Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Big week in Loreto

This week there were two significant events that I would like to share with you – the opening of the Dorado Loreto Office on the Town Plaza, and the Second Annual Paella Cooking Competition – a big week in Loreto!

As many of you who read this Blog and are familiar with Loreto will know, Nellie Hutchison, the Broker Owner of Dorado Loreto used to have offices on the Malacon up until last year. These offices occupied the ground floor of the building, from which she also ran a small Hotel business with four or five bedrooms behind the main office and a popular Bar/Tapas/Sushi Terrace above, with great ocean views. These several businesses demanded a lot of time and staff to run and, with the downturn in the economy last year, and after becoming weary of the challenges of being an employer here in Mexico, Nellie decided to shut down this combined operation late last year and concentrate on the Real Estate business in town, and particularly here in Loreto Bay.

With the opening of this new downtown office, Nellie is declaring her confidence in the future of the Real Estate market here in Loreto and the surrounding area, and she is also signalling the fact that she believes the time for that renewed confidence is beginning now. If the old maxim: “the three most important things in Real Estate being location, location and location” holds true, then it must go double for a Real Estate office, in which case she couldn’t have found a better place to re-open her business in the town.

The historic centre of the town of Loreto is the town plaza, which fronts on to the Town Hall, or as the Mexican’s refer to it, much more grandly, as the Palace. This plaza is currently undergoing a complete renovation and beautification. The large old trees are being left in place but the old Gazebo/Bandshell has been torn down and will be replaced with a new structure providing the same functions, but, according to the plans I have seen, it will be much fancier with surrounding plantings and fountains. The remainder of this large square will have decorative paving, more plantings and restored statues and other historic elements from the original plaza. Work is currently underway and now most of the site preparation appears to have been completed, so the new design should start to be created very soon, as the project is slated for completion is before Christmas – this year.

On the adjacent side of the square to the Town Hall sits The Hotel Posada de las Flores, a beautifully conceived property that, although it is less than ten years old, has the look and feel of a classic old building that could have been meticulously maintained for over one hundred years. I love taking visitors into the lobby of this hotel, beautifully decorated and furnished in keeping with the new/old look of the building, with a charming fountain at it’s centre. During the day, the entire lobby area, which takes up most of the main floor, is dappled in a most uncommon light, which, as one’s eyes wander up through the atrium, where a staircase climbs up to several floors of rooms, you discover the source of this quality of light - and the most stunning part of the building’s interior. The ceiling of the Hotel Lobby is made up of many panes of glass, about a foot square, but it is only when you realize the strangely wavering, turquoise tinted light, is coming through the floor of the swimming pool that is located on the roof of the Hotel, that you appreciate the full uniqueness and beauty of this building! On the outside of this Hotel, along the square, there is a charming sidewalk tapas bar, and right next door to that, is the new office of Dorado Properties.

Now before any of you get the wrong impression, after the description of the Hotel

next door, Dorado’s office is, to say the least, modest in size, probably less than 500 sq. ft. But, it is perfectly suited to the purpose, and Nellie has shown her design flair and good taste by transforming what had previously been an abandoned cell phone store (that was in terrible condition when the last tenant left) into a elegant little salon with a modern desk unit at the entrance and a fine conference table with 6 high backed upholstered chairs around it. Every surface in the room is new, from the dark wood laminate floor to the faux painted walls in a rich burnt umber colour, to the crisp white textured ceiling with stylish chrome halogen light fixtures. A crown moulding runs along one wall, from which are suspended acrylic panels holding feature sheets on a variety of listed properties for sale.

It was to this venue that a couple of dozen friends and associates congregated in the late afternoon to see the new digs and congratulate Nellie and her team of sales people on the opening of the office. Naturally, because of the size of the office itself, after a quick tour most people drifted back outside and stood around visiting on the sidewalk in front, enjoying chilled beer and bottled water, until a beautiful chocolate cake arrived to celebrate the other noteworthy event of the day; Nellie’s birthday! Following the cake and the combined best wishes of those assembled, some of us retired to one of the two restaurants facing onto the square and relaxed over a delightful dinner, al fresco on their patio.

The other event that marked this week was the aforementioned Paella competition. Last year, at this time, the first cook-off occurred at the home of the organizers; Shelia and Manfred Aistrich here in Nopolo, the community surrounding the Loreto Bay development. Those of you, who have been reading this Blog from it’s beginning, may recall “An Extraordinary Day” in which I described that event in detail. Following the acknowledged success of that inaugural event, it was decided that a larger venue was going to be required for holding the second annual competition and the patio/garden beside the Fonatur offices, here in Nopolo was chosen and proved to be an ideal location.

