Growing up in Valencia, Spain, Juan Ten ate paella twice a week. He still makes the Spanish rice dish today — just a bit more expansively.
He now operates Real Paella Catering, a Tallahassee-based catering service that serves fresh, authentic paella. They can bring the completed paella or cook the dish onsite at gatherings to serve up to 1,000 people.
“It’s just fun for parties,” Ten said.
He’s been cooking paella for parties and weddings in Northwest Florida for about eight years now. He went from cooking paella for a party once in a while to having regular business that serves Tallahassee, Apalachicola, 30A in South Walton and Destin.
Ten didn’t think the business would take off at first — he didn’t think many people in Northwest Florida knew about or were interested in paella.
The dish hails from Valencia, Spain. The main ingredients are Valencia rice, olive oil and saffron, but different ingredients accommodate different tastes.
One of the more popular styles — Paella Mixta — contains chicken, vegetables, shrimp, scallops, mussels, and grouper. A traditional recipe — Paella Valencia — serves up rabbit, chicken and vegetables.
The basic recipe is his family’s recipe.
“I don’t cut corners,” Ten said. “I cook it exactly as my mom cooked it.”
Ten orders the olive oil, saffron, smoked paprika and rice from Spain. Everything else is bought locally. He strives to serve organic ingredients. He also plans to serve pastured poultry and meats this year.
“I think it’s just the right thing to do,” Ten said. “The taste is better, and I don’t want to buy meats from animals that have been mistreated.”
Ten has multiple paella pans, but his largest serves about 120 people. For larger parties — he’s fed 750 people — he simply uses multiple pans and burners.
Ten, who has a background in computers, even designed his own software that computes the amount of ingredients needed by party size. For a paella for 120 people, Ten said he uses 25 pounds of rice alone.
He uses a special burner that distributes heat through the entire paella pan. Ten’s grandfather actually built the first gas burner designed specifically for paella pans.
“We make things really simple,” Ten said of his service. “All we need is a space outside.”
To complete the ambiance, customers can order Spanish appetizers and sangria from Real Paella as well. Ten orders the “tapas” from Spain.
He’ll even arrange for live flamenco music for the party.
“The whole experience makes it unique,” Ten said.