I’ve never considered myself an epicurean but I know good quality food when I taste them. And my Dad first introduced me to the Paella Valenciana at Dulcinea’s I was hooked. And thus sparked my interest in culinary arts. I always thought about the savory and fragrant rice and how the flavours would not overwhelm but made you want more.
A few years on, well after college, I took up a diploma course for culinary arts. Through cuts and burns and singed hairs, I never thought I could learn how to cook for the life of me. But my instructor egged us on and from the basics of cutlery to making sauteed cuttle fish en flambe in California sherry, I did. Before I knew it, I was filleting fish, de-boning chicken and making lamb shanks from scratch. But what really got me excited was that I get to learn a proper text book paella as part of the curriculum.
Alas, upon my first taste of my first Paella, I was a bit miffed that it tasted nothing like what I had tried on previous occasions, Though I remember Chef’s comments were that it was just that it needed a bit more salt for him. Though when I cooked next for my mum, she thought it was just right.
I swore to myself that this would be my signature dish and that I had to get it right. So I ended up trying Paella’s from different kitchens. From what I discovered in my endeavors, none of them actually followed what was in my culinary book. Sure they all had similar ingredients but there were ingredients that were substituted, added or completely left out from that in my text book. Then it hit me. Something one of my grade school teacher once told me. That a text book isn’t meant to be the end all/be all in facts. They were a guide. And that it was up to me to understand what was in those books.
Soon after I ditched the book and got the preparation of the Paella down to memory. But I am still looking for that characteristic flavor that would give me my version of a text book paella.