Running Into an Old Flame


Once, when I was on the board of the Chez Panisse Foundation, we received an application from a teenager named Nico Monday to build an outdoor pizza oven at his high school in Southern California. The proposal was clean and clear and so convincing that we had no choice but to accept it, with one caveat—that the oven be used in perpetuity to teach other students. The other day, I began wondering what had happened to him. I found out last week when I ran into my old pal at a party, making a huge, and quite authentic, Spanish paella in the backyard. It turns out that Nico, whose full-time gig is at Chez Panisse, will make paella for anyone with access to an outdoor fire. After placing a 30-inch paella pan over the flame, he piles on chicken, shrimp, scallops, clams, and, in the summer, peas and fennel. Sometimes he adds sausage. His rice is a fine Valencia variety and his spices and herbs vary according to the ingredients and the season. He brings along an extraordinary chicken or clam stock, too. All this for about $25 per person. You can reach Nico at 805-450-6411;

Subscribe to Gourmet