When they met and fell in love in Cape town six years ago, José and Lisa had no idea that their relationship would result in them running a very successful company together.
The truth is, their business, Perfect Paella, came about through a twist of fate while the couple were preparing for their wedding.
Like a true whirlwind love story, Spanish-born José proposed to Lisa in a castle in Spain just three months after they first met in 2012. They planned to get married in February 2013, but Lisa’s mother, who lived in Botswana, fell very ill and was given just two weeks to live.
“When we were planning our wedding, we came up with the idea of giving our guests each a gift from Jose’s home country. So, we imported mini paella pans for everyone.”
But instead of having the big, fairy tale wedding they had planned, the couple decided to have a small, intimate ceremony at Lisa’s mother’s bedside in the St Vincent Palotti hospital in Cape Town.
“It was incredibly special sharing it with her. But when we got home, we had a house full of paella pans that we didn’t know what to do with. I just wanted to get rid of them, so we decided to sell them on Gumtree. We sold them all in three days.”
Realising they were onto something and had discovered a gap in the market, Lisa and José took the money they had saved for their honeymoon and bought 1000 paella pans instead. “We had them all over our house. We were using them as coffee tables and storing them under beds,” laughs Lisa. But again, they sold out in just a few days. Things just grew from there and suddenly their paella pan business, which they were running out of their garage, was booming.
“No one was selling them at that time and instead of marketing them just as paella pans, we focussed on the fact that they are actually the most versatile pans you can own.”
As things developed and grew, José started receiving requests to do paella cooking demonstrations and private events and he was invited to cook for a group of 300 people at the Spanish embassy in Johannesburg.
Soon they were selling other Spanish cookware and had to move the business to a warehouse. José was doing cooking classes, team building events and demonstrations all over Cape Town and Johannesburg and he was even invited to be a celebrity chef at the Good Food & Wine show alongside famous chefs like Matt Preston and Jenny Morris.
“It was all very surreal,” says Lisa, “especially because José is not a trained chef and, in fact, the first time he cooked me a meal, a Spanish omelette, he nearly burnt the kitchen down!” Although he is a self-taught chef, José believes his talent comes from his mother, who is an excellent Spanish cook.
After living in Johannesburg and then Spain, José and Lisa decided to move to Ballito, where they have lived for just three months.
“We love the lifestyle here and have already had so much support. We’ve done a number of events and classes and have had great interest in our business,” says Lisa.
Things you didn’t know about paella . . .
The word ‘paella’ actually means pan. It’s a round pan with two handles that is slightly concave in the centre. Perfect Paella pans can be used directly over it straight on the fire and can be used in the oven.
The yellow colour you see in paella comes from a food colouring that is added in Spain. In SA a lot of people use turmeric, which can affect the flavour. José rather uses saffron imported from Spain to get that rich colour.
Many people think that traditional Spanish food is spicy. It’s not at all. Proper Spanish paella from Valencia is actually very bland and contains chicken, rabbit and snails!
José says the secret to a good paella is to cook all the ingredients individually before throwing them all together.
The base of a good paella starts with onion, garlic and tomato (called Sofrito).
Paella doesn’t have to be a seafood dish. José even one made a boerewors paella. It really all just depends on your palate and what you enjoy.
Text: Leah Shone | Photograph: Chris Allan Photo