A paella cooking class includes a guided trip to Valencia’s main market. // © 2018 Getty Images
Feature image (above): Cooking class graduates show off their finished products. // © 2018 Kenneth Shapiro
Valencia, Spain, is known for several things. Its City of Arts and Sciences is a group of buildings with strange, futuristic architecture. It hosts a five-day festival each March called Falles, which involves huge bonfires. And Valencia is also known for its musical heritage, which is one reason Boston’s famous Berklee College of Music opened a satellite campus here, its only international location.
But perhaps Valencia’s greatest contribution to the world — and definitely the tastiest — is paella.
This classic meal — usually featuring chicken, rabbit or seafood, along with rice and vegetables — originated in Valencia. Created by the city’s working class, paella has grown to become one of the most iconic dishes of Spain.
Market to Mouth
The first stop for tourists interested in the city’s paella culture should be La Pepica. This world-famous restaurant is more than 120 years old and has served everyone from the king and queen of Spain to writer Ernest Hemingway and rockstar Bono. The restaurant’s beachfront location — with outside seating offering stunning views of the Mediterranean — makes it ideal for a lunchtime meal.
La Pepica serves many different types of paella (including a vegetarian version). Most locals will tell you the secret to a great Valencian paella is the rice, which has been cultivated and perfected here for generations. But since Valencia is the largest port on the Mediterranean, the seafood is especially fresh, as well. In fact, La Pepica’s special house paella — which supposedly was first made for 19th-century Valencian painter Joaquin Sorolla when he visited the restaurant accompanied by other starving artists — features a variety of peeled seafood.
Once your clients have sampled a proper paella, the next step is to learn how to make one of their own. This is where Escuela De Arroces y Paella Valenciana (School of Rice and Valencian Paella) comes in.
This cooking school, located in Barrio del Carmen, in the heart of the city, offers classes in the morning (followed by a paella lunch) and then again in the afternoon (followed by dinner). It’s popular with tourists from all over the world and is even included on some cruise ships’ shore excursions.
If possible, advise clients to choose one of the Monday through Saturday morning classes, which start with a guided tour of the city’s central market. Visitors are taken around the market hall to different vendors to learn about their wares, then pick up the ingredients that will ultimately go into their paellas.
After a short walk from the market to the school, chef Jose Manuel Benito begins the lesson. Chef Benito might be as talented at entertaining groups as he is in the kitchen. He’s a natural storyteller, offering history, culture and philosophy lessons as he cooks, and he makes the experience fun for beginners and experts alike.
Once the paellas are made, students and faculty sit down to a meal — sampling each other’s creations and picking their favorites — all accompanied by excellent Spanish wines, of course.
The market tour, cooking workshop and meal runs about $67 per person ($92 for seafood paella). The cost for children ages 12 and under is $43. Contact the school for travel agent commission.
Valencia offers clients plenty to see and do, but paella-making provides an especially delicious way to feast on local culture.