Paula De Miguel is a Cordon Bleu trained chef who forms part of a delicious Valencian family business.
As somebody who has problems frying an egg (they come in such strange shapes after all), it is just a little bit intimidating to meet somebody who has cooked for Queens. And I’m not talking about Freddie Mercury; Paula de Miguel has cooked not only for Spain’s Queen Sofia, but also for Britain’s very own Queen Elizabeth II.
Nevertheless, she found time to receive me regally in the elegant rooms of Mirador de Comedias.
Calle Comedias, one of several locations where her family’s company Catering Cinco has exclusive rights to offer banquets for large groups or intimate dinners for a select handful.
Paula is the company’s Cordon Bleu (I think I pronounced it correctly) chef, although the company’s name is ‘Cinco’ precisely because it consists of Paula’s mother, the founder, and her three sisters (I think that makes five, doesn’t it?)
Paula’s mother Carmen comes from a distinguished Valencian family (her brother is the Marqúes de Cáceres) and yet her values are those of achievement through hard work and high quality, and for this reason the business she started at the suggestion of friends who admired her excellent cooking, which she learned from her own mother who was also an excellent cook, has now become one of Valencia’s most sought after catering companies (they usually have a few slots available, but you’ll have to hurry).
Despite her Frenchly title, Paula in fact did her cookery training in London, where she lived for two and a half years; which may explain her excellent English (she corrected me a few times), although it doesn’t explain why her fish and chips tastes of best quality butter rather than re-used lard.
Before going to London to study and later work, she had already spent an academic year at a school in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, when she was thirteen, and at the age of 22, in the year 2000, studied English while working in an appropriately named vegetarian restaurant called Cranks (it means eccentric people) in London, during which time she spotted the Cordon Bleu school near Marylebone Road.
She returned to London in September 2003 to begin her 8 months cookery course there, but eventually would stay on until December 2005, gaining experience in a variety of catering sector jobs.
Although the course was intense, involving practical lectures in the morning and hands-on work in her own individual kitchen in the afternoons, Paula nevertheless had inherited her mother’s love of hard work, and paid her way by taking on a part-time job in the Patisserie chain ‘Valerie’s’.
Having graduated from the school, whose teachers are mostly French chefs as the name suggests, she was immediately offered a position at the prestigious Mosimann’s Club in Belgravia, working under the famous Swiss-German ex-head chef of the Dorchester, whose name the club bears, and adapting to the German mentality, where “work starts at 8” means that most people start turning up at half seven. There she catered for some major events both in London and elsewhere, such as the Cartier International Polo competition, whose 800 diners included Prince William when he was still a happy batchelor, or the benefit gala against cancer held in Geneva, for 650 people such as Princess Astrid of Belgium or Elle McPherson.
In February 2005 she took up a post as personal chef for the Thompson family, who were in London to sue the auction house Christies, and to enjoy some good food while checking to ensure that they were still holding their own in the ranking of Forbes 100. (Don’t worry, they were!)
From there Paula moved to a catering company based in Vauxhall, and it was during her time at Blue (yes, I asked her twice but she insists that’s what they were called) Strawberry that she participated in a Civic Lunch to celebrate de 40th anniversary of Bexley Council, at Danson House, on July 25th 2005, an event attended by our very own Queen Elizabeth.
Finally, as her mother’s business was expanding and in need of expert help, she decided to return to Valencia and to participate in the company’s recent expansion.
Apart from offering their quality meals and hors d’oeuvres at the Mirador de Comedias, they also have exclusive rights to a converted farmhouse-restaurant, the Masia de San Antonio de Poyo in Ribarroja, just outside Valencia, and the Granja San Isidro at San Isidro de Benageber near Moncada, where they cater for weddings, communion celebrations, baptisms and anniversaries.
For those who prefer to nibble and tipple at night or twilight, they offer their culinary fare at the Inbocca club, in a livelier atmosphere in Calle Conde Altea; or, if you prefer to entertain at home and claim that you slaved over a hot stove all day to prepare this amazing seven course tour de force for your salivating bon viveur friends, they also offer a take away service from Calle Maestro Gozalbo.
They cater too for companies and organisations who want to provide a simple breakfast or snack before returning to a meeting, conference or presentation in which boring decisions are taken involving billions of euros.
Paula’s father also helps out with the business, although the other components of the ‘Cinco’ are officially elder sister Maria, who takes care of marketing and new projects, Aurora who deals with the accounting and business administration, and a younger sister Rocio, who did an Erasmus course in Turin, Italy, and is now a qualified architect following in her sister’s footsteps, working in London.
Too many chefs don’t seem to spoil the broth and Paula presides over six permanent chefs and anything between 10 and 15 waiters and waitresses, depending on the size of the event, as well as ensuring that each menu is tailored to the individual requirements of the client and that nobody need suffer during their special day as Steve Martin did in the film ‘The Father of the Bride’, although she herself has to be flexible enough to satisfy the whims of her clients, including setting up her ovens on somebody’s paddle court on one occasion.
The list of their contented clients is almost endless, and includes King Juan Carlos and Queen Doña Sofía (a vegetarian), Prince Felipe and Princess Leticia, and Hollywood’s own Michael Douglas and his wife Catherine Zeta- Jones.
Nevertheless, Paula points out that her favourite clients are those brides and grooms who trust her to help organise that special day.
In case you’re wondering, Paula did in fact offer to make me a cucumber sandwich, but as it involved seven hours elaboration, I reluctantly declined, and as my kids are far too big to be baptised and my wife far too angry with me to get married again, I suppose I‘ll just have to make do with listening to all the people who are always reminding me about what I’m missing.