafood.

Only then, after the two teams of judges had made their rounds, were the tables of food opened to the hungry crowd that were gathered under the tents in the yard. But not to eat, yet, only to look and appreciate each unique and stunning presentation pan. Then, finally, after everyone had ooohed and aaahed their way past the proud chefs and their creations, did the feasting begin. It went on for most of the afternoon, with people going back for second and third helpings. With still more food left, the organizers sold take-away dishes that could be filled and enjoyed later at home and the last of the food disappeared.

The results of the judging? Well, I am pleased to report that one of the Roganto teams, who had travelled the furthest to be there, took home the "Presentation" award, and, Sheila who had hostessed the event was third runner-up, Hector and the Petite Paella team won second runner-up, and the Loreto Playa/Dali Deli Team was the overall winner of the First Annual Loreto/Nopolo Paella Cook Off! I can assure you that anyone who was there is already looking forward (with watering mouths) to the Second Annual, which promises to be an even bigger event!

So this was a perfect example of the sort of wonderful synergy that can happen when a group of people, Mexican, American, Canadian and others from Loreto Bay, Nopolo, the town of Loreto and other surrounding communities get together for good time, good food, and a good cause, and this is a part of the magic that happens in this wonderful place that I want to share with you as I continue my adventure of Living Loreto!

No comments: