Where does a Spanish chef spend his vacation? Spain, of course. When celebrated chef Luis Bollo, chef /partner of Salinas in New York City, decided to head back to Spain, he mixed a little business with pleasure. Instead of traveling back to San Sebastian, where he grew up, Bollo headed to Valencia to study, experiment, and try as much paella and rice as he could. Here, Esquire’s 2003 Chef of the Year, recalls his trip, shares what he can’t travel without, and his craziest travel experience.
Here’s what Bollo had to say about his travels:
I was born and raised in San Sebastian, Basque Country, which is in the north of Spain and adjacent to the French town, Bayonne. Before settling in the US, I lived and worked in Catalonia and Mallorca, learning a great deal about the traditional cuisine from the chef-driven restaurants in that region. But I had never visited Valencia before and was curious how “the land of the paella” cooked rice dishes. Since Salinas is about showcasing the flavors from the Spanish Mediterranean, I realized a visit to Valencia was overdue.
Paella is a thorny issue to tackle for many chefs coming from Spain, especially for those who were trained during the 1990s. This was a period of reinventing traditional dishes through the burgeoning trend of deconstructive, technical innovations. Since paella was considered to be a typical tourist food served on the Southern shores frequented by British and German tourists, there has always been pressure on many professional Spanish chefs to serve it at their restaurants. When I opened Meigas a decade ago in downtown NYC, I resisted including paella in the menu, which wasn't taken well, nor understood by many people.
Spain has diverse traditions, languages, and climates. Going to Valencia for a Basque is like visiting New Orleans for a person who grew up in Maine. Instead of green trees, hilly mountains, and a cold breeze coming from the Atlantic ocean, Valencia’s landscape is one of color: almond and orange trees, miles and miles of land, comforting rays of long-lasting twilight, sun-drenched beaches with infinite skyline and the warm salt water of the Mediterranean. Valencia forces you to relax.
Next, Bollo heads to Valencia…