V.B.W. misses the Paella party but gets the scoop

Paella Party

Sounds as though this was one of the most delicious parties of the year, and I hate that I missed it! KUT underwriting saleswoman Kelty Christman called Sunday with the details about her second annual Outdoor Paella Cook-Off. Christman, a former UT Latin American Studies major, has an abiding fondness for all Latin foods and credits former Fonda San Miguel chef Roberto Santibañez as her cooking mentor. She and a group of friends began cooking paella together a few years back, and it finally grew into a big backyard party. Based on the success of the first event, Christman made much more extensive plans this year. She ordered eight huge paella pans online (, constructed U-shaped brick fire pits in her Northeast Austin back yard, contacted the UT Spanish department about furnishing an actual Spaniard to act as judge, and put out the e-mail invitations to friends. Eight cooking teams signed up to compete. Word of mouth generated an attendance of more than 80 people for an outdoor party on a cold, dreary Saturday night. Christman's dad collected $15 donations at the door to cover costs. While some teams began cooking as early as 4:30pm, others got a much later start, and the finished products weren't ready for judging until about 8pm. The hostess provided the fire pits, wood fuel, and paella pans. Individual teams were responsible for their ingredients and a metal cooking rack to cover their fire. According to Christman, most of the finished dishes contained chicken and a selection of shrimp, mussels, and squid, although one featured chorizo and another had crab claws. While the contestants were cooking, guests sipped red and white sangrias to the strains of recorded flamenco music and munched on a selection of Spanish tapas prepared by the hostess: tortilla Española with chipotle aioli and roasted red and green peppers; crostini with olive tapenade, Manchego cheese, and olives; and a dip of chickpeas, fresh herbs, and chorizo. Judges M.L. Krasnick of the Texas Culinary Academy and Lucia Osa-Melero of the UT Spanish department awarded restaurant gift certificates to the following winners. Overall: Alfredo Ghezzi and his team of five cooks; People's Choice: Patricia Nuñez and Sandra Leija; runner-up: David Wizelman and Agnes Aoki. By Sunday evening, the exhausted hostess was already making plans for next year's event, and I am determined to accept her invitation to act as one of the judges.

Event Menu: November 18-25

The first Festival of Cinema and Gastronomy debuts this week. The event is designed to promote the food and wine of Burgundy and celebrates food on film with screenings of such foodie classics as Que la Fête Commence, Babett's Feast, Like Water for Chocolate, and Le Grande Bouffe. A jury of chefs will award the Prix Bernard Loiseau for the best "promotion of culinary art in a film scene," and 200 guests will attend a re-enactment of the banquet from Babette's Feast at the Chateau du Clos Vougeot. Talk about eating, drinking, and watching movies! Wish I were there. Dijon, Burgundy, France, Nov. 17-21.

And speaking of French food and wine, the Beaujolais Noveau makes its debut at Chez Nous (510 Neches, 473-2413) this week, and they'll be serving two varietals until the new wine runs out. Thursday, Nov. 18.

The Westlake Farmers Market at Sunset Valley ( invites you to Graze Fest, promoting sustainable, humane animal husbandry practices on Texas farms and ranches. Check out the turkey, shrimp, goats, cheeses, beef, chicken, pork, and eggs available from area artisan producers. 3200 Jones Rd. on Highway 290 West, 9:30am-1pm, Saturday, Nov. 20.

Messina Hof Winery and Resort ( presents their Wine Premier 2004 with festivities including a wine and food pairing luncheon benefiting the A&M Bonfire Memorial Fund, a Texas vs. the World Wine Shoot-Out with guests as the judges, and a six-course Wine Premier Dinner complemented by a fashion show with designs by Jill Focke. Reservations are necessary. 800/736-9463, Saturday, Nov. 20.

The Highland Lakes region of the Texas Hill Country will be alive with wine and art this weekend, presenting the annual Hill Country Fine Art & Wine Trail ( Check out the various participating artists, galleries, and wineries on the Web, or call Joe Verdoorn at the Gallery at Spicewood, 830/798-2020, for more information. No reservations necessary, trail maps available, refreshments at many locations. 10am-6pm, Saturday, Nov. 20; noon-6:30pm, Sunday, Nov. 21.

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Kelty Christman, Outdoor Paella Cook-Off

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