Tucked away in a block on North Figueroa Street in Los Angeles’ historic Highland Park neighborhood lies Otono, a charming Spanish restaurant that you may miss upon first look. While the kitchen space is smaller than most restaurants — six burners, a couple ovens, and a narrow prep station — head chef Theresa Montaño makes up for it by expanding the flavors of her cuisine on an immense scale.
Montaño grew up cooking with her mother and grandmother in New Mexico, instilling a love of the culinary arts in her at such an early age.
“I grew up in a big Hispanic family, so food was a part of that,” she laughed.
Otono’s arroz y fideua, also known as paella, are some of the most popular dishes on the restaurant’s menu. Montaño mentions on a busy night, Otono could sell as many as 50 orders of paella.
Traditionally, a properly made paella could take anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour to cook. With 50 orders a night, in such a small kitchen space, those numbers can seem daunting, but Chef Montaño doesn’t bat an eye.
That’s because she has perfected her paella dish to be done in a matter of 15 minutes, a feat that took her years to master, and is a necessary one to become successful in Otono’s kitchen setting.
The key to this, she shares, lies in the preparation.
Before Chef Montaño even opened the doors of Otono, she began the streamlining process.
Essentially, all the elements of a proper paella are there, but Montaño found a way to shift the flavors into different components to speed up the preparation and cooking process. First, the rice is half-cooked ahead of time and infused with a rich broth. Then Montano creates a flavorful Samora paste that’s made from tomatoes, saffron, and mild chiles that combines with the rice during the cooking process. Once they all come together, the dish tastes exactly as it would had it been cooked another 15 or 20 minutes longer.