British and Spanish cuisine shake on it at Gastronomika


José Pizarro, Quique Dacosta and Ángel Zapata, three Spaniards who found success in London, urge their colleagues to test-drive the British experience "because the United Kingdom knows and wants Spanish produce". Pedro Subijana gets an ovation from the auditorium for his warning of the need to combat gaps and staff shortages, and calls for respect for restaurant floor staff.

Three of the best ambassadors of Spanish cuisine gave a talk on countries and opportunities on stage at the Kursaal on the second day of Gastronomika. José Pizarro, owner and chef at José Pizarro; Quique Dacosta, who runs London's Arros QD, and Ángel Zapata, chef at Barrafina*, swapped opinions and agreed that "London wants Spain and its products", and urged others to set up businesses there. ”There's a niche", they say.

This is because "the British are open-minded, they like to try things and learn, and they love our culture", explained the great godfather of Spanish cuisine in London, José Pizarro, whose experience tells us that knowledge of our produce is on the up and up. “At the beginning I showed them a ham, and they would say that ‘Parma ham’ was good …”. “But that's normal -added Dacosta-. The Italians had already arrived”. 

It needs time, "which a lot of caterers and distributors are making use of now". In the certainty that now is a good time for Spanish produce and concepts, the three agreed on the opportunities emerging there, although "the level of gastronomy in London is very high indeed. They have very good food", said Zapata, who runs a Michelin-starred fry-ups bar. “And they don't have it in Sevilla …”, said Dacosta. In a word, London is London.

Roberta Hall McCarron (The Little Chartroom, Edinburgh) does not operate a business in London, but she does operate it in the United Kingdom, as part of a group of chefs who are consolidating Edinburgh as one of the country's gastronomy capitals, and she demonstrated her passion for game by cooking a pigeon and smoked fish on stage at Gastronomika. “Scotland is mountain and coast”, she explained.  “The hunting season begins on 12 August, and after that I only serve up game as the main course at the restaurant”. And so Hall McCarron cut up a pigeon and served and showcooked it with beetroot and blackberries, "because these flavours combine with the rich taste of game", and a beetroot and berry ketchup made with agar-agar, "with an oily texture".

Pedro Subijana and the Spielberg CVs

One of the fathers of New Basque Cuisine could not miss the congress. “Every year I think it will be the last, but they always rope me in”, he joked before doing some showcooking and voicing his concern with staff shortages. “You get CVs that look as if they were done by Spielberg, but when it comes down to it, they’re nothing like that. We have to combat this shortage with training", he went on, before discussing the details of his new sampling menu. Among which,  
"Damero", chunks of bacon and cabbage wrapped in film and fried in a sauce made from other parts of the pig, and "torrezno" scratching with potato.

The Akelarre chef left the stage with a message: “We must work so that, in the same way as people nowadays are proud to say they are chefs, people can also swell with pride as they say 'I'm a waiter'”. Another warning by Subijana: “Customers must learn to respect waiters, and the rules of each restaurant. It's true that we're not paid by the company, but by customers, but this is a profession which does not obtain forgiveness when other professions would obtain it. If you go to a bank ten minutes before it closes and they don't let you in, you don't complain. Well, the same thing applies. We're asking for more respect”. The auditorium rose in applause.

The perennial essentiality of Alija

From the other Basque province, Josean Alija went on stage. The chef at Nerua* (Bilbao) is known for the apparent simplicity of his recipes, to which he adds some personality. “We've speeded up in recent years, and we still focus on using what nature gives us every season. We use it to build our story. What is important is taste and texture ... and we work on this with simplicity because we try to interfere with the product as little as possible". 

He demonstrated this with some Motril shrimps and leek confit, anchovies and a French omelette with anchovy garum, and a third recipe with legumes in sauce with green peppers and roasted razor clams. Alija also gave a sneak preview of the recipes on his upcoming menu: Iberian pork "castañuelas" in green lentil stock.

The best apple tart and the best Russian salad

Tuesday saw the 5th San Miguel National Russian Salad Championship award, and for the first time in the last three years the winner was not from Málaga. The prize went to Asturias, the Castru Gaiteru restaurant in Celorio (Llanes, Asturias). The secret of the recipe is to use oven-roasted potato, and add the mayonnaise when it is still warm, along with roast peppers and olives, topped by prime bonito and pickled "piparra" pepper. Meanwhile, the Spanish Apple Tart by Asturias Championship award went to La Carpintería in Vigo. 

The Keler 2022 Bar of Bars Awards was also awarded to Vermutería Río in Pamplona, with its flagship "fried egg croquette" tapa, which has been a feature of its bar food since 2015, and Monika Linton, CEO of Brindisa, took the Food and Wines From Spain Award "as an exceptional ambassador of Spanish produce in the United Kingdom, and the first to import them". This praise came from ICEX, a body awarding a prize which enhances the image of quality and variety of Spanish produce. 

A tour around Spain

The congress-goers were introduced to Great Britain, but they also embarked on a tour of Spain to sound out the status of national gastronomy. In addition to Subijana and Alija, the auditorium featured Paulo Airaudo (Amelia**, San Sebastián), Rubén Campos (El Rincón de Diego*, Cambrils), Samuel Naveira (Mu.Na*, Ponferrada), Javi Estevez (La Tasquería*, Madrid), Enrique Pérez (El Doncel*, Sigüenza) and Nandu Jubany who, although he runs the excellent Can Jubany in Calldetenes, went on stage to represent his restaurant in Formentera (Es Còdol Foradat) to demonstrate how he cooks lobster on the island. A number of lecturers at the Basque Culinary Center also homed in on innovation alongside Diego Guerrero (DSTAgE**, Madrid) and Edorta Lamo (Arrea!, Kanpezu).

The event was rounded off by Quique Dacosta, who touched on the recipes on his current menu, focusing on prawns, which are always cooked in sea water. “Cooking them this way changed the perspective we had of them", he said. "We've come up with around 50 prawn recipes, always red Dénia prawn, always from a contemporary perspective”.

The event was rounded off by Quique Dacosta, who touched on the recipes on his current menu, focusing on prawns, which are always cooked in sea water. “Cooking them this way changed the perspective we had of them", he said. "We've come up with around 50 prawn recipes, always red Dénia prawn, always from a contemporary perspective”.






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