“There is a magic in paella that amazes foreign cooks, and it is the fact that the water turns into broth, a liturgy that is different from the preparation of any other rice,” explains Rafa Margós, chef at Las Bairetas. and who has taught the twelve contestants who compete in this Wednesday’s World Paella Day how to cook a Valencian paella. Arrived from four different continents, since this weekend they have had a complete agenda of activities to get to know not only Valencia, but everything that surrounds the world of rice and paella, a visit that helps them dismantle myths and free themselves from fears of time to stand in front of the fire.
The Mexican Carlos Leal is one of the contestants who has managed to reach this final that is held this year in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, with a change of location that will allow the public to witness the competition. A few years ago he left a good job in the corporate world after cooking completely captured him. “The weekend would arrive and it was my hobby, I have always been a self-taught person.” He first dedicated himself to mezcal, then to salts, until he became a semi-finalist on Masterchef and his life changed radically. “Now I work in the kitchen, but not in a restaurant, but for global brands creating content and giving conferences and courses.” And when Pepe Curiel, the Mexican semifinalist who participated last year in World Paella Day, shared that there would be another edition and encouraged the chefs to participate, he was clear.
What ingredients are you going to use? Carlos Leal remains silent, and only acknowledges that he has brought several Mexican ingredients that he will use, and that Pablo Margós’ teachings have made him rethink the recipe for the paella that he will prepare to take first prize. This Tuesday, at the Central Market, they will buy everything they need to cook in a competition that has crossed borders, coinciding with World Paella Day.
To what extent is it important that they know Valencian paella? “The majority have a lot of respect when it comes to cooking a paella, because they think that they are going to be criticized for adding ingredients that are not what this dish contains,” explains Margós, who insists that kilometer 0 in Mexico is not the same as in India or Valencia. «All rice made in paella must meet three premises: dry, loose and tasty. Nothing more”, and he points out that in Las Bairetas “we have taught them what Valencian paella is like”, says the chef, who since he started cooking in the family restaurant at the age of fourteen estimates that he has prepared around 350,000 paellas.
Foreign chefs believe that it is an incredible experience to be able to travel to Valencia and participate in this competition. «I have always said it, food is a way to connect people, nations, and it helps break down barriers. And a dish as representative as paella should unite us even more,” says Carlos Leal, who will turn 50 this week.