After getting me some tiger nuts and pork belly with strict instructions on how to prepare both once at home, De La Cruz took me to Llisa Negra (llisanegra.com), another of the Dacosta restaurants, and showed me how to cook sacred paella. – three of them, in fact – over an open fire, saying to me: “No two paellas are alike; you dance with the flame! (I decided I couldn’t dance with it for too long for fear of losing hair.) As we sat down for our over-filling meals, Dacosta himself stormed in, on his way to Seville. His verdict on my efforts? “No more salt; too dry; not enough socarrat [the all-important crust to be found at the base of every authentic paella]. “After serving us a goat cheese cake, he left almost as soon as he arrived.
That night I took a spectacular culinary trip to the province of Valencia via the tasting menu at El Poblet restaurant (elpobletrestaurante.com), two Michelin stars from Dacosta, but the next morning it was time to go out in the area for real.
The coastal town of Cullera is a summer hotspot for Brits and Germans seeking the sun. On this ‘cold’ winter day, I stood outside the castle on top of a mountain, originally a Moorish fortress, as my guide pointed to one side of the boundless orange groves and l Another of the recently harvested rice fields, the waterfront skyscrapers fading into the quaint charm of the old town.
Everywhere I drove in the region, notions of locality and sustainability were at the fore. Valencia is full of products, from the rice fields of the Albufera Natural Park, to the fisheries of Gandia and the tiger nuts of Horta Nord.
Even in lesser-known areas, chefs put their own twist on local produce, such as in the pretty seaside town of Gandia, a 50-minute drive south of the city of Valencia. In his Street Food restaurant (streetfoodgandia.com), local boy Chema Soler successfully fuses Mexican and Asian flavors with his Mediterranean roots, like his scallops with gratinated Iberian jowls and kimchi. When it comes to maintaining culinary traditions, Valencians don’t seem as militant as, say, Sicilians: as long as the ingredients are fresh and local, evolving is part of the fun.