To provide much needed support and volunteers, to handle the requirements of ticketing and managing the even greater numbers that were anticipated this year, the members of the Optimist Club of Loreto were recruited and the club became the worthy recipient of the substantial funds that were raised. One of the remarkable aspects of this event to me is that the competitors provided all their own ingredients, which included large quantities of choice seafood as well as chicken, sausage and many other delicacies that make each pan of paella unique. This contribution of all the food, to serve generous portions to the over 200 hungry and appreciative in attendance, represents a substantial cost for each of the eight teams in the competition, and results in all of the funds raised from the 200 peso admission fee, going to the beneficiaries of the charity.

But the fund raising didn’t stop there. Beverage tickets were sold in large quantities and could be exchanged for cold beer, tasty sangria, or bottled water. One of the original sponsors, Roganto Wines from Ensenada, who provided two cooking teams as well, were also offering free tastings of their various products throughout the afternoon and selling their excellent vintages - a rare opportunity to purchase fine wines that would be otherwise unavailable locally and they donated a generous share of the proceeds from the sales to the funds being raised. In addition, there was a well subscribed 50/50 draw and two raffles for complete paella starter kits, including a medium sized pan and hard to find ingredients!

My small role in the event was providing music and a portable PA system which I set up about 10:00 in the morning to provide “music to cook by” and a steady stream of food lovers started arriving before noon to meet and visit and, most importantly, stroll around the eight cooking stations where the different teams were hard at work preparing their personal versions of this traditional Spanish dish. Did I mention the aromas? Oh, bliss! The delicate and savoury smells wafting from each of the teams temporary open air kitchens; chicken, sausages, peppers, and of course the seafood – flaky filets, succulent scallops, monstrous shrimp, calamari, and often, choice lobster tails – that studded the traditional round flat pans which were brimming with saffron golden rice, absorbing all of the complex flavours of each unique recipe. Is anyone getting hungry out there?

At 1:00 two teams of Judges were assembled; first one to judge the appearance of each of the pan offerings. The moment of truth repeated itself at each station – the pan was removed from it’s cooking appliance, often requiring two team members just to lift it (some of these pans measured four feet across!) and then layers of insulating towels were removed before the final tented covering of yards of foil were peeled back to reveal the beautiful, symmetrically arranged display of all of the above mentioned delicacies on their steaming golden background. These pictures really don’t do these edible mosaics justice, because without the benefit of “smell-o-vision”, at least half of the experience is sadly missing.

The second group of judges had an even more difficult task – they had to judge samples of rice only, collected from each pan – because for the true aficionado of Paella, it’s all about the rice! The many exotic and succulent ingredients that are added, contribute the subtle flavours, but it is the colour, texture and, of course, TASTE of the rice that is how the best of the best is judged. As soon as the “officials” had had their chance at each pan the now famished hoard of over 200 descended on what became (albeit civilized) a paella feeding frenzy!

Some, who had been “casing” the different preparations during the morning went straight to their chosen team and filled their plate with that one offering. But the majority of others sampled what became a cornucopia of subtly differing versions of this delectable dish – and there were NO bad choices! After finding scarce space on their laden plates for a side of fresh crunchy Caesar salad, served from heaping bowls of romaine (now I know why it was almost impossible to find any decent lettuce in town this week!) the happily expectant food lovers made their way to the many squares of tables and chairs, arranged under large shade tents, to indulge themselves in a rare opportunity – enjoying too much, too good, food!

Relaxed conversation continued long after the plates were emptied (and often refilled) until the moment of truth arrived for the anxious competitors – the announcement of the Judges decisions. One award was given out for presentation and three for the rice tasting, the winner of which was judged to be the overall winner of the competition, there was also a People’s Choice award, where those attending could record their opinion as to their “flavourite”. Other presentations were made for the 50/50 draw (which alone raised over 3,000 pesos, half of which went to the charity) the raffle prizes were presented and finally, reluctantly, the now satiated crowd started to drift away mid-afternoon. The volunteers made quick work of striking the cooking stations and removing the chairs, tables and shade tents. Many large bags of garbage and recyclables were disposed of and as I packed up my sound system the peaceful green space that had hosted the event was returning to it’s original condition. By the way, although the final tallies have not been done as I write this, early estimates are that between 60,000 and 70,000 pesos ($5,000 - $6,000 US) were raised for the Optimist Club’s good works – a truly magnificent contribution that will go a long way in supporting those in the greatest need locally. In light of the serious economic challenges that have hit this community during this year of swine flu, tourism slow down and hurricane damage these funds take on even greater significance!

So this was a week that combined new beginnings, holding the promise of a successful and enterprising future, and the return of an event that marked a highlight of last year for me. And this year it doubled in size, and dare I say, enjoyment, while making a generous contribution to the local community that shares this special place with us! Truly this was a week to be remembered, bringing together some of the best aspects of life here in a special and unique way – a way that makes me appreciate even more – “Living Loreto”!