If you’ve ever been to Downtown Greenville, SC, you might have had the chance to meet the smiling French Chef, Xavier Bonnafous with his loving family in tow. They’re a wonderful addition to our Greenville community and we all have Paella to thank. Yes, Paella.
Paella has been the common thread throughout his life. “I learned to make paella from my mother. It’s one of my favorite things. It’s a great dish for 30 to 40 people that allows you to entertain your guests. You don’t have to cook while they’re here.”
Raised in Mazamet near the coast of Southwest France, Xavier was surrounded by family with a deep appreciation for food. “My grandparents were amazing, he (grandfather) was a simple guy who was loving. My grandmother from my dad’s side was an amazing cook. She would cook for 30 people all by herself. She would make an applesauce “compote de pommes” that I can still taste and will never forget. Simple and amazing.”
After studying electrical engineering, he worked with his brother, Pascal Bonnafous, a renowned chef and teacher in France. It was from here that Xavier became not only passionate about food, but also the industry. Leading up to the final Greenville move as Executive Chef of Southern Pressed Juicery, a Table 301 creation, Xavier lived in Orlando, Florida, London, and back to France to serve in the military. Fast forward to Miami Beach, Florida where he meets his wife, Madonna at The Jazid dance club in trendy South Beach. They danced without speaking for months before their first kiss at another Miami Beach club that regularly served paella at 5am. Xavier notes, “Paella is around our life all the time.”
Paella is a Spanish rice dish that includes different combinations of vegetables, meats, and seafood; characteristically seasoned with saffron. The ingredients depend on the recipe and its area of origin. The dish Paella is said to be a perfect union between two cultures from Spain, the Romans, for the pan and the Arabs that brought rice. It’s a natural dish for costal communities in France and Spain due to the abundance of seafood.
Xavier claims the process is very simple. First you need to prep, chop and clean all of the ingredients. The cooking begins with sautéing the large shrimp (used at the end for decoration), cooking the chicken, adding peppers and onions and the red roasted bell pepper. It’s all mixed together before adding the seafood. Next up in the shallow pan: squid, calamari, chopped octopus, and tiny clams in shell. The paella rice is added and sautéed prior to adding the chicken saffron broth. Adding the rice before the liquid is classic for this dish. Add chorizo and when the rice gets thicker, the additional seafood makes its way into the pan: mussels, bigger clams, shrimps, and red pepper for decoration. Cover for 45 minutes prior to gorging yourself, family and friends.
Mitica Calasparra Rice is grown in one region only in Spain, known for it's unique properties when cooked, which are said to be the absolute best for Paella. It needs 2 1/2 times as much water as standard Spanish rice, and it holds up very well so there is less danger of having soggy, overcooked rice. Farmed in the old tradition, fresh river waters are channeled through the rice fields near the town of Calasparra, and the cooler summer climate of the area results in a slower ripening grain.
Pouring in chicken saffron broth...
Xavier puts the final touches on his masterpiece with roasted red peppers. He's quite the artist too!
Xavier loves Greenville because “…the downtown reminds me of Europe. It feels familiar to me.” That was no accident and neither is the Paella, created by careful planning, design, and passion for the region. Thank you for bringing a kaleidoscope of culture to our world.