By Emily Kemme
Stephen Davidson isn’t Spanish, but if you’re talking paella, you might say that Spain is in his blood.
He is the co-founder of Los Dos Paelleros — Spanish for someone who prepares paella, a rice dish studded with meats and vegetables long-cooked in a shallow pan designed for only that purpose.
Davidson lived in Valencia, Spain for several years while in his early 20s. He was dating a Spanish woman at the time, and after being accepted into her family, joined them for weekends at their country chalet. It was there, on Sundays, that his girlfriend’s uncle introduced Davidson to the art of paella.
Valencia is the dish’s birthplace, born of a melding of cultural flavors when the Arabic invasions in the eighth century introduced rice to the region. The original version of paella was prepared by farmers who tended the rice fields surrounding a freshwater lagoon, L’Albufera de València.
“It was the perfect environment for growing rice,” Davidson said. The people who tended the orange trees and rice paddies made meals in the field from available ingredients, which predominantly were chicken, rabbit, and snails, called caracoles. Contrary to Americanized paella, the traditional Valencian version doesn’t contain seafood. The paella was cooked over an open fire in a shallow pan, starting with the meat, and adding vegetables, tomato, and a sofrito of tomato, romano beans, artichokes, and the garrofon, or butter bean.
“When it tastes like ‘God,’ another metaphor for ‘wonderful,’ water is added up to the rim of the pan.”
The mixture simmers to extract flavor from the meats, then rice, paprika, and Spanish saffron are added, cooking until there is no more liquid.
The entire process takes several hours. “And then you listen,” Davidson said. “You ramp up the fire and listen for the crackle on the bottom.”
Listening is key. “There is nothing worse than burnt rice. What you want to achieve is what’s called socarrat, a Spanish word for caramelized, but not burnt crust on the bottom of the pan.”
Similar to the golden crispness on the bottom of Persian rice, Davidson believes this is probably where the concept was derived.
He didn’t marry the Spanish girl but brought back with him to the states the rudimentary knowledge of how to make paella. He’s been perfecting his version for the past 38 years.
After his daughter Addi returned from a year of studying in Spain, the pair decided to take their paella-making public. Three years ago they rented a commissary kitchen to participate in the New West Fest.
Their paella, prepared with seafood, is also offered in vegetarian and traditional Valenciana versions. It’s been a tremendous hit. The pair branched out to the Taste of Colorado in Denver, the Montana Folk Festival, and make appearances at breweries and the FOCO Food Truck Rally one evening a month on Tuesdays, beginning in May.
People experiencing it have told Davidson it’s a life-changing, transformational taste. “It’s so unique, it’s not a festival hotdog.”
True to the food truck format, Los Dos Paelleros serves up the same kinds of foods found in brick and mortar restaurants, with often the same price tag affixed. At festivals, Davidson charges $15.00 for Paella Valenciana and the vegetarian version; the seafood plate is $18. “It’s not a picnic-sized taster of the dish. You can expect a full meal.”
Between the Spain years and now, Davidson was a software jack-of-all-trades. He doesn’t regret having embarked on this culinary adventure. “Life is sweet,” he said.
As a Colorado Paellero cooking up enormous pans of paella in the hundreds of years old Valencian style — also the region of the sweet Valencia orange — life continues to be sweet for Davidson and his daughter.
Check the website for brewery stops and City Park Food Truck Rally dates. Also available for private events, including weddings and parties.