Chef Mat Schuster, owner of Canela Bistro & Wine Bar in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, was inspired to create a restaurant to celebrate Spanish cuisine after meeting his Spanish partner Francisco Cifuentes. Together, they opened Canela in 2011.
He and Cifuentes would travel to Spain regularly to visit the Spaniard’s mother in Cordoba. She taught him many of her recipes and he apprenticed in several regions, falling in love with the cuisine, wine, local produce and of course, the Spanish people.
This experience revealed to Schuster the value of authenticity, so he tries to use as many products from Spain as possible to curate the best culinary experience. “We use jamón Ibérico, all kinds of cheeses, olive oil, different peppers, beans, rice… pretty much everything we can get from Spain, we use.”
Though he honors tradition, Schuster also enjoys being creative and his creativity really shines through in his veggie paella, inspired to satisfy the needs of Californians looking for healthy, vegetarian options.
His signature veggie paella uses kale. “Kale adds a nice crunch and texture, and I also like to use mushrooms, onions, green peas, and artichokes when in season, and a bit of pumpkin in the winter.”
“There is a lot to play with in a vegetarian paella," Schuster says, “the key to making a vegetarian dish is balance.”—he adds.
“Use some olive oil, a splash of lemon, Spanish vinegar, and maybe some fruit or honey for sweetness. The trick is to keep it fun, exciting, have a little bit of surprise in there, maybe something unexpected.”
Schuster's menu at Canela is filled with surprising and delicious options that might just trick your taste buds into making you believe that you just landed in Valencia.
One easy dish he loves to share is “pa amb tomàquet,” a traditional tapa from Catalonia. It consists of a slice of toasted bread, grated tomato, some garlic, olive oil and salt. “Something so simple and yet so delicious...people ask for it over and over again.”
Chef Schuster shared his unique veggie paella recipe with us:
If you want to learn more about chef Schuster and Canela restaurant in San Francisco, the handle on social media is @canelasf, or you can check out their website www.canelasf.com.
Text: Laura D’Ocon / @ICEX