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Watch: Unlock the secret to perfect paella at these intimate hands-on workshops

Hint: Don't put chorizo in it!

Any Spaniard will tell you that paella is a special dish, a Sunday gathering kind of meal punctuated with great drink and company and recipes steeped in tradition. 

And while every Spanish household may put its own spin on the classic recipe, there's one component even globally-acclaimed chef Jamie Oliver will get laughed out of the country for using: chorizo. Perhaps the only thing that brings Spanish people together more than eating paella is a shared rebuffing of anyone who so treasonously suggests the prized fatty spiced sausage - best consumed uncooked - be tossed in with the carefully-prepared rice and other components.

Vancouver-based Spanish chef Javier Blanc may gently tease people about the perils of putting chorizo in the mix, but ultimately the former Madrid restaurateur just wants people to get to know his country's de facto national dish.

Blanc is the co-founder of The Paella Guys and recently represented Canada in a global paella competition in Valencia, Spain - birthplace of paella. 

Paella classes offered in commissary kitchen

In the summer, you'll find The Paella Guys set up on the patio of Vancouver's Como Taperia as part of a regular series of ticketed pop-up events. However, The Paella Guys is a full-service catering operation that offers everything from appearances at large events to take-out paella packages for you to enjoy at home. Recently The Paella Guys have resumed offering their intimate hands-on paella-making (and eating) workshops, which take place in their Burnaby commissary kitchen.

The paella classes are for about eight to 10 guests and begin around a communal table where over snacks of Marcona almonds, olives, and cured meats (yes, including chorizo) and drinks, Blanc talks about the origins of paella, its ingredients, and hallmarks of preparation. 

Blanc talks about the special pan used to make paella, crucial ingredients like engineered short-grain Spanish bomba rice, and the secrets to perfecting the dish. What it boils down to is the rice. "It's about how we cook the rice," Blanc explains, pointing out that the rice is the sole vehicle for the deep flavours of paella. 

And while Blanc loves the tradition of cooking paella over a wood-burning flame - in Spain they use wood from trees growing the nation's biggest crop, oranges - in the commissary kitchen you'll fire up table-top double-ringed propane burners. Those two rings play a key role in the cooking process, you'll learn.

Cooking paella easily turns into a kitchen party

But it's not all talk. The class is split into two groups to make two kinds of paella: Valenciana (chicken and vegetables) and Mariscos (seafood). A natural rivalry forms on either side of the cooking tables, as students face off against each other as well as against Blanc and another Paella Guys chef, as you're led through the cooking process.

From the first pours of olive oil on the pan to the last taste tests to check your soccarat - paella's hallmark crispy toasted rice bottom layer - you and your classmates are building your own paella in tandem with the chefs. 

Working in the convivial shared cooking space, Blanc and his team create a kitchen party atmosphere, with slices of Spanish tortilla (a potato and egg dish) passed around for snacking, and pours of sangria. While you'll learn about what goes in sangria (like paella and chorizo, there are some clear dos and don'ts), you'll be drinking from a batch that's been brewing for several days; Blanc says when his grandmother made the fruit and red wine drink she would let hers sit for a full week before serving.


A post shared by Paella Guys (@paellaguys)

The best part, undoubtedly, is the feasting. Just when the aroma is near-unbearable and the last bits of broth and oil are absorbed by the rice, the pans come off the flames, and the party shifts back to the table. Whose paella turned out the best? It's a tough call when the dishes are both beautifully made with such wonderfully deep flavours from the stock and sofrito, the Spanish base sauce made with tomatoes, garlic, onions, peppers and paprika reduced in oil that's used to deglaze the paella pan during cooking. Blanc passes around plates of garlic aioli, the condiment traditionally eaten with paella, and fresh glasses of B.C. wine are poured. 

To top things off, if you have any room in what should be a content belly, there's Tarta de Santiago, a simple Spanish almond cake, for a sweet finish. 

While The Paella Guys' current run of classes is just about done, and nearly sold out, you can expect to see more such opportunities crop up again soon.

The catering biz is also set up to handle take-out paella orders for pick-up or delivery, offering several kinds of paella pre-made, in the pan, and ready to eat with aioli and bread on the side. They also sell all sorts of add-ons to round out your experience, including pantry items like conservas (tinned fish), jamon, olives, and dishes like the tortilla de patatas and Tarta de Santiago.

You can easily bring the paella party to where you are, or, if you want to see Blanc and the Paella Guys in action, you can hire them to do a live private cooking event or attend any of their events. In early 2023, expect to see The Paella Guys as part of a special run of dinners during Dine Out Vancouver

Watch: We checked out a Paella Guys hands-on cooking class

@forkingawesomevia Party in the kitchen, party in your mouth: hold the chorizo. #forkingawesome #vancouverbc #paella 🎙️: @LindsayWR ♬ Passionate Spanish guitar melodious(880907) - Hanadayama Music Lab

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