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July 25, 2014

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Jose Andres puts on a paella show (with rabbit!) at Vegas Uncork’d

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Isaac Brekken/Bon Appetit

Jaleo chef Jose Andres works on browning chicken and rabbit in one of his massive paella pans during Vegas Uncork’d on May 11, 2012.

For one weekend a year, the biggest celebs in Las Vegas aren’t dressed in stilettos or pinstripes—they wear white. And man, can they cook.

As this year’s Vegas Uncork’d festivities progressed, I found myself looking back at my writings from past festivals, and in a post from May 10, 2010, I discovered this odd little prognostication about how the then-unopened Cosmopolitan would factor into Bon Appetit’s foodie fest: I’m thinking a José Andrés paella cooking class and Blue Ribbon around-the-world wine dinner.

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Jose Andres' endive with oranges, goat cheese, almonds.

Would it be so bad to say, I told you so?

At the time, I didn’t know that José cooks his paella on massive pans over an open, wood-fueled flame. I didn’t know that he’d stop mid-demonstration to pour a beer-lemonade concoction into his mouth out of a glass pitcher that looked fit for a vintage chemistry set, and I didn’t know that he likes his paella the traditional Valencian way, with rabbit and chicken, rather than chorizo and seafood.

“People, this is not a pizza,” the Spanish chef said to a riveted crowd encircling his paella kitchen Friday afternoon for a Vegas Uncork’d lunch at Jaleo. “Italians allow anything in their cooking.”

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Jaleo's chicken croquetas ... in a shoe

Pacing in front of his pans with voice booming, José was as much entertainer as chef, lecturing us on the virtues of Spanish food (“we are pure”), the values of recipes (“not to be followed”) and the state of our kitchens (we all need to buy paella pans at latienda.com). One of the few moments of stillness in his entire presentation came when the chef lifted a large clump of crimson saffron to his nose and inhaled deeply. An “ahhh” rose from the audience.

After a basic rundown of paella technique, we left the dish to cook and retired to the Jaleo dining room for a seemingly endless parade of tapas—croquetas de pollo served in very clean sneaker, shot glasses of bright gazpacho, a soft fried egg topped with caviar, tiny endive boats with sweet orange slices and scoops of goat cheese. And then the paella made its entrance. Carrying a giant pan (and starting to sweat), José and an assistant ran in circles around the dining room to the delight of guests snapping photos. And the paella itself? Deliciously rich and tender, with a satisfying flavor born of well-browned meat, tomato and, of course, that gorgeous saffron. Which is to say, I didn’t miss that chorizo for a minute.

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