The first time I had paella was at a friend's house in Berkeley way back when I was getting ready to go on a backpacking trip around Europe—my first ever. She had been the year before and discovered this wondrous rice and seafood dish during her travels to Spain.
The second time I had paella was on that backpacking trip. My sister and I—just 21 and 20 years of age—were in the seaside town of Nice, France, and partook of the most magical night filled with fine food (an enormous pan of fragrant saffron- and garlic-infused paella bursting with mussels, chorizo, chicken, calamari, shrimp, peas, peppers and onions), copious amounts of red wine, great company and later, some groovy jazz at a little nightclub not far away.
Since then, I've always held paellas to a very high standard. Some have met the mark, others not so much. Today's paella on the grill was absolutely divine. IM, a native of Barcelona, is a skilled cook—her potato tortas are to-die-for—and her food always leaves you feeling happy and sated.
Whenever the sous chefs I worked for cooked up something amazing for family meal, we'd ask them what was in it that made it so good. "Love," they'd say with a grin. "No, c'mon. Really. What's in it?" we'd say with a roll of our eyes. "Love," they'd keep on saying.
Well, there you have it. IM's paella is the same. It's made with love, and that's why it's so damn good. For real for real ...