The narrative is a familiar one: guy abandons corporate life in pursuit of happiness and independence, no longer waiting for a midlife crisis to make the shift. Daniel Forsthofer and his wife, Clementine, started out in the corporate world five years ago and worked weekends at the Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein, where you'll now find them making their speciality – paella – full-time.
Many a heated debate has taken place over what exactly constitutes "proper" paella. The experienced traveller and cook will discover that today, there are as many versions of the dish as there are people who enjoy cooking it.
"Cooking paellas for people was our hobby trade and the business started to snowball," says Daniel. A year in, trade was booming, so they quit their jobs. "Two years into it we bought a food truck, decided to hit the streets and see what it was like in Joburg trading with different kinds of food, and we haven't looked back."
Beyond Neighbourgoods Market, Tutto Food Co specialises in private catering and the bright yellow food truck takes on lunchtime trade with delicious built-on-site sandwiches. "It’s definitely a better business than being in banking," says Daniel. "It’s about being your own boss, being able to call your own shots and work when you'd like to work, but in food specifically, it's something that is tangible. You can get your hands stuck in and see the product 20 minutes later. You see smiles on people's face if they enjoy it and that's the real reason why you do this.”
Your earliest memories of food? Flipping pancakes with my dad. Pancakes are definitely number one on the list of things I like to eat, and semmelknödel (dumplings) from my dad — he's Austrian, so the German side is huge — and things like ravioli from my grandmother.
Why a food truck? We find that most people want something simple, such as a sandwich or salad, at lunch; nothing complicated, as long as it's nutritious and has good flavours. We started out a lot fancier and have simplified along the way and found this works a lot better.
What's your link to Spain? We have links to southern Europe. My mother's Italian and my wife's family live in southern France, so we've explored the region. Two years ago, we spent about a month in Spain travelling the whole country, experiencing cuisine from north to south, east to west and tasting the best paellas in the Valencia region.
How would you describe your cooking style? Afro-Mediterranean — ancient flavours brought together in an eclectic, modern style. Our food speaks to the belt of the Mediterranean comprising southern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. These regions all have access to similar ingredients and while their cooking styles vary, they are all rooted in big, fresh flavours. Freshness is really the key word when it comes to our food. We make everything ourselves, from our dressings and marinades to our sauces and seasonings. We have a seriously small menu, because we believe in doing a few things really well rather than producing lots of average items.
What are you best known for? Freshly cooked paella, which we prepare from scratch in our massive Spanish pans, the biggest of which are 1.3m in diameter. We have stalls at our two favourite Joburg weekend markets, Neighbourgoods in Braamfontein and the Fourways Farmers Market, where you can find our seafood paella. This traditional Spanish rice dish is made with baby clams, the most tender calamari, beautiful juicy prawns and mussels. We also do a lot of private catering and have some other awesome paellas on our menu — the free-range chicken and chorizo is always a big hit and the mixed mushroom and truffle oil has become a firm favourite.
SMOKY SEAFOOD AND CHICKEN PAELLA
10 tbsp good-quality olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
A handful of fresh thyme sprigs
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp tomato paste
Salt, to taste
200g tomatoes, diced and peeled
1.2l good quality seafood or vegetable stock
¾ tsp saffron threads
600g Bomba rice (or medium-grain rice)
1 ½ tsp smoked paprika
250g squid, cleaned
300g chicken thighs, skinned, deboned and chopped
150g cooking chorizo, finely sliced
12 king prawns, whole and cleaned
150g red peppers, skinned
Lemon wedges, to serve
A handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Slice red peppers into strips 1cm thick and grill. Slice squid into rings 1cm thick.
Preheat oven to 150°C.
Place paella pan or large heavy-bottomed ovenproof skillet on a gas stove or burner at a medium-to-low heat to start making sofrito, the aromatic base of the paella. Add five tablespoons of olive oil and gently fry the onion until it becomes translucent. Turn the heat down low, add thyme and garlic and cook for one minute. Add tomato paste, a pinch of salt and cook for two minutes. Then add tomatoes, turn the heat up to medium and allow to cook down for about five minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick and rich. Pour into a dish and set aside.
Bring stock to the boil in a saucepan. Add saffron threads then remove from heat immediately.
Pour three tablespoons of olive oil into paella pan and toast rice with paprika and a pinch of salt over medium heat until the rice is well coated, continuously moving it around quickly so that it does not burn.
Add sofrito, briefly mixing it through the rice before adding stock. Bring liquid to the boil and evenly distribute rice. Try not to stir the rice again as it can take on a porridge-like consistency.
Once the stock is boiling, scatter calamari, chicken and chorizo over the rice on low heat. Simmer for five minutes, turning the chicken halfway through.
Add prawns and peppers on top and place the pan in the oven for 15 minutes. If it appears too dry, add a little liquid. Remove the pan from the oven and season to taste. Drizzle over the last two tablespoons of olive oil and allow the paella to rest for five minutes.
Serve with a lemon wedge and a generous scattering of parsley.
This is an extract from ‘Cooked in South Africa’, an initiative of Wish Upon A Star, a non-profit fund-raising charity (Reg. No 2013/038478/08). Cooked in South Africa is about memories and journeys around food and will be on sale in leading bookstores from mid-November with all profits from the sales going to children living with disability. Photographs courtesy of Naashon Zalk and Cooked in South Africa.