In case you hadn’t heard, North Little Rock was the epicenter of a Mexican culinary throwdown this week.
Our great city (I can say that because I moved back into NLR city limits Wednesday) hosted the Mexican Restaurant Association’s (MERA) national conference. Demonstrations, management discussions and vendor displays took place at the Wyndham Riverfront. The convention also included Monday’s community night at Dickey-Stephens Park (link is to Kat Robinson’s coverage on Eat Arkansas) and a banquet for conference attendees on Tuesday night at Pulaski Technical College, hosted by the Arkansas Culinary School.
Did I mention I moved this week?
Because of a long list of unavoidable circumstances, we pretty much packed and moved our entire house the first half of this week. So, the only event I made it to was part of the conference itself on Tuesday morning. I’m still kicking myself for missing the community and banquet events — especially since there’s a rumor that Guy Fieri was at the former. (Can anyone confirm that, with photos?)
But I did sign up some time ago for the Tuesday morning task of assisting Chef Ulysses Mora, a delightful, handsome chef and accomplished artist from the Orlando area. We were to make paella, a Spanish rice dish that would be demonstrated alongside another chef’s authentic Mexican dish. It was a friendly “versus” setup, commemorating Mexico’s 200th anniversary of independence from Spain.
While the morning conference activities began, Chef Mora prepared two huge dishes of paella, in traditional pans so large that one took up the entire flattop cooking surface. While he made the first one, I ran around finding things for him, running other things to the walk-in, and basically absorbing the craziness of the busy kitchen.
As Chef Mora transferred the first dish of paella to a hotel pan for sampling during his demonstration, he started the second pan that would be for display. (And, of course, kitchen-worker eatery. Bonus!) He let me sweat the onions and prep some of the other ingredients: Uncle Ben’s parboiled rice (really), mussels, tilapia (he said he prefers mahi-mahi), crab legs, and the most amazing chorizo sausage I have ever had. He said it was flown in from Spain for $17 per pound.
If any readers went to the other events, especially if you have photos, please leave me a comment!