“In Valencia, paella is more than just eating; it is a ritual that reflects the character of the region. It provides a focus for family and friends to gather and enjoy. The most important aspect of paella is bringing people together. And the rice, it’s all about the rice”-Chef Camila
I’ve always wanted to learn how to make paella. What’s not to love about paella? It’s essentially a one pot dish full of flavor. It is a perfect meal to serve to friends because it feeds a large number of people. It is visually pleasing and a crowd pleaser.
Traditional paella is made with chicken and rabbit; others prefer seafood paella; yet others like vegetable. In the states, we add sausage which can dominate the dish, straying from the original version because paella is about tasting the flavors of the rice. It is traditionally a dish that is eaten during the day, not at night. Many families come together to eat it on Sundays.
A few months ago, I ran into my former cooking school instructor, Chef Camila. I asked, more like pleaded with her, to see if she had any upcoming paella workshops? Camila was headed back to Spain to teach a five-week culinary course but informed me that she had one class to teach before she left for her trip. So I went home and enrolled my husband and I right away.
Camila is the owner and founder of Sobremesa, a catering and culinary tour business based in Berkeley specializing in Spanish cuisine. Before moving to Berkeley, Camila lived in Barcelona where she taught cooking workshops to locals and Americans visiting Spain. When she moved to Berkeley, she became my instructor at Bauman College. Who better to teach me the art of making paella?
It was a beautiful fall Sunday afternoon. We met at Camila’s home where we began preparing the ingredients for our meal. There was a flurry of laughter and activity as we grated onions, cleaned mussels and chopped bell peppers together in her kitchen.
When we were done preparing the ingredients for our meal, we headed outside to make the paella. We helped each other combine all the elements into the pan. In between we stood in awe as the ingredients took shape to create this colorful dish.
The table was set for nine outside in her lovely, lush garden. The low afternoon, golden light from the sun felt good on our backs. The spread of food reflected a true Spanish feast. The appetizers included olive tapenade, sliced juicy tomatoes with fresh, crusty bread and house made sangria. A deliciously light arugula salad with lemon vinaigrette accompanied the paella.
As we ate, our discussion centered around food, culture and tradition. A few of the students were originally from Italy and Thailand. We shared common stories about our love of cooking and eating.
It is not a coincidence that Chef Camila’s business is named after the concept of Sobremesa, which is loosely defined as the leisurely time after we have finished eating, but before we get up from the table. Sobremesa is the time spent in conversation, digesting, relaxing, and enjoying. The true message of paella and Sobremesa became clear. The act of making paella brought new and old friends together while Sobremesa kept us at the table.
After our meal, we were served a dairy-free orange flan, prepared by Camila. The fresh orange citrus flavor made for a refreshing, end of meal, palate cleanser. It was presented with a drizzle of dark chocolate and a dried slice of persimmon (harvested from her persimmon tree) dipped in more dark chocolate -so tasty!
I can’t give away all the secrets of paella in this post. You will just have to make a visit to Berkeley and enroll in a class to understand the true magic of paella. For more information on classes and workshops, see Sobremesa. Or better yet, visit Sobremesa Culinary Tours to sign up for upcoming culinary tours in Spain this summer in San Sebastian and/or Barcelona.
In the meantime, Chef Camila was kind enough to share her delicious recipe for orange flan.
Chef Camila’s Orange Flan
Dairy-Free, Nut-Free, Sesame-Free, Gluten-Free, Vegetarian , Soy-Free
- 2.5 cups fresh orange juice
- 1/2 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoon
- 2 eggs
- 10 egg yolks
Preheat oven to 350 F. Heat the juice with the sugar in a saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat.
Beat eggs and yolks lightly in a large bowl. Beat in juice gradually. Ladle, the mixture into 8 -6 oz ramekins. Place in a large, shallow baking pan and pour enough boiling water to come up halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake for 30 minutes or until the custard sets. Take ramekins out of oven and let cool before serving.
Drizzle with melted dark chocolate and a dark chocolate dipped piece of dried or fresh fruit.