Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater rolled up their sleeves and joined a delegation of representatives from more than 100 Miami-Dade County groups to serve a hungry line of lobbyists, politicians and staffers large plates of paella in the midday sun today.
Paella is a traditional Latin dish made with rice, spices, seafood and chicken, and Wednesday marked the 26th such lunch at the Florida Capitol. Although the dish originates from Valencia, Spain, event organizer Bob Levy explains, after Spanish conquest, the communal food became a staple in many Latin-American cultures and eventually became part of Miami’s as well.
“It’s a broad cross-section of probably a hundred different organizations, elected officials-- a lot of these are judges, city commissioners, county commissioners, school board members-- everyone has a different agenda but the common goal is to promote Miami-Dade County,” Levy says.
Levy hopes the annual event both promotes Miami-Dade County causes to lawmakers and lobbyists and gives North Floridians an idea of what it’s like to live in the Magic City.
“Our goal is to recreate a day in the life of Miami-Dade County. Tonight we have a Mambo Kings party, which is a traditional night life party, and we just want to show people what it’s like to live in Miami-Dade County,” Levy says.
But Levy also says the free food also helps dispel common misconceptions other Floridians might have about the county and its residents as a result of what they see on TV and in movies. But, a county that boasts close to 3 million people, the 11th largest cargo container port in the country and the most representation in state government needs little introduction. Diego Feliciano, a Miami lobbyist, points out that it wasn’t always that way though.
“Twenty-five years ago when I started coming to the Legislature, a lot of people didn’t know a lot about Dade County and I could name probably the five legislators that were Latin in the entire Senate and House,” Feliciano said, taking a break from serving hungry Capitol-goers Wednesday. “Of course the county has grown and so has the influence of the Latin culture there and it’s a big world of difference.”
After waiting in line in the hot sun, most people eagerly emptied their plates and rushed back for seconds. But did diners digest the message that went along with the food? Toma Sokolic says yes. He said he missed last year’s paella, and nothing was going to stand between him and the Latin rice dish this year.
“I figured this day we’d mark it on our calendar and we brought our team here to taste, I guess, the taste of Miami-Dade County. And it’s not, like my colleague here put it earlier, it’s not just free food, actually it's paella,” Sokolic says.“So, they’re trying to associate a culture that is Miami. If it were [just] free food it wouldn’t be paella.”
In many ways the Spanish dish is a lot like Miami – a blending of different tastes and cultures, cooked together in a single pot.