Tenure: In January 2015, Benjamin and Carol Schuster launched Santa Barbara Paella Catering, bringing a new flavor to the party food scene. Born and raised in Spain, Executive Chef Benjamin Schuster learned paella from the locals and has been refining it since he was 5 years old. In 2001, when Schuster first arrived to America, it was with nothing more than a suitcase and a paella pan that had been in the family for almost 30 years. “I was sitting in economy, and my paella pan was sitting in business class,” Schuster recalled. “This paella pan has been around quite a lot. Just think of it as grandma’s cast-iron skillet.”
Dish he digs: Of the six different types of paellas that can be prepared, the most popular, the most traditional, and Schuster’s favorite is the mixed paella, a combination of meat and seafood. “For a lot of people, sometimes this is a difficult concept to understand because we have the tendency to separate the two. But this is the dish that in itself has never failed because it has the ability to bring all the flavors together,” Schuster said. “When you bring all these different ingredients together, there is a flavor pattern that I have not found elsewhere in any other dish.”
Room for dessert? Schuster believes there is vital significance to the role that dessert holds in the comprehensive mealtime experience. “One of our desserts that we offer that I think is really the hallmark of Spanish desserts is the Spanish flan,” he said, explaining that the custard-like concoction is offered with almost every meal in Spain. “We really pride ourselves in providing the best flan.”
The motivation: For Schuster, paella is more than a dish; it’s the “centerpiece of a good time.” Beyond a display of his passions, paella allows Schuster to showcase the dish’s origins and preserve the traditional values that come with the dish. Schuster prepares the paella not in the back kitchen but rather amid the event itself, providing an entertainment-based culinary experience. “This unconventional, casual approach has surprisingly shown us great results, which has proven to us that a lot of people are looking for something untraditional, something unique, something intimate,” said Schuster.