By Rodolfo González Almaguer
New Jersey (8-11-2016) -Cooking paellas is not an Olympic discipline and the City where the competition will take place is far from resembling Rio de Janeiro. However, three chefs from our area have been training for months with the effort of marathoners for the sake of a simple objective: to bring home a gold medal.
I am referring to Guillermo Vallejo, Paco Rodino, and Manuel Rey, the trio of chefs that next September 11th will defend the colors of the United States in the final of the International Valencian Paella Contest of Sueca, an event that is held every year in the town of Sueca, Spain.
To earn the right to participate in this contest where the créme de la créme of paella chefs from all over the world compete, has not been an easy road. Vallejo, Rodino and Rey, have spent months polishing their skills because a good dish of paella requires talent, good taste, and certain arts, quasi secret, that only very seasoned chefs are able to master.
They also had to beat numerous colleagues last October in New Jersey during the semifinal for the USA of the International Valencian Paella Contest of Sueca, an event organized by Paella for the World Foundation and the City of Jersey City.
The jury of the contest was presided by two experts who specifically traveled from Valencia: Chef Jesus Melero and Pep Cortell, both recognized pillars of the Iberian gastronomy, who also served as coordinators of the International Valencian Paella Contest of Sueca.
This competition took place at the Jersey City City Hall and according to its organizers, the contest was able to mobilize over a thousand people.
The youngest and only professional chef of the group is Guillermo Vallejo, who currently works as a chef at a popular restaurant in the Big Apple. Paco Rodino and Manuel Rey’s case is very special: both are mature businessmen that dedicate their spare time cooking paellas and have great respect for the culinary arts.
“Guillermo Vallejo, Paco Rodino, and Manuel Rey, feel real passion for this delicious dish of Valencian origin and we are sure that they will play an important role representing the United States in Spain,” said Mrs. Mayda Alfonso, Vice Director of Paella for the World Foundation. “All three are excellent chefs and are well prepared for this competition.”
Manuel Rey confessed to this reporter that he has been practicing all summer, to the delight of neighbors, who voluntarily served as tasters. According to Manolo, to compete against world-class chefs in the birthplace of the paella is a unique experience and at the same time lots of fun.
Rodino noted that competition will take place just 20 miles from the birthplace of his grandparents. “I grew up cooking paellas,” Paco said. “It is an honor to return to Valencia to represent the United States almost 100 years after my grandparents left Spain”.
Guillermo Vallejo, meanwhile, emphasized that he is presently employed at a restaurant linked to the famous baseball team New York Yankees.
“I’m ready to hit a homerun with my paella,” said Vallejo. “And because I have Mexican blood I would be willing to celebrate this victory with Mariachis and Tequila.”