When asked to prepare a meal with special meaning, Kim and Whit Hanks choose the classic Spanish dish paella—not only because it’s delicious, but because preparing it can be, should be, a team effort. The Hankses should know from team efforts, too—married co-founders and owners of Whim Hospitality, they share a passion for hard work, hospitality and celebrating happiness in all its forms, business and personal.
Making paella is a centuries-old tradition in Spain. It’s even been called the national dish, though it originates and flourishes in the country’s Valencian region. It takes about two-and-a-half hours to prepare, including prep time, but that’s part of the attraction for Kim and Whit. “It’s Spain’s version of the Fourth of July cookout,” Kim says as she pours rice into the oiled bottom of their paella pan. Rice is crucial to the making of paella, as is the right kind of pan. In fact, the name of the dish comes from the Old French word, paelle, for pan.
On this day, Kim and Whit—along with a couple of their kids and a half-dozen of Whim’s 180 employees—come together to make and eat paella on the patio at the Hanks’ Dripping Springs home. Kim, Whit and the crew have already done a considerable amount of prep work to make sure the final production comes off without a hitch. While Kim toasts the rice in the pan, others are in the house making broth, preparing appetizers and gathering wine and bottled water. Everybody’s busy but relaxed, except perhaps the family’s bulldog, Beau, who grunts directions and waits—not always patiently—for scraps of paella fixings to hit the ground. “Making paella is perfect if you like to fidget, because there’s always something to do,” Kim says, stirring the rice while Whit and son Cole fidget to make sure the pan is perfectly level. “It’s very social; you can get everybody involved and say your whole family made it.”
The secret to making authentic paella is the rice, Kim explains, as Whit pours boiling broth into the pan as she stirs. “It’s called bomba rice…it’s a dry, short-grain pearl rice, like Japanese rice but not sticky.” Instead, she says, the rice should achieve a consistency that feels like pebbles under the water; that’s how a paella aficionado once explained it to the Hankses. “That’s very Spanish, very romantic,” Kim says, repeating the phrase. “But it is a little bit like that—it has a little bit of weight, like when you kick a pebble under water, it has a heaviness to it.” Whit asks a visitor to stir the rice and offer his opinion on whether or not it feels like pebbles under the water. The visitor agrees that it might, so Kim and Whit begin adding the meats and seafood. “This is where you start designing it,” Kim says. “This is where you make it pretty.”
The story behind the couple’s appreciation of paella comes from Whit, a sixth-generation Austinite whose antique business sometimes takes him to Europe. Over the years, he developed a fondness for European foods, especially Spanish dishes. He took the company’s catering chef to Spain in 2015 and took a side trip to Valencia for a meal at La Riuà restaurant, where paella is a specialty. It was love at first bite.
Indeed, love in various forms is what makes Kim’s and Whit’s world go ’round. They founded Whim Hospitality in 2012 and turned Camp Lucy—located on Whit’s family ranch and named for Whit’s mother—into a popular site for many a Hill Country wedding, including their own four years ago. In October of last year, the Austin Business Journal named Kim the Best CEO of 2017 in the small company category, the only woman so honored. But the Hankses say they’re not even close to done. A restaurant at Camp Lucy is in the construction phase now, and paella will be a featured dish there. Adam Cormany, Whim’s director of food and beverage, says the restaurant will be a place where people can linger over a good meal and where the paella pans will be a prominent feature. “We want people to see how it’s made,” he says. “It’s going to be a place where you can have a really good time in a nice, family atmosphere.” Today, on the Hanks’ patio, on a gorgeous afternoon with friends and family savoring the taste and textures of the couple’s…the family’s…paella, it’s easy to see, feel and taste what he’s talking about.
By Clay Coppedge • Photography by Melanie Grizzel