José Andrés kicks off Jaleo’s Paella Festival

Anthony Mair

Chef José Andrés is all over the world these days, from setting up food relief stations through his nonprofit, World Central Kitchen, in disaster areas like Puerto Rico and most recently Nebraska, during the Midwest flooding that displaced many families. He was also on hand in Manhattan last month to prepare for the launch of Mercado Little Spain, a 35,000-square-foot Spanish food hall in the newly built Hudson Yards complex.

And of course, there’s that business of the Nobel Peace Prize nomination, a well-deserved honor that could neither be confirmed nor denied (at least until the winners is announced in October).

So when Andrés comes to town to one of his restaurants—Bazaar Meat at SLS and Jaleo, é and China Poblano at the Cosmopolitan—it’s always a cause for celebration. There is no better ambassador for Spanish cuisine than the chef, whose love for his country’s culinary traditions is evident in his menus.

On Saturday, from 1-3 p.m., Andrés will preside over the first-ever Paella Festival Kickoff Party at Jaleo. Tickets for the all-inclusive event cost $125 and include Jaleo’s signature cones, Ibérico pork sliders, croquetas and flan, along with bottomless Spanish wines, porrones and José’s Ultimate Gin and Tonic cocktails.

And the star of the event is Andrés’ paella, undoubtedly the best-known and well-loved of all Spanish dishes. The one-pan meal is made with short-grain bomba rice cooked over a live fire; the addition of ingredients such as rabbit, chicken, seafood, chorizo and vegetables vary by region. While it's seemingly a simple dish to make, there are tricks to making the perfect paella, including resisting the urge to stir the rice as it cooks, as the most prized part of the dish is the crunchy bits called soccarat that stick to the bottom of the pan.

A visit to Jaleo also means catching a bit of a show, as the restaurant’s chefs always have pans of paella cooking on an open fire, emitting that unmistakable wood-smoke scent. Saturday’s event is a kickoff to a five-day paella festival, in which Jaleo’s chefs will make as many types of paellas in honor of different regions in Spain, to add to the regular dinner menu throughout the week.

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