For 30 years, Josefa Navarro has been turning out a humble paella that converts the world’s best chefs into paella pilgrims.
What passes for paella in restaurants from the Costa del Sol to Sydney would be met with withering disapproval from the residents of Pinoso. The tiny town, located in the south-east of Spain, is home to the world’s finest iteration of that dish, and has the approval of some of the world’s top chefs to prove it.
The best paella in the world has been made in a humble kitchen, over a pyre of vine cuttings from local vineyards, in the same way for 30 years by Josefa Navarro.
She’s the chef at Paco Gandía, a tiny restaurant in a tiny town outside of Alicante. She and her husband, who shares his name with the restaurant, opened their small eatery in 1985.
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Real paella in these parts isn’t a concoction of fluffy grains of bright yellow rice, chicken, mussels, and chorizo. It’s a drab brown colour, and the protein isn’t seafood, it’s local rabbits and snails.
The snails are collected from nearby wooded areas; the best are those whose diets are mostly rosemary and thyme. The rice is senia or bahia, two notoriously difficult-to-cook grains.
Navarro’s paella is so revered that Paco Gandía receives international pilgrims here daily, not to mention French chef Joël Robuchon, and Spaniards Ferran Adrià and Juan Mari Arzak of El Bulli and Arzak, respectively. On Instagram, the hashtag #PacoGandia brings up scores of photos of happy customers with their pans of perfect paella.
Don’t expect a long, lazy dinner experience, though: Paco Gandía is open only for lunch. After hours of slaving over a roaring fire, Navarro steps away from the flames when lunch service is finished to recover in time to begin her early-morning paella prep the next day.