When in Valencia, do as the Spanish do. For Lodi wife and mother Addy Grant, that meant scooting up to big family-style dinners at cafes where groups laughed and lingered over single-pot rice concoctions for hours. She was in the city where paella was born, and it didn’t take her long before she fell in love with the native dish and what it represented to an entire culture.
Grant was used to the American tradition of Sunday roasts and family dinners, but in Valencia, it was taken to another level with paella.
“That’s why I got into it,” said Grant, who spent six weeks in Valencia nearly three years ago. “It conjures up family and togetherness ... You would go into these cafes and complete families would be together. It was communication and sharing the day’s events — the culture and the people,” she said.
Grant came back to her home in Lodi thinking about about the one-pot rice dish, prepared with aromatic spices and a variety of meats. She made it for family and friends at home, but the love for paella she gained in Spain never subsided. Soon, she created her own version of paella.
Now, Addy’s Paella is a full-swing catering business that she runs with her niece, Jen Ambrose, whose mother has lived in Spain for about eight years.
Addy’s Paella serves paella to large groups of people at weddings and events, from ZinFest to corporate lunches to graduation parties. She started at the Downtown Lodi Farmers Market, where she cooked paella in a massive 3-foot wide paella pan. Now, there are followers who seek them out at wineries in Lodi and food festivals in Napa.
“The smell — it seems to draw people in,” she said. “People like seeing it cooked. It’s something that’s different.”
Paella is a rice dish that originated in the Spanish city of Valencia. Surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, the region’s cuisine includes a lot of seafood — a main ingredient in most paella dishes.
Ambrose tells of the meal’s modest beginnings as a farmers feast: After working in the fields, men would bring home the freshest of the harvest and cook everything together in one pot for their families.
In Spain, it’s popular to use rabbit or more obscure seafood. To adjust to American tastebuds, Ambrose says Grant experimented with ingredients to get an authentic paella that the American market would enjoy.
When creating her own spin on paella, Grant uses chicken, shrimp and sausage. Then, she tops it off with a homemade garlic aioli sauce.
“It’s very untraditional, but it’s my twist,” she said. “Everybody seems to enjoy it.”
At a recent class at Kidder Family Winery in Lodi, Grant and Ambrose taught a group of foodies how to make Grant’s chicken, shrimp and sausage paella. Grant talked about the Bomba rice that makes all the difference and shared the secret about socarrat — the layer on the bottom of the pan everyone thinks is the burnt part, when really it is often considered the tastiest.
But mostly, paella enthusiasts enjoyed the sharing and family element that makes the Spanish dish so wonderful and unique.
“It’s one big pan and everybody can dig into it,” Ambrose said. “There’s nothing else like that out there.”