Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 9, 2013

Paella hits the park, prepared by seven local chefs

BY NATHAN PAYNE npayne@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The three basic ingredients in paella are rice, stock and saffron.

Beyond those, the traditionally Spanish dish is a reflection of the vision each chef brings. And that’s what paella lovers can expect when they belly up to more than a dozen versions of the dish prepared by seven local chefs at Paella in the Park on Aug. 16. The chefs will be accompanying seven wineries at the Open Space.

Last year, Chef Owner of Town Plaza Chris Hoffman made three paellas that reflect his vision as a chef. They were built around smoked pork and chicken, two staples of his restaurant.

“What we try to do is make it a reflection of what we do here,” he said, wearing a T-shirt bearing a diagram of the cuts of meat on a pig. “It’s rice and saffron, everything else you put into it.”

It was Hoffman’s first time making paella in a quantity larger than what would fit in a big frying pan.

“They said ‘you get a paella pan when you show up,’” he said. “I got this huge thing.”

The trio of pans provided to each chef for the annual event are 36 inches in diameter and hold enough paella to feed hundreds of people. The chefs and their crews show up early in the day to begin preparing ingredients and making the dishes.

“Wind is a big challenge,” said Paul Olson, chef at Mission Table and veteran of Paella in the Park. “If it’s windy down there then you have trouble with your flame. As long as you are prepared, you are fine.”

Typically, Olson comes prepared.

Olson will lug 25 gallons of stock, 10 pounds of onions and 20 to 30 pounds of protein to the event this year.

“Last year I did rabbit and pork belly,” he said. “I’m feeling sausage this year. I’m going to do chorizo and something else. It’s a lot of schlepping. It’s not like you make it in 15 minutes.”

Patrons of the fourth rendition of the event can expect a variety of flavor combinations in the giant pans. There typically are chefs who make seafood or vegetarian paellas at the event in addition to those who keep their offerings more traditional, Olson said.

No matter what the ingredients, there will be lots of good food from chefs who know how to cook a good paella.

“Really good paella, you stir it a little in the beginning then you just let it sit,” Olson said. “You build a little crust around the edge.”

After the food is gone and patrons have had their fill of wine samples, there will be live performances by the Cuban orchestra Grupo Aye, the reggae band The Resolvers, the champion beat-boxer Heatbox and the local guitar act the Younce Guitar Duo. There also will be an appearance by Jason Divad, a juggling, unicycling daredevil.

Tickets to the event can be purchased in advance for $30 a piece at www.porterhouseproductions.com or at the door for $35. The tickets include a commemorative wine glass, five wine pour tokens and three servings of paella in addition to the live entertainment.