Very few people today dispute that paella has become a world-famous dish. But it’s something else again to say exactly what paella is and what it is not. Authentic paella contains rice, salt, olive oil, chicken or rabbit, grated natural tomato, paprika (although this is optional), flat green beans (rochet), garrofó (a kind of kidney bean typical of Valencia), water and saffron.
“It’s also possible to add rosemary, snails, pepper… but on no condition asparagus, hardboiled eggs, sausage, etc.,” says María José Bolea. A native of Valencia, she went to Holland with her mate, a Dutchman, and now lives there. She has created Maria’s Paellas, a company that organises workshops throughout Holland and in parts of Belgium and Germany to demonstrate just how to prepare this delicious Valencia dish.
Bolea conducts these workshops in private homes but also in companies and restaurants. “All kinds of people show up: housewives, men, women, daughters, mothers, husbands with their wives… Most are Dutch and Latin American women who have previously lived in Spain. And naturally there are a number of Spaniards.”
María José got the idea for the business when she realized how little people really knew about paella and its origins. As a good Valencia native, it irritates her when just about any rice made with other ingredients is called ‘paella’. That’s why, beside making clear what real paella is, she wants to spread a little culture and tradition.
Being an entrepreneur is easy in Holland, Bolea says: it’s enough to be a self-employed worker, and there are not too many taxes. “Being officially recognised is a very fast process and then you’re off and running,” she explains. Of course whether the business is a success or not is another thing.
The workshops at Maria’s Paellas are highly practical. While they cook, participants sample three or four traditional tapas, drink wine or sangría, and once the paella has been prepared, consume it right there. Desserts are based on horchata (tiger nut milk, very popular in Valencia), that are also prepared on the spot.
“What’s most successful right now are the workshops,” says the founder of Maria’s Paellas. “There are other people who bring paellas to people’s homes or prepare them in markets, but paella workshops… Maria’s Paellas is the first and only home workshop for traditional paella in all of Holland.”
It will soon be possible to attend María José Bolea’s workshops in other European cities. “We’re considering Italy, the Czech Republic, Poland, among other places. But as I usually say, poquet a poquet (little by little).”