Out of the paella pan, into the fire

So why Alicante?

First off, I loved Alicante during our visit for the ICEX scholarship. Alicante is home to the queen of saffron, Maria Jose San Roman (her restaurants are really good), as well as some outstanding rice cookery.

I guess that the proximity to the growing fields of the famous Bomba rice of Spain makes this place a haven for great rice dishes– dishes like arroz meloso (think: risotto), arroz cremoso (think: soupy rice), and the quintessentially Spanish dish, paella.

Second, as it turns out one of my friends from Calima is the son of one of the most famous paella makers in Spain. Thank you very much, Karma.

So, just 30 minutes and 3 Red Bulls after work we headed out on the 6-hour drive to his family’ s restaurant– Casa Juan— leaving at 2am.

Of course, this was my first time driving a manual transmission in over 6 years (not that I “drove” one before that… I just tried it a few times, as Kristen can attest to her grounded down gears on the BMer!) But I was determined, nonetheless, to get in that car, get to Alicante (in one piece), and eat some truly righteous paella.

Let the vacation begin!!! Sorta.

Eventually we arrived unscathed around 7am– with only a handful of stalls along the way and perhaps in need of a chiropractor due to my compulsion for popping the clutch.

Which was when we met up with Emilio’s parents– on their way to open their beachfront restaurant and prepare for a grueling service. Not that I knew any of this at the time…

Sweating through a surprise service

Because if I knew what was in for me, I would maybe not have mentioned how I would–ohsurewhynot— love to tag along.

Or that I would–ohsurewhynot— love to see the prep of sauces and stocks. Or–ohsurewhynot— I’ll try on your pretty blue apron. Or–ohsurewhynot–I’ll chop that onion.

Or–ohsurewhynotwaitwhatthehellishappening?!–I’ll stir your paella. And your second. And so on, and so on…

Until suddenly, after working my final service at Calima, driving through the night, and arriving only to go to another restaurant– I found myself working the line making paellas at one of the bussiest, most well-known paella restaurants in Spain on one of their busiest days of the week.

I was, in fact, cooking and sweating more now on my first day of vacation than I had in over a year– that is, we (meaning me and the main paella cook) turned out over 80 paellas, often working 6 or more at a time.

This, my friends, was what we call a trial by fire. I seriously hadn’t done this much volume since my Jaleo days– which is ironic since Sr. Guillén helped to shape Jaleo’s paella recipe.

My paella heros: Sr. y Sra. Guillén

Not that I am complaining at all– this family, the Guilléns, are hands-down some of the nicest, hardest working people I have met. Emilio’s “momma” and “poppa” can cook circles around many of the professional chefs I have met… seriously, these guys are amazing to see and I am so humbled to have been trusted enough to be allowed to help out and learn in their kitchen.

Plus… the paella ROCKS. They are so deservedly famous for their recipe and technique.

So, in conclusion:

Dear Diary– Paella is yummy, and I now understand it better than I ever have.

I understand the soccarat (that fabulously crunchy layer that develops and is the mark of a paella maestro) even if I can’t get it perfect every time (Jeff=student, not maestro).

And I am now ready for some Flamenco. Off to Granada and the famous cuevas de los gitanos!


One Response to “Out of the paella pan, into the fire”

  1. So where are you going to be cooking in Granada and how many Red Bulls will it take to get there? Have fun and safe travels my friend.

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