Nothing Says 'Miami' To Tallahassee Like A Vat Of Paella (And A Pitch For Funds)

Apr 3, 2013

A TON OF STUFF: The seafood, rice and chicken dish known as paella is dished up at the capitol to celebrate Miami-Dade County.
Credit Rick Stone

TALLAHASSEE -- If your plan is to manufacture paella on an industrial, thousand-meals-a-batch scale, first thing you need is a truck. And a trailer, with a heat source. A giant cooking pan, maybe a dozen feet across. And, of course, a ton of food.

Literally a ton.

"It's maybe two thousand pounds of stuff," said Chef Bijan, the official paella chef of Miami-Dade Days at the state capitol. "Chicken, crab, shrimp, saffron, peppers."

Bijan stirs the glistening, yellow mixture with a long wooden paddle, stopping occasionally to add water, two or three ounces at a time, with careful squeezes on a garden hose nozzle.

"It's really not hard to do," confides Vandez Myles, one of two local student cooks who has gotten a gig for the day. "You put the ingredients in, you go to work, you put your hands together."

Tallahassee hands are together at the moment for Miami-Dade County's day in the wan spotlight of the legislative session. Every year, each of the big counties gets a day or two to put its indigenous culture on display as a prelude to closeting its local officials with state lawmakers to talk issues and make deals.

STOPPING FOR PAELLA: A couple of capitol regulars dig in on the pedestal of a monument to slain police officers.
Credit Rick Stone

This is Miami Dade County's 25th year, 25th Tallahassee shopping list and 25th vat of paella.

"We've got plenty of issues," said Miami-Dade State Sen. Oscar Braynon, as he ladled the aromatic paella onto paper plates. He wore a white apron over a stylish tan suit. A tiny diamond gleamed in his earlobe.

"There's education," he said. "Healthcare. Making sure Jackson (Memorial Hospital) is solvent. And the funding! A lot of it is making sure that we get our money back that we sent up. We're a donor community, so we want to make sure we get our resources back."

The day's agenda included an "executive session" with Gov. Rick Scott, members of the Cabinet and the county legislative delegation. Late in the afternoon, registered participants were invited to stop by Miami-Dade Sen. Gwen Margolis' office for drinks and canapés. A reception and post-reception scheduled through midnight were to round out the day.

Thursday was to be spent in nuts-and-bolts-talks among local officials and bureaucrats and state government department heads.

By now, the paella pan has been trundled to the center of the plaza that separates the historic old capitol from the newer capitol tower. State house workers, lawmakers, lobbyists, advocates for unrelated causes and random passersby are showing up two to a mule, as they say up here, for a Miami-style paella lunch.

Not that there's anything particularly "Miami" about paella. It originated in Spain. But it is a mixture of discrete, identifiable foods in a unified dish. To some, it's a metaphor for the Miami melting pot.

And to the rest, it's another free lunch. 

Here's how to make it: