ANN ARBOR, MI -- Chef Raúl Cob from Ann Arbor’s Aventura restaurant is headed to Spain soon but it’s not just to relax and explore the cuisine.
Cob is a finalist representing the United States and Aventura in the World Paella Day Cup global competition in Valencia on Sept. 20. He is one of 12 chefs worldwide competing to create the best, most authentic paella, a popular Spanish rice dish originally from the Valencian Community.
“We’re doing (the competition) because we love paella and we love Spanish culture and gastronomy-- but, to have something like this here in Ann Arbor is just something worth celebrating and to be recognized internationally,” Aventura’s Owner Sava Farah said.
Cob has been working semi-permanently at Aventura since late 2016. Although Aventura was serving paella before Cob, Farah said the dish wasn’t as authentic as it is now with him. She said Cob, from Valencia, took over the paella along with other Spanish dishes on the menu and soon became one of Aventura’s “secret ingredients.”
Cob joked he’s a bit worried if he doesn’t take home the trophy at this competition because of his hometown advantage. He has a long history with paella and even recalls eating the dish on Sundays with his family right from the pan.
“This man is the personification of Valencia,” Farah said. “All over the country people come to eat paella at Aventura.”
A few years ago Aventura was admitted to the WikiPaella guide, which helps people find authentic paella. Farah said there are only a couple restaurants in the United States in that guide, including Aventura. Cob also was named Paella Chef of the Year in 2016 by WikiPaella.
For the competition, Cob said he’ll make two different paellas featuring an “American touch,” using ingredients from Spain. He still doesn’t have the recipes finalized, but mentioned smoked meat might make an appearance.
Cob creates his paella as authentically as he can using Spanish ingredients like rice and paprika and using Spanish pans while cooking the dish in its traditional way. He said he doesn’t put too much rice in his paella and focuses on the dish’s socarrat which is the crispy, caramelized rice at the bottom.
“There’s such an art and science to making this paella properly,” Farah said. “It starts with the highest quality imported ingredients including our pans, our rice, our olive oil -- everything comes from Spain (and is done) with a very difficult technique.”
Grant Gilreath, one of Aventura’s sous chefs, is joining Cob as his right hand man in the competition. He’s been working at the restaurant since 2018.
Ann Arbor residents hoping to support Cob and Aventura can do so from Michigan since the restaurant plans to stream the competition, Farah said. She said she’s confident in the chef’s ability to create paella and is optimistic for what is to come.
“I love what we serve here and I’m so proud to serve our paella and it’s not going to change anything about my feelings on the product, but I think it’d be so fun to be the champions and to represent the United States and Ann Arbor in particular,” she said.
“We’re really lucky to have (Cob’s) authenticity and energy at Aventura and in Ann Arbor and I can’t imagine coming home without that trophy.”
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