Although Rubén wasn't born or raised in the generally warm and sunny Mediterranean city of Valencia, his years as a college student in this region decisively influenced his cooking style. During that time he managed to learn and prepare almost to perfection what is considered by many to be the quintessential Spanish dish: paella. (His friends even gave him the noble title of The King of Paella!)
Rubén's rented kitchen in Somerville, Massachusetts (where he and his wife have lived for the past two and a half years) is ample, simple and filled with light. It doesn't scream his ancestry when you first enter, but once you start walking around, Spain resonates everywhere — from the more obvious kitchen utensils like the wineskin (a wine decanter) and his collection of paella pans to the bursts of red color you see around the kitchen.
Rubén was happy to let me tour his kitchen, but above all, he was thrilled that I would be there during his dinner preparation which he considers the most important part of the cooking process.
10 Questions for Rubén (and His Kitchen)
1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
Space. Being able to cook with friends and/or family while prepping the food is very important to me so I always look for spacious kitchens. I enjoy cooking for and with people and in the process, spending time together. I find the actual moment when you eat as pleasurable as the process of cooking, and a glass of wine also plays an important role in that process.
2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
The paella pan. It allows you to prepare food for a lot of people in a relatively reduced space. I have four different pans designed for different amounts of people ranging from 2-3 to 30 people. I purchased the pans in Spain and they have always followed me.
3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
A chicken paella that I cooked for 25 people at my birthday party this year. I think it is a good way of celebrating an event with friends. Cooking paella has a social element. I like for my guests to always experience and partake in the process of cooking paella. It is not like arriving to a house when the meal is done and you just sit and eat. It is almost like a ritual, even the way it is prepared. Everything is cooked in the paella at different stages and those who have never seen the set up always find it fascinating.
4. The biggest challenge in your kitchen:
I don't find anything particularly challenging, but in a future house I would like to have easy access to the backyard. I like to cook outside during the summer and because we live on the second floor I find it difficult at this particular house.
5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
An exhaust fan. It is not common around here. We used it in the past and it helps when you are cooking, especially when frying.
6. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:
As we call it, the butcher table. It is a multifunctional element in the kitchen, a great piece of furniture that provides storage, can be used as a table for breakfast in the morning and it is very useful as extra counter space. I love wooden surfaces for cooking. I like preparing dough and it is perfect for that.
7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
Since I don't own this kitchen I would buy a professional juicer. It is a fantastic way to consume lots of fruit and vegetables, especially in the summer.
8. How would you describe your cooking style?
Many times I improvise or adjust to whatever is available. Sometimes I change the recipe, depending on the location or season, or when I feel that there is something missing or I want to give the recipe a different touch. We also like different food from different countries and I like to incorporate and blend different elements from other countries, like spices.
9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
You don't have to follow a recipe a 100%. Sometimes you have to adjust the recipe to your taste or to your convenience.
10. What are you cooking this week?
Homemade pizza with anchovies, roasted red peppers and kalamata olives.
Resources of Note:
Oven: Second hand from a friend
steel shelf: IKEA
and pans: Thrift stores such as Target, Tags and TJ Maxx
and utensils: Combination of IKEA, TJ Maxx, Target
- Stool: Goodwill
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