What goes in to making a great paella? Jon Watt visits Xavi Meroña at The London Paella School in Battersea to find out
‘Paella is not just a recipe, it’s a way of life,’ announces Xavi Meroña, founder of The London Paella School in Battersea. He’s standing in front of two vast bowls of bubbling paella and speaking to an increasingly hungry group assembled for the launch of this new venture.
It is thought that paella is the union of two Spanish cultures. The pan ‘patella’ is thought to be a Roman culinary technique, while the rice was first cultivated around Valencia by the Arabs in the tenth century. The dish had humble beginnings as simple, bulky food for farm labourers containing vegetables and perhaps some meat if they were lucky. But as the country became more affluent so the dish moved from the fields into the homes with spices and more elaborate ingredients, like rabbit and chicken, being added.
Understanding the history of the dish is important for Xavi as he feels its cultural heritage is central to its enjoyment: it’s a social event that should be shared with friends, family or colleagues. And this is something that forms a pillar of these classes: cooking and sharing in a convivial atmosphere with plenty of drinks and chat. ‘We want to raise awareness of the infinite world of paella in a fun and accessible way,’ explains Xavi. ‘Our classes will provide students with a basic knowledge and give them the tools they need to advance their skills to create more elaborate recipes in an environment of fellowship and teamwork. These are values directly related to this dish.’
Given this, it’s unsurprising that the school is also marketing itself to companies as a unique team-building activity and is also focusing on hosting events. The venue is certainly well-suited to events. The London Cooking Project opened last year and has been a very welcome addition to Battersea. Hidden away in the Ethelburga Estate behind Parkgate Road, the project is a social enterprise that offers a versatile, cutting-edge kitchen space for use by chefs, businesses and the local community.
Paella is a dish that steeped in tradition and, as I took my first succulent mouthful, I did pause for a moment to reflect on some of that history – and then I devoured my bowlful and went back for seconds. Isn’t that a tradition too?
For more information about The London Paella School and events,