Gabrielle Reece’s Best Meal Ever!

By: Monique Savin

Long before she was a beach volleyball star, TV personality, or one of Elle magazine’s “Five Most Beautiful Women in the World,” Gabrielle Reece was a little girl in a kitchen on an island, helping her grandmother cook. At just seven years old, she was learning to make the meal that remains her favorite dish today: Seafood paella.

“I call seafood paella ‘happy food,’” Reece says. “It reminds me of my childhood, and my abuelita [grandmother], who was always in the kitchen. That’s where I’d spend time with her. The dish brings me comfort.”

Their recipe combined saffron, rice, garlic, and onions with plump shrimp and fresh mussels pulled straight from the crystal blue waters surrounding the family’s home on St. Thomas. (Reece was born in California but lived in the Caribbean until moving to Florida in the 11th grade.) The recipe was mild, not spicy, which allowed Reece to appreciate the seafood flavors and surprising textures of the dish.

“It’s like a treasure hunt,” Reece says. “No two bites are the same.”

After moving to the mainland and becoming both a model and an accomplished athlete, Reece met her husband, Laird Hamilton, a champion big wave surfer who shares her experimental palate. Together with their daughters, the family prepares their own version (WHICH IS DIFFERENT HOW FROM ABUELITAS?),  and always served with cooked banana and black beans on the side.

“I think food is an exploration, it’s supposed to be fun,” Reece says. “Our paella is made with a great deal of creativity. No one’s thinking about calories or fat content. It’s about enjoyment — and because I don’t get paella often, it’s a real treat.”

Why she loves it:

“Paella represents a part of my life that isn’t obvious. Many people see me only as Californian, but my biological father is from Trinidad, so I have roots in places that people are surprised to learn about. It’s also a dish that is, like I am, connected to the sea.”

Entertaining tip:

“The best way to enjoy seafood paella is by having family gathering around because kids can help with the preparation and having that love go into the meal is a big part of my personal culture and the family I’m raising.”

Why it’s a healthy meal: Lean protein

According to Dr. Brian Wansink, professor of nutritional science at Cornell University and author of “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think,” the seafood in Reece’s paella is low in calories but high in protein, which satisfies hunger for longer. “Gabby gets a lot more satisfaction for a lot fewer calories than she’d get from red meat,” Dr. Wansink. “That’s highly nutritious, natural protein that’s not processed.”

How to make this meal even better: Triple the veggies

Dr. Wansink says a simple way to boost the nutrition value of seafood paella is to bump up the veggies included in the mix. “By doubling the protein or tripling up the vegetables, relative to the rice in the dish, you’d really have a powerful paella. Those vegetables are bulky, nutritious, and fibrous; meaning they’d fill up Gabby – or anyone – long before they overate. You wouldn’t want starches or dessert.”

About the Chef:

Gabrielle Reece is a professional beach volleyball player, model, sportscaster and mom. She runs, a fitness training site for women where she posts workouts and meal ideas.

Grandmas Seafood Paella

Serves 6-8


1 tsp salt and pepper each
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups chopped onions (about 2 medium)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
4 cups seafood stock
3/4 cup white wine
2 Lemons
2 cups saffron rice

1 3 ½ pound whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1 cup Spanish chorizo
1 pound large uncooked shrimp, peeled, deveined
1 pound cleaned squid, bodies cut into 1/2-inch rings
1 dozen clams, scrubbed
1 dozen mussels, scrubbed, debearded
1 dozen scallops
1 pound cod

Preheat oven to 450°F. Heat olive oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add chicken pieces and chorizo with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat until brown, about 7 minutes per side. Using tongs, remove chicken from pot.

Add chopped onions and garlic to pot and sauté until beginning to brown, scraping up any browned bits, about 10 minutes. Stir in rice, and saffron. Add seafood stock and wine to pot and bring mixture to simmer. Remove from heat.

Pour rice mixture into 15x10x2-inch glass baking dish. Arrange chicken, chorizo, shrimp, squid, clams mussels, scallops, and cod in rice mixture. Cover with foil.

Meanwhile, season your shrimp with the juice of 1 lemon and a touch of salt and pepper. Broil on the highest rack for 5-6 minutes until slightly pink. Set aside.

Bake paella until chicken is cooked through, clams and mussels open and rice is tender, about 45 minutes (discard any clams and mussels that do not open). Remove foil from baking dish. Let paella stand 10 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.