Arroz abanda with Dona-al rice

 Alaric Francis Santiaguel   |  

Chele Gonzalez strives to find new ingredients and different ways to understand food. His travels in and around the Philippines have helped him develop an awareness of traditional ingredients. Enamored by the heirloom rice varieties of the Cordilleras, Chef Chele shared two recipes featured in the 2016 heirloom rice recipe calendar, including Arroz abanda with Dona-al rice, an heirloom rice variety from Banaue, Ifugao.

Arroz abanda with Dona-al rice by Chef Chele. (Photos: ©VASK)

Arroz abanda with Dona-al rice by Chef Chele. (Photo: ©VASK)

Jose Luis “Chele” Gonzalez is the only non-Filipino on the roster of “rock star” chefs who contributed to the 2016 Heirloom Rice Recipe Calendar—but you wouldn’t know it from the way he extols heirloom rice.

“I am very lucky to work in the Philippines with a new product that I had never seen or used before,” said Chef Chele, who hails from Torrelavega, Spain. “When I found the heirloom rice varieties, I was so surprised. They have opened my eyes and make me feel something inside. I call them treasures of the Philippines.”

Chef Chele’s love for heirloom rice from the Cordilleras is very compelling; it goes beyond his restaurants’ kitchens. He plans to write a book about the glutinous heirloom rice varieties that he finds especially fascinating. “They have to be really studied and understood because each grain has a different ‘personality’.”

For now, he promotes heirloom rice through his restaurants, one of which, Gallery VASK, was recently named one of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. Gallery VASK ranked 39th on the list, a major feat considering it opened just three years ago.

Chef Chele describes Gallery VASK’s menu as modern cuisine meets Philippine ingredients. “We’re working with local producers and sourcing the ingredients from indigenous communities,” he said.

One of these locally sourced ingredients is Dona-al rice from Banaue, Ifugao. With its medium, creamy white grains, Dona-al is a luxurious choice for traditional rice cuisines such as paella.
Chef Chele’s Arroz abanda—one of the recipes he contributed to the calendar—is an inspired marriage of two great cultural heritages: heirloom rice and the iconic Spanish paella.

Ingredients (per person)

  • 100 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 30 grams mussels
  • 25 grams shrimps
  • 30 grams pusit lumot (squid)
  • 80 grams maya-maya (red snapper) fillet
  • 3 grams garlic
  • 100 grams Dona-al (heirloom rice)
  • 1 gram paprika
  • 3 saffron threads
  • 30 grams tomato sofrito
  • 250 ml fish broth


  1. Heat paella pan, add some oil, and cook seafoods just halfway. Keep aside.
  2. Add more oil, then the garlic and cook for a few seconds.
  3. Add the Dona-al rice and toast for 1 minute, then add paprika and saffron. Stir a bit, then add the tomato sofrito. Cook for 1 minute, add fish broth, then season.
  4. Cook rice for 8 minutes at high heat. Turn down heat to low or medium and cook for another 5 minutes.
  5. Put all seafoods on top. Cook for a bit more.
  6. For socarrat (caramelized crispy crust on the bottom of the pan), increase the heat until all liquid is absorbed or consistency is soft and wet, adding a bit more of the broth

See video in which Chef Chele talks about his experience with heirloom rice.

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