This is the story of my first overseas travel cooking class with Just Royal Bcn in Barcelona learning to cook paella.
One of my favorite things to do when traveling to a foreign country is trying local dishes. I haven’t exactly done a poll, but I’m assuming that’s what most people would put as their top 5 reasons for visiting another country.
I figured it might be a little more exciting to learn about the foods and learn to cook them so I can bring the knowledge home and relive the travel experience.
Barcelona was the first place I ever traveled to myself internationally. It wasn’t really a hard decision to choose this city, but the hard decision was making my itinerary when I would only be there for three days.
I have to credit Airbnb with making me aware of Just Royal Bcn.
After I booked a room, using a coupon code obviously, they sent a few marketing emails over to me. One of the emails had Airbnb Experiences which I had never heard of.
There were unique tours, cooking classes, art classes, sailboat rides, and a whole lot more to do in Barcelona. I immediately decided on a paella cooking class, but there were 15 different classes to choose from.
Some of the cooking classes were in people’s homes. Some were in professional kitchens. There was even one in a garden and one on a rooftop.
I almost chose one of those last two just for the extra experience, but Just Royal pulled me in with all of the reviews on Airbnb. The major selling point after that was that there was also a tapas portion and we’d also learn to make a Spanish tortilla and dessert in the 3-hour class.
*The others in my class booked it through other locations like Trip Advisor and directly on the site.
If you happened to read anything about my first trip to Barca, you’d know it was raining almost the whole time.
I still liked walking the streets there and luckily it was only a light drizzle in the morning before my class so I did a nice urban hike there. I’m really glad I did because the area around Just Royal was this section of Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) that I hadn’t planned on going to. The light rain added another element that made the Gothic architecture and back alleys have an aged and shadowy ambiance.
Just Royal Bcn is located inside of Plaça Reial which is a beautiful large plaza in the middle of The Gothic Quarter. I got to the area about 15 minutes early (I’m a fast walker I guess) so I had time to explore the plaza and alleys around there.
It was still early, being as I decided to sign up for a 10 am cooking class. There were a bunch of people setting up stands and tables throughout the square. I was looking forward to hanging around after the cooking class to see what was going on. I didn’t get to since it was a downpour after the class.
To kill some time I walked around the back alleys. Through the entire trip these paths kept me wide-eyed and loving the architecture. There is something to the calm in the morning here that I love.
This was also my first time in them though, so I didn’t realize how easy it is to get turned around. My 20 minutes to kill turned into me running around trying to find my way back to Plaça Reial.
If you decide to sign up for this class, don’t be scared by the creepy stairs you need to take to get into the location. There are 4 short flights of stairs in a pretty old building that you need to walk up that is not lit at all. For a second I thought I was walking into a scene from “Se7en” until I got into the space.
Address: Plaça Reial 3-1, 08002 Barcelona
The Class Setup
Well after the creepy stairwell, I walked into this swanky looking little suite at the top of the steps.
It must have been a converted apartment. I did feel like I was hanging out in someone’s home which I was really happy about. I really didn’t want to take the class in a “professional” style kitchen where it would have felt like a more sterile experience. The home-like feel and the trendy decorations made it easy to feel comfortable there, especially as a solo traveler.
When you walked in there was a dining room table to the right, set for a family dinner. The far end of the room was a living room with sofas around a fireplace. Then around the corner was a kitchen area with a large kitchen island.
The island was a spectacular sight. This company really goes all out to make the aesthetics of the room add to the entire experience.
The outside of the table had 7 stations set up for everyone to cook from. Each had a cutting board, a folded up red apron, and a chef knife. Within each station there was also a water glass, wine glass, and a tall shot glass. It was early, but I was pretty excited to see the booze possibility.
This morning I didn’t get a chance to get my cherished churros con chocolate, so the plates in the middle of the table had me salivating. There were 8 or 9 tapas plates set out with some really amazing looking food. I considered stealing a croquette, but the nice Venezuela woman keeping me company would have caught me.
The two of us hung out alone waiting for everyone else.
Where Was Everybody Else?
The woman and I hung out for a bit waiting for everyone else. She worked for Just Royal Bcn, so I was the only guest there so far for the class.
She spoke minimal English, and I speak a terribly weak amount of Spanish. It was an interesting 15 minutes trying to be social.
At one point the door opened and everyone walked in. The instructor, Janelle, led the way while carrying a couple of fresh loaves of bread that the group picked up at the market. I wish I was invited down there.
Apparently there was another longer version of this class that I could have signed up for. The other class had an hour-long tour of the world-famous Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria (aka the Boqueria) which is only a few blocks away.
She gave them a full tour with history of the area and information about all of the fresh food they walked by. I’m pretty jealous I didn’t sign up for that.
Wine and Introductions
Once everyone came in, we hit the ground running.
Janelle had us get all choose our cooking stations around the island. As the only solo person there, I just let everyone choose their spots so I didn’t awkwardly sit between a couple.
We got started with some social lubricant before introductions. Janelle filled our long-stemmed shot glasses with a cava and taught us a bit about this Spanish sparkling wine. Then she had us go around the table giving quick introductions.
I was 7th wheeling it with a group of 6 couples. There was a married couple from Germany (probably in their late 50s), a married couple from Israel (likely 50s too), and a younger 20-something couple from Barcelona.
The Spanish couple was there because the mother of the boyfriend, Danny, bought them the class as a birthday gift. We all thought the mom was giving the girlfriend a hint. Sadly I only remember the names of Danny and the German man, Rolph. How can you forget meeting a Rolph?
Next, we had a nice glass of white wine poured for us. After the glasses were all poured, Janelle opened another bottle and left it on the table for us. The group was all pretty excited about that. Rolph was mainly there for his wife, so he took it upon himself to be the “wine helper.”
Funny, charming, and very nice are not the terms I was told would describe Germans abroad. Lesson learned in not stereotyping!
Tapas Lessons…and Tasting!
Before we got into any cooking, Janelle made sure we had some food to hold us over.
While continuing to sip our wine, we were given lessons about each of the tapas on the table. Janelle went over the regions each came from, why those particular regions ended up creating each food and a little bit about the lifestyles of each regional culture.
I may have forgotten one, but the tapas we were given were mussels, patatas bravas, Spanish garlic shrimp, potato croquettes (WOW!), charcuterie, pulpo gallego, fried calamari, and anchovy on manchego cheese. Surprisingly I really liked the anchovies. Everything was amazing to be perfectly honest.
*Most of the recipes were emailed to us after the class. I was able to cook them up with no problem.
Cooking Time! And More Wine
As soon as the tapas plates were cleared Janelle got us going. She is really high energy and entertaining.
The first thing we were doing was prepping the Catalan cream. We started with dessert because it tastes better when the orange zest sits longer in the mix.
We learned that zesters are crap. You can’t gauge if you’re getting the gross white pith from the peel with that. Janelle showed us how to carefully slice the zest off with a knife. I was given an orange and told I was in charge of orange zesting. One of the Israelis got a lemon and was given the same task.
Janelle multitasked the group cooking lesson and got a few people in the group started on the Spanish tortilla. Some others got going with paella cooking prep. Splitting up all of the tasks between everyone was a lot of fun and made it really efficient. I might have missed a few tips or steps in the process, but that’s OK.
Some of us were chopping, some were mixing, and Rolph was still pouring us wine.
I’ll spare the step by step of everything. I don’t think anyone cares about boiling the milk and slicing peppers.
Before we got into cooking paella, we made the Spanish tortilla for an appetizer. Janelle has the Israeli wife the head chef for that duty. She was surprisingly nervous about it even though she was just given small tasks like flip the egg. The rest of us watched while we kept busy slicing and dicing vegetables and sipping more wine.
I think I burned through the tapas and was pretty hungry again, so the tortilla was finished in perfect timing.
The Barcelona girlfriend, who doesn’t cook, at least knew how to properly make Catalan tomato bread. I was apparently been given fake versions the last 2 nights! She prepped that and we ate the tortilla on the toast.
Oh my God that was delicious!
I’ve had Spanish tortillas at home before, so I wasn’t expecting much. It turns out we either had the best tortilla ever, or I’ve just been having the wrong one my whole life.
They sent home the recipe for that too. I made it at home the day I got back. Still amazing.
Paella Cooking…and More Wine
Danny handled most of the mixing and cooking of the Catalan cream. The Israelis were in charge of the tortilla. Rolph had us covered with the wine. I was feeling a little left out of the real cooking, minus my intricate zesting of orange earlier.
My time to shine came when Janelle put me in front of one of the two paella pans. Rolph’s wife got the other one.
I’ll have to admit, I felt a little nervous and like I was on stage. Everyone came here to learn to cook paella, but ultimately to eat homemade paella. I was scared I’d mess it up somehow.
Is this how the Israeli woman felt with our incredible Spanish tortilla? Oh God, how was I going to live up to that tortilla!
The beginning was fairly easy. I just had to cook a few prawns, but I had to do so with very pointy tongs that weren’t the easiest to work with. I learned how easy it is to remove the heads and cook them with a couple of motions of the tongs thanks to Janelle.
The rest of the cooking was kind of a blur. There was a love of things happening quickly. I’m used to eating a slow-cooked paella from my grandparents.
There was a lot going on, but I think I got the basics down. I honestly think I can completely remake a paella at home, but I might need a helper. Not a helper like Rolph though. Well, maybe a wine pouring Rolph type.
In the middle of the cooking, Chef Mariángeles showed up and he got very involved with helping me with my paella. I feel like he was giving me a lot of warnings while I was cooking. The only thing I’d be worried about trying when cooking at home would be whether or not I missed a warning or not. That and the salting.
The paella was almost done. Chef Mariángeles had me tasting it a few times while cooking it. He had me compare mine to the Germans and asked which was better and if I needed to change mine.
I liked it, but I felt like he was trying to trick me. I didn’t think it needed more salt, but he did and he was trying to get me to agree. The others tasted it and thought it did, so I guess I was wrong and a little embarrassed I can’t salt a paella properly 🙁
While my paella was cooking, Danny and his girlfriend were finishing up the Catalan Cream. They set them up with sugar on top and Janelle brought out the torch!
My Best Paella Lunch with New Friends
We all sat down at the dining room table to share a family-style dinner. I really liked this whole group. They were all fun and friendly people that I’m glad I got to know…except names apparently.
Janelle and the Venezuelan woman brought us all our plates so we could finally enjoy the fruits of our labor.
How did it come out?
Oh. It was good!
I made that!
Don’t let the picture fool you. There was plenty more to eat in the pans. They just wanted to do some fancy plating.
Cost of the Class
I paid $88 for the class which I think is a steal of a deal. If that was just a meal, you have to consider everything you get. There was the tapas tasting, Spanish tortilla, seafood paella, Catalan crema, and basically bottomless wine. If that were just a meal in a restaurant it could come close to that price. The difference is I was fully entertained, met some great people, learned some new skills, and left with a full belly and a decent buzz.
10/10 would do again!