After out-Italianing the Italians to score the title of Best Margherita Pizza in the World last April (kudos, 400 Gradi), Melbourne is at it again, with a Melbourne chef about to yet again step onto the world food stage to compete for the title of World's Best Paella Chef in Spain.
Leno Lattarulo, owner and chef at Melbourne's fabulous Simply Spanish restaurants, is this week heading to Sueca — the Valencian city known as the birthplace of paella — to vie for this prestigious title, where he will put his paella making prowess to the test against thirty teams from across the world.
This year marks the first year that chefs outside of Spain will be allowed to take part in the challenge, and as a shining example of just how awesome the Australian food culture really is, four Australians have made the cut, including Hassan M'Souli from Sydney's Out of Africa restaurant, Alex Fry from Adelaide's SAh Modern Mediterranean restaurant, the Australian ambassador for Wikipaella.org Miguel Cuevas, and, of course, Lattarulo.
Now, while Lattarulo's famous paella, made with chicken, chorizo and seafood, is an absolute fan favourite at all three of Simply Spanish's locales — namely South Melbourne Market, Bourke Street and Queen Vic Market — he won't actually be reproducing this stellar dish in the competition. To ensure an equal playing field, all competing chefs will be presented with exactly the same ingredients and tools, meaning the competition is a test in skill and technique rather than quality of produce. This traditional paella consists of chicken, rabbit, beans, tomatoes and snails, and, as Lattarulo puts it, is 'all about simple flavours'. Aside from just a change in shopping list though, our Aussie battlers will also need to adjust to cooking on fire rather than gas.
For Lattarulo though, these deviations from the norm shouldn't prove too great an obstacle. After all, he practically grew up in the kitchen and has being dishing up his trademark paella recipe in his restaurants for over seven years now. But that's not to say he has become set in his ways — far from it. Every few years Lattarulo heads back to Spain for culinary inspiration, and always comes home with a few new ideas to implement at the restaurant.
So what are Lattarulo's secrets then to making the best paella? 'Obviously, you must have the best ingredients', he says, highlighting the dire importance of high quality stock. The biggest mistake he finds paella enthusiasts make though is overcrowding of the pan; 'you need to have the right balance of meat and rice'.
Upon his return to Melbourne, Leno plans to serve up his special paella for a limited time, so be sure to head down to any one of Leno's Simply Spanish restaurants to check it out. Don't worry though, Simply Spanish traditionalists, the Valenciana paella will be running along side his traditional recipe, not replacing it. You can't mess with perfection, after all.
Try your hand at making this competition standard paella with the official paella Valenciana recipe below!
PAELLA VALENCIANA OFFICIAL RECIPE
Ingredients: (4 servings)
400g Sueca rice
400g Rabbit – may be substituted with chicken thigh meat or pork ribs
1 Docena de 'vaquetes' (snails) – optional
400g de Valencian white bean
150g de Tavella
300g Green beans
Carbonell Pure Olive Oil
1 Garlic clove, peeled & chopped
1 Ripe tomato, grinded
1 Spoon paprika pepper
Saffron threads, salt, rosemary stick – optional
1. Chop the chicken and rabbit in regular pieces.
2. Heat the Carbonell Pure Olive Oil in the pan, add salt and the meat pieces.
3. Once the meat is lightly fried, add the vegetables and lightly fry.
4. Add the garlic, paprika pepper and tomato. Then add 2 litres of water and the snails. Let it simmer for 10 minutes.
5. Add the saffron threads and distribute the rice along the paella pan and let it cook at high temperature for 10 minutes, up to the 'socarrat' burning point.
6. Serve and enjoy!
Image credits: Lauren Thom, The Urban List.