It started with a weekly tradition among friends. "We have Mondays off, so we would do P+P—paella and poker," says San Francisco Ballet corps member Diego Cruz. After nearly ten years honing home-country recipes, Cruz and his co-founder, former SFB principal dancer Rubén Martín Cintas, decided to take their cooking skills commercial in July 2017. Today, Paellas & Cos can barely keep up with their client demand on two coasts: San Francisco's Bay Area and Washington DC, where Cintas recently relocated to serve as Ballet Master for The Washington Ballet.
Long before Monday night poker, Cruz and Cintas both trained at Estudio de Danza de Maria de Avila while growing up in Spain. "We've known each other for 19 years," says Cruz, "when I was a kid he was my idol." Cruz spent summers at SFB School intensives before joining the year-round training program and later the company as a corps member in 2006. As a company veteran, his repertoire includes nearly every ballet in the classical canon and plenty of original roles choreographed on him by the likes of William Forsythe, Arthur Pita and Myles Thatcher.
It's appropriate that Paella & Cos' first big event was on home turf. In 90cm specialty pans purchased from a store in San Francisco called Spanish Table, Cruz and Cintas made paella for everyone backstage at the opera house in December 2017. It was a retirement party for the costume department's head dresser. (You can see delightful shots of Nutcracker's mice, Sugar Plum Fairy and Spanish characters hovering over steaming, bubbling pans on the catering company's Instagram, @paellasandcos.)
Cruz in Helgi Tomasson's Concerto Grosso. Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.
Typical paella variations include meat and vegetable, pure vegetable and seafood. But it's not all business above the cutting board and fry pan. "We make the show. We sing, we do everything possible for everybody to have fun at the party," says Cruz. Although they do their best to work within a client's budget, a seafood paella party with tapas might set you back $70 per person. "Imagine that you like a restaurant a lot so you hire the chef to come to your house," says Cruz, "How much money would you pay?"
Evidently, people agree. Starting among the ballet community for birthdays and cook outs, Paellas & Cos has gotten the word out through social media and popup events. "We're getting a lot of emails now," Cruz explains, "we've had to turn some events down."
Cintas in Helgi Tomasson's Nutcracker. Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.
Indeed, running an in-demand, bicoastal catering company necessitates creative multi-tasking. On the day we spoke, Cruz squeezed in a paella gig between a dress rehearsal and performance. Sometimes, the balancing act is literal. "The other day Helgi [Tomasson, SFB's artistic director], was teaching class. I was in a balance and he came over to ask, 'How's your business?' No corrections, nothing ballet," he recounts with a laugh. Now that they live and work nearly 3,000 miles apart, Cruz and Cintas each run their own local P&C branch, hiring help when needed.
In the end, it's about more than the extra income. "We come from a culture that really finds happiness through these type of food environments. So we just want to share that with people," says Cintas. For Cruz, Paellas & Cos may be a retirement plan someday, but for now he's happy to be dancing, cooking and spreading the love—with an effervescent addition: "Beer. I love making beer, too."