Who remembers being bored stiff with little to do during the height of the lockdowns? Steven Jaffray and his wife, Mariesha, both do.
But their entrepreneurial drive encouraged them both to make a go of their love for Spanish cuisine through creating their own street food business.
Paella Escocia is a family affair with Steven and Mariesha’s two children, Megan and Innes, keen to lend a hand cooking and serving customers.
Traditional paella flavours using local and Spanish ingredients are at the heart of the street food vendor’s offerings, which have been wooing north-east crowds at outdoor events this year including Grampian Pride last month.
They also have a side branch to their business called Mither Tapas, which sees Steven and Mariesha offering different experiences through kitchen takeovers at restaurants and takeaway services.
Despite having never worked in hospitality before, the pair’s Spanish recipe for success is certainly working up a treat.
We talked to Steven to find out more about Paella Escocia…
Tell us a little about yourself.
I studied at Aberdeen University, I’ve always lived in the north-east and have run my own businesses before. I used to be involved in music and entertainment in the wedding and corporate events industry and I’ve also worked offshore. My wife has a PhD, so she’s a doctor (but not a medical doctor!). We’re currently based in Whiteford, north of Inverurie, and I’d say that there’s always been an entrepreneurial side to what we do to keep us busy.
Have you and your wife always had an interest in Spanish cuisine?
We love the culture and cuisine over in Spain. We’ve been on holiday many times before. The simplicity of tapas is amazing; it’s simple, basic ingredients cooked well and they speak for themselves. With the paella, there’s a restaurant in Inverness called La Tortilla, which is the longest standing tapas restaurant in Scotland. So, we befriended the owner of the restaurant and she taught us how to make paella and really mentored us. Through trial and error, we eventually got quite good at doing it!
What inspired you to come up with Paella Escocia?
Having ran and sold a few businesses before, we always fancied the idea of doing some street food – it was almost like a wannabe Masterchef kind of thing! Paella Escocia grew during lockdown. My wife was made redundant – she was working in oil and gas at the time – and I was furloughed. So, starting the business was mainly for her.
When did it all start and how much have you had to adapt on your journey to date?
We started cooking for some friends and family and they said that we should consider doing it commercially – that was enough for us to get things going. As we came out of Covid, we started doing farmers markets which got our name out and about. This led to us trying out some private catering, as well as more events including Deeside Motor School.
We started off cooking at events with just one large pan, which we quickly realised we needed to get more of. Our largest pan is a metre in circumference and once it’s ready, we can sell it all in the space of 10 minutes. We’ve expanded our equipment and food offerings since we first started, but we still operate in a standard size catering gazebo, which most events only have the space to offer.
What are Paella Escocia’s biggest sellers?
Chicken and chorizo paella is our number one seller. After that, it would be our seafood paella and then our veggie and vegan options. We offer churros as well which are popular as a dessert and there’s also patatas bravas which are traditional Spanish style potatoes with our homemade bravas sauce and aioli.
Our Spanish bacon rolls also go down very well. They’re made with our aioli, chorizo and rocket, which we often sell out of. There’s something for everyone on our menu. The seafood paella would be my favourite dish, if I had to pick one.
Do you source ingredients locally?
To be authentic, we do use Spanish ingredients which is important to us. We have to use proper paella rice and chorizo, but we use local suppliers for the seafood we cook with. The vegetables for our vegetarian and vegan paella are also sourced locally. I grow my own organic garlic, which I’ve done for years, so we use that in our aioli and in our pans for cooking. We’ve also started growing green beans and other vegetables that we can use.
Can you also tell us about Mither Tapas?
Throughout Covid, there were no events because of lockdown. So, we started trading from Durno Village Hall as a takeaway on Saturday nights and came up with the name Mither Tapas – a little play on words with the local landmarks around Aberdeenshire. We discovered that, to our knowledge, we were the only people in the north-east that were doing Spanish takeaway street food cuisine in the north-east.
It’s more of a takeaway setup as opposed to catering like Paella Escocia. But we’re also open to doing kitchen takeovers and Spanish nights in various venues. The difference with the Mither Tapas is that we can offer more than what we can on a street food setup as we have access to an indoor kitchen. If we won the lottery and had the financial resources to come in and run a restaurant, I think we’d call it Mither Tapas.
Any upcoming events you’re looking forward to?
Portsoy Boat Festival will be a big one for us from June 17 to 19. We’ll be doing Friday, Saturday and Sunday outside the concert tent that they have at the food fair. We’ll be using local seafood from Sutherland which we’ll be selling there. We’re really looking forward to it.
What are some of your main goals going forward?
Our goal is to be the best Spanish street food vendor in the north-east. There’s lots of pizza vendors or burger vendors, who are all really lovely to meet. But nobody does what we do. When we’re up and cooking, the smell, the steam and the attraction of the food encourages everyone to come over.
The reason we started it all was just to get out of the house during lockdown, so being able to do Spanish street food cooking that takes us to interesting places across the north-east is great.