Thu, Feb 27, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Valencian trio make ‘Wikipaella’ in bid to save classic dish

THE GUARDIAN

Horrified by chefs making paella with ingredients including poached eggs and avocados, three men from Spain’s autonomous Valencian region have banded together to fight what they call the increasing “prostitution” of one of the country’s most iconic dishes.

Wikipaella aims to help “police” paella around the world, co-founder Guillermo Navarro said.

“It’s a dish that’s really trendy these days, and there’s lots of people taking advantage of it and selling what they call authentic, traditional or Spanish paella,” he said.

Time spent in the UK and the US gave Navarro a first-hand experience of how a dish treasured by his family for generations was losing its identity.

“It’s like: ‘No, amigo, no,’” he said of some of the paellas he had eaten outside of Spain.

Particularly egregious to him is the slew of UK chefs who add chorizo to their recipes.

“If Jamie Oliver wants to make his own version of paella, well that’s good,” Navarro said. “But don’t present [it] as something authentic or traditional, because its not. Imagine if we said that we were making typical British fish and chips, and we were putting oranges in it.”

Navarro originally thought that it was just a matter of misinformation outside of Spain, but encountered the same problem when he moved to the Spanish capital.

“In Madrid, 90 percent of the paellas that you eat can’t be compared to real paella,” he said.

It was from this frustration — shared by many from the Valencian region — that Wikipaella was born.

“It’s a citizen’s response to this problem,” Navarro said.

Launched last week, the site aims to be a portal into the world of authentic paella and other traditional rice dishes of the region through certifying restaurants that serve the real deal, sharing recipes or answering the public’s questions.

One of Wikipaella’s first steps was to create a definitive list of what can be allowed in an authentic Valencian paella, a Herculean feat considering that each community in the region has their own take on the iconic rice dish.

After analyzing 170 traditional recipes, the list was drawn up: yes to ingredients ranging from snails and rabbits to artichokes, but no to everything else, especially the artificial food coloring often used instead of expensive saffron.

The site will be a place where paella fans of all nationalities can come together and share their thoughts on what makes the dish authentic, Navarro said. He is hoping to have the English-language version of the site up and running by tomorrow.

“Our objective is to have the majority of people know what an authentic paella from our region is,” he said. “We want it to be like pizza, where people can add in whatever ingredients they want, but that they know what a traditional pizza is.”

His team is not alone in taking paella seriously. In Benidorm, the Saint Anthony Catholic University is set to launch what it says is the world’s first Master’s degree in the rich variety of rice and paella dishes in the Mediterranean.

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