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Is the Paella Party the Next Trend for Backyard Gatherings?

Burgers and hot dogs will forever hold their place in America's heart as a staple for backyard cookouts. But these everyman bites aren't nearly as exotic, or entertaining, as the paella party, a fact that has likely contributed to one South Florida paella chef's recent influx of business, particularly with high-end customers.

"Business is picking up tremendously," said Luis Elu, owner and chef for Palm Beach County-based Paella Grill. Though his prices are not out of the norm for private catering services, he tends to draw well-to-do clients. But with popularity picking up, demand is increasing across the board and he's actively pursuing a partner to help cope with the increase in business.

Elu said his typical clients are "successful people who have familiarity with good food." For a party of 40 or so people, he requires a six-by-six-foot space, which leaves enough room for him and his paellera (paella pan). He uses propane and while he has a permit to cook inside, he prefers outdoor cooking, not a difficult feat for South Florida.

Elu said many guests respond to the visual aspect of the preparation of the traditional Spanish dish. Though seafood is the most popular choice (naturally) he also prepares versions stocked with pork, chicken, chorizo, ham, and other proteins. There's also a vegetarian option.

Another South Florida chef catering to the demand for backyard paella parties is The Hungry Cuban, a catering business by personal chef Juan Montalvo. His goods can be sampled Thursday evenings at Ellenville's Moonlit Farmer's Market in Boca Raton.

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Tricia Woolfenden

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