A recipe for success: Culinary Action

Rarely do I come back from a conference with such a good buzz, but Culinary Action the forum for culinary entrepreneurs, held at the Basque Culinary Center, ended on a high after two fast-paced and tightly-packed days.

Conceived as a forum for international entrepreneurs in the food world to tell their stories, encourage discussion about the challenges facing the sector and provide inspiration and encouragement for new projects.

Monday began with Xavier Güell of Sibarit.us discussing his projects including Mystery Box and Chef Box, which deliver culinary treats right to your doorstep. Chef Box is a particularly interesting project in conjunction with top Spanish chefs such as Ferran Adria, the Roca brothers, Andoni Luis Aduriz. Each chef designed his own box and the range from the ingredients needed for a dish to games which being all of your senses into play.

The adorable Fraser Doherty of Super Jam (a Scottish all fruit jam company) won everyone over immediately with stories of his first venture: a short-lived chicken farm that supplied eggs to neighbors till the chickens were eaten by a fox. He detailed the story of getting his Gran’s jam recipe to market, from his first homemade batches made when he was 14, through design trials (focus on one main message!) and clever give a ways, to fair-trade home-stays in Uganda. Even Jose Andres was captivated and shot off on his twitter feed:

@fraserdoherty one of the best speakers ever! Smart, funny and witty….Great business story..@superjam

Antonio Muiños of Porto Muiños demonstrated what’s in a name. Everything changed for the company when he started calling Porto Muiños products sea vegetables instead of seaweeds. Demand went from 50 kg to half a ton.

A lot of the new demand came from the innovative chefs of Spain’s top restaurants. Now, Porto Muinos packages 35 different types of sea vegetables, which you might find on the menu at Quique Dacosta and Arzak restaurants

Celebrity chef and Spanish food ambassador Jose Andres blew into town on an early flight after Super Bowl celebrations in Barcelona and turned up the volume. First, he needed a coffee on stage before jumping into debate with Michelin three-starred chef Martin Berasategui on the differences between being a chef and being an entrepreneur. But once he was up to speed – what a show! The guy is dynamite. His 20+ years in the States show in his philosophy and mindset. He is a true entrepreneur who cuts right to the chase detailing the reality of a bevy of restaurants from coast to coast and plans for a Jaleo empire – he sees dozens of outposts and is working with experienced franchise partner in the development of his project.  Both chefs seemed to agreed that in order to be successful you need to work hard, surround yourself with good people, treat them well and make them feel like they are an integral part of the business.

Carlos Yescas of Lactography, is obsessed with cheese. He has turned that obsession into his life’s work: monger, educator, author, consultant, and businessman. He even answers all his own email. These days, he’s especially focused on artisanal Mexican cheeses and has a strong sense of social responsibility. His cheese makers are paid like lawyers!

Garikoitz Ríos of Bodegas Itsasmendi, talks even faster than I do! And no wonder it’s hard to keep up: In less a scant decade years, he’s taken his business from a farmhouse to an operation that produces 300,000 bottles a year. And he has found a Txakoli niche in the restaurant world.

After the presentations we splintered off into workshops:  48-hour food project incubator, finance, international gastronomic trends, creativity and business plans. In my design workshop, Bruno Oteiza made a guest appearance to tell his story: a Basque in Mexico goes from sleeping on a friend’s couch and selling street food to chef/owner of Biko on the San Pellegrino World’s 50 best restaurants list where he serves “gatxupa” cuisine: And thus, Basque-Mexican fusion was born.

In between presentations sessions were well-catered coffee breaks and a macro lunch, which allowed people to network, and network they did. The conference was a perfect size; we were 250 in all.  So people got to know each other quickly. Ideas and business cards were exchanged readily. I have quite a handful myself.

The evening’s Pitch and Beer bar crawl (thanks, Heineken) cemented more relationships, especially since the nature of pintxo bars –hopping with a group means you are always going to talk to different people in each one.

Tuesday, 4 February. Day two!

Giannola Nonino of Grappas Nonino, is a pistol and I think has just been chosen as the next president of Italy. She is a shining example of why the Italians are so successful at marketing. She spiritedly described how her beautiful family from humble origins turned the once maligned Italian spirit into an elegant single vine distillate and founded an international prize to highlight the relevance of rustic life. She also exhorted the women in the audience to go forth and triumph. Brava!

Víctor Alarcón, the architect and entrepreneur behind the transformation of the Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid described the challenges of converting a historic monument and the role of fresh food markets in society. Seven years in the making, it is the most successful market renovation in the country, and now it’s the city’s most visited tourist attraction.

Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz was the closing speaker. As many times as I have heard Andoni speaks, in public and when I’ve translated for him in interviews I always bowled over by the guy. His thinking cap is always on! His topic was entrepreneurship, so he chose to tell the story of his New Food Spray line, developed in conjunction with Azti-Tecnalia. He intends the line that currently consists of pancakes, tempura and churros for use by food service and at home to serve as an example of a project which combined technical difficulties, varied partners and a bit of fun to encourage younger people to dream and develop projects. “Be consistent, find the right partners and go into it knowing that any project is going to be a long walk in the desert before you find your way.” said Andoni, suggesting that creativity also happens on that walk.

Andoni is an inspiration. Despite his success, his head is still full of dreams and projects.  While he creates what many consider to be the World’s best tasting menu he also reveals in the hours spent figuring out how to put churros in a can. All in a day’s work!

To close each of the workshop leader and the curator Maria Canabal re-capped their sessions and invited participants to join in with their experiences, which led to more lively debate. No one wanted to leave.

I, for one, can’t wait for Culinary Action 2015!

Pop Up!

Conceive, create, promote and pull off a brand new restaurant in one month? That’s what the 3rd year students at the Basque Culinary Center are doing this year in their creativity-based Experimental workshop.

The workshop’s new kitchen is spectacular and the dining room is luminous even on a cloudy day. It is also flexible so each group can adapt it to their needs. Each group has chosen a different focus. Coinciding with the end of the grape harvest in La Rioja, our hosts, Group 4*, settled on wine and the flavors of autumn as their theme.

Diners were greeted with cinnamon laced Zurracapote, a kind of a Riojan version of Sangria. The room was divided into two areas, one with the innovative biomorphic tables designed by Luisa Lopez Telleria and another with wine barrels that served as supports for the amuse bouche. Intense piquillo pepper bonbons, yam and octopus croquettes with smoky paprika, and Idiazabal cheese-squid ink truffles prepared us for the warm and spicy flavors of fall.

The service was attentive and informative. Because this was a lab setting, two of the wait staff explained the development of the dishes and the wine pairing. On this occasion, because there were some non- Spanish speakers, everything was translated into English.

Kerman Gomez had paired the dishes with his family’s wines from Belezos winery. The most innovative choice was Belezos Vanguardia Vendimia Seleccionada, the winery’s signature wine, served with grilled mackerel, thinly sliced Iberian dewlap and sea vegetables. The fish was rich, flavorful and a worthy match for the full-bodied spicy red.

The dinner worked as a whole with classic combinations such as a wild mushroom ragout refashioned as vegetarian cannelloni with perhaps a slightly overzealous use of Kuzu.

Spatchcocked quail with artichokes was imbued with the earthiness of the season. The staff was unobtrusive but watchful inquiring about the cooking point of the quail to a diner who indeed preferred his bird slightly more done.

Game is a favorite in these parts and wild boar was a fine choice with a robust sauce of roasted chestnuts, pomegranates and hints of rosemary and thyme.

After such intense flavors, the light and fresh “Delicias de melocotón de viña” palette cleaner was a delight.

For dessert we moved back to the wine barrels, where the chocolate course was laid out for each table by one of the chefs. The chefs were an integral part of the service, often ferrying plates from the kitchen or even plating at the table. They discussed the different elements that made up the chocolate course as they deftly built it up in front of us layering arrope (syrupy grape concentrate) foam, delicate chocolate, different crumbles and the last wine grapes from the vineyard. It was playful and allowed the guests to mingle over coffee. It was a perfect way to foster conversation and make the lunch more of a shared event.

The 3rd year students will be the first graduating class of the Basque Culinary Center. They have spent their summer at Michelin starred restaurants around Spain and have been working with more innovative techniques in their classes this semester.  This project gives them a chance to flex their culinary muscles, experiment with the reality of running every part of a restaurant and have a bit of fun in the process.

You can keep abreast of future projects and book a table here.

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In the interest of full disclosure I teach at the Basque Culinary Center and these young chefs have been my students.

*Group 4 is: • Joseba Nuñez
• Kerman Gomez
• Yaiza Garcia
• Florencia Bouyrie
• Victor Nicolau
• Denis Carculea
• Fernando Corrochano 
• Samuel Temiño

The Vegetable Stock Exchange

Ordizia has held a farmers’ market on Wednesdays for 501 years by royal decree and for a good 400 years before that! The highs and lows of the weekly farmers’ market in Ordizia are printed in the local newspaper and now you can get them online. It’s our own little stock market index for local fruits, vegetables, cheese, meat and game. You can see what’s just coming into season and what is at its peak.

I am particularly fond of the market at Ordizia because I had a stand there, myself in the early 90s. I made baked goods: cookies, brownies, cakes, pies and muffins – when practically no one here had ever seen them.  They were a big hit. But baking and then setting up a market stand early on cold winter mornings is tough! It was a great experience but I am happy to be on the other side of the table.

My hat is off to the farmers and vendors at farmers’ markets all over the world.  I count myself lucky to be surrounded by wonderful producers and thriving markets.

 

 

The Vagabrothers take San Sebastian.

The Vagabrothers, Alex and Mark Ayling have made a great video about San Sebastian. Born in California they have been traveling since birth and have terrific chemistry on and off screen.

Their video (watch here)

on San Sebastian makes for a brilliant introduction to the city and has been chosen as one of the top 10 finalists in mydestination.com’s Biggest Baddest Bucket List Competition.  There are lots of excellent entries but hey – we’re biased. The prize is a Six Month Six Continent Trip and a cash prize which I have no doubt they will put to good use.

The winner will be announced in London on May 24th. You still have time to vote!

 

Mrs. Newberg’s Pâté

When I was a little kid in Connecticut, our summer neighbor, Mrs. Newberg, used to make fabulous chicken liver pâté. At a time when most of my culinary experiences were Italian, her recipe was a revelation. At the beach, the adults rotated from porch to porch for evening cocktails. The Newberg’s backyard, which was not a regular stop, was a special treat.

Talk was lively and usually political.  Marion Newberg was an electoral voter and a big deal in the Democratic Party.  There was never a dull moment.  In a young child’s eye, Mr. Newberg was especially important as the equivalent of the tooth fairy (you were more likely to get a dollar if you put your tooth under a pillow in their cottage than the usual quarter at home) and made a mean Lobster Newberg.

Later when I catered in New York , we made a fantastic chicken liver crostini based on a recipe from Marcella Hazan — roughly chopped with carrot, shallot and brandy.

Now I live in the land of Foie Gras, but every once in a while I get a hankering for Mrs. Newberg’s pâté. I don’t have her recipe but this comes close. I made it in the Thermomix. But you can do it all on top of the stove and then process it in a normal food processor.

Mrs. Newberg’s Chicken Liver Pâté Redux (for Thermomix) 

1 clove garlic

1 shallot

45 gr. (I’d say 6 tablespoons but it’s not rocket science) butter

250 gr. chicken livers, cleaned (That’s half a pound)

Freshly ground black pepper

50 gr.  or ¼ cup brandy

Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

50 gr. or ¼ cup heavy cream

45 gr.  (6 tablespoons would be fine here) butter, melted

Fresh thyme sprigs

Chop garlic, shallot and butter for 1 second at speed 6. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and sauté 5 min/Varoma/speed 1 with the measuring cup off.

Rinse, trim and pat dry the livers. Season with salt and pepper.

Add livers and brandy to Thermomix bowl and cook 5 min/100ºC/speed 1.

Blend 20 sec/speed 7. Scrape down lid and sides of bowl.

Add grated nutmeg and cream and blend 20 sec/speed 7. If it is not smooth enough, blend again.

Put into individual earthenware containers. Sprinkle with cracked black pepper. Top with melted butter and garnish with a sprig of thyme. Let cool then store in refrigerator until ready to serve.

 

 

 

 

The Basque Culinary Center World Tour 2013

The Basque Culinary Center begins its World Tour 2013, providing an opportunity for culinary professionals from around the world to share in their commitment to culture, unique local products, sustainability and cooking as a means of expression. The tour aims to create an international culinary community based on the same ideals that for the past 20 years have fuelled the spectacular revolution in Spanish cuisine.

Accompanying Joxe Mari Aizega, director of the Basque Culinary Center, will be top Spanish chefs Quique Dacosta, Elena Arzak, Angel León, Rodrigo de la Calle, Paco Pérez, David Muñoz, Diego Guerrero, Nacho Manzano, Dani García, Paco Roncero, Paco Morales and Marcos Morán, as well as instructors from The Basque Culinary Center. They will give cooking demonstrations in prominent culinary schools around the world hosted by local chefs, visit markets and exchange ideas with local chefs. The tour hopes to further the philosophy of openness and solidarity that has so characterized the Spanish movement that began in the Basque Country in the 1980s with The New Basque Cuisine. The movement was later thrust into the international spotlight by Ferran Adria and has since spread around the world.

The 2013 tour will have stops in Bogota, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, Moscow, Singapore and Chile. It kicks off this Saturday in São Paolo, Brazil, hosted by Alex Atala of D.O.M. and a member of the board of the Basque Culinary Center. It promises to be an exciting start to an ambitious project. A film crew will accompany them and plans are to showcase the documentary at the San Sebastian Film Festival, The culinary cinema section of the Berlinale and the Amsterdam Gastronomic Film Festival.

 

 

 

10 months, 10 legendary tastings

Last night was the first of 10 very special tastings that renowned enologist Benjamin Romeo is hosting in his hideaway bar La Tercera Estación in San Vicente de la Sonsierra.

Benjamