Sofrito's $1,000 paella: If you have any money left to blow...

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There are few things sadder than being the last guy to buy into a trend. We've all been there: after thinking long and hard, you finally pick up a pair of parachute pants just as everyone else is starting to wear military-themed clothing, or you get that pair of oversized dark-rimmed glasses at the same time that all of your friends are trading theirs in for wire rims. Caught between the end of a fad and its return as a retro style, you are stuck out in the open, decidedly uncool, sporting a look that immediately seems dated and cheesy.

The latest example of this sad, sad subspecies is Ricardo Cardona. The head chef at Sofrito, an upscale New York eatery, he recently announced the arrival of his $1,000 paella, just in time to catch the plummeting fortunes of the stock market, the much-ballyhooed arrival of thrift, and a serious backlash against profligate spending.

Unlike the $1,000 bagel, the $175 burger, and other white truffle-laden delicacies, Cardona's paella doesn't really feature any outrageously expensive top-shelf items. Rather, it is filled with reasonably upscale ingredients, including black truffles, sea scallops, baby squid, baby eel, mussels, cherrystone clams, king crab legs, mini-chorizo sausages, octopus, lobster tails, prawns, and Spanish ham. While the ham, or jamon iberico, is a pricey item, it doesn't really have the cachet of white truffles, gold leaf, goji berries, or caviar, the usual suspects that crowd the ingredient lists of ultra-expensive dishes.

Not one to let details get in the way, Sofrito owner Genaro Morales is following the tried-and-true path of the outrageous food purveyor. To distract from the fact that his paella has something like a 900% markup, he's agreed to give 20% of the proceeds from the dish to a nonprofit organization that helps disadvantaged Latino kids. This, of course, drops his profit margin to a measly $700 or so per plate.

Just in case the pricey ingredients and bald-faced appeal to charity should fail to drive customers to Sofrito, Chef Cardona has also positioned his paella as the solution to the current economic crisis: "Who said 'recession'? Who said 'bad economy'? [...] I think that's the way to fight the bad economy, and if you have the money to spend, then why not enjoy yourself?" One thing's for sure: if enough people buy the platinum paella, Cardona won't have to worry about the plummeting stock market!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. While Cardona's financial advice sounds interesting, he's going to stick with his old investment strategy: shoving handfuls of flaming hundred-dollar bills up the rear end of a circus elephant while scattering gold dust to the four winds.
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