An Opinion: 2012 Paella Fest A Disappointment
Every year Lisbeth and I look forward to attending the San Felipe Paella Festival at the Hotel Cortez. This year was no different. Saturday the 25th of February looked as if it was going to be perfect weather for the event. Sunny, blue skies, perfect 70 degree temperatures, a slight hint of a breeze–perfect ingredients for a great day on the beach.
As we drove over the hill to head down to the Hotel Cortez, we received a call from Sharron. “Can’t park where we usual park,” she said. “We’ve nabbed some chairs, but tables are a question mark.” Sure enough, ahead of us in what used to be the parking area, were two long rows of paella competitor tents. What happened to the courtyard layout? What happened to the stage on the beach? Our car buzzed with all of these questions.
After finding a parking spot on the street, we headed into the venue. “We are way down at the very end,” Sharron yelled above the noise of the crowd. We followed her past booth after booth of paella competitors. “I don’t remember ever seeing this many competitors!” Lisbeth shouted. Somewhere in the middle of all of this chaos was an awkwardly placed stage visible only to those lucky enough to nab seats in the middle of this former parking lot overlooking the back side of the motel. So much for a relaxing backdrop of the Sea of Cortez. We found Lynda guarding four stacks of plastic chairs. No tables. Unless one was willing to sit in a drafty motel corridor, all of the nicer shady areas were gone. Either way, few had seats with a view of the stage. Ordinarily we would spend a goodly amount of time wandering through the competitor’s area watching as each of the paella dishes were prepared. Not this year. Under this configuration, all of the preparation took place at the back of the tents, making it impossible to observe anything. Ordinarily, we would wander the tequila and wine tasting vendors deciding on a special purchase or two to take back to friends Stateside. Not this year. Few vendors of any quality were present. And, their placement mixed in among the no-host bars and paella competitors, made them next to impossible to find. About an hour into the event, we managed to find some tables to go with the chairs. Apparently most of the tables earmarked for this event were still over at the Cancer Walk, held earlier in the day.
Each of the paellas must be judged before being served to the paying public. With so many competitors this year, some of the paellas did not become available for sampling until 3 p.m. In years past, one had a modicum of time to scout out paellas worthy of sampling. Each person has tickets for three choices. Then, at a specified time, half of the paellas would be judged and available for the public to test. Then, at another specified time, the second half of the paellas were made available. Usually, while we waited from noon until about 1:30 we were entertained by mariachi bands, folkloric dance groups, and guitar music. This year, none of this was visible or audible. It felt disjointed and hit-or-miss as to whether one would even find a paella worthy of getting in line to sample. The focus appeared to be on the competition and the judges and not on the general public as tasters. Those of us sitting with Baja Sisters group didn’t get our first taste of anything (except beer and margaritas) until 2:30 pm. Most of the attendees were way on their way to getting totally blasted before getting anything to eat. Perhaps that was the intent of the organizers? Who knows.
Needless to say, we were very disappointed. Of all of the seasonal events here in San Felipe, the Paella Festival has always been right up at the top as one of our favorites. After this year, however, those of us sisters present decided that next year we should perhaps do our own private paella fest, have a no-host bar, sell tickets among our friends, and give the proceeds to Casa de Fe. The thought was left for more discussion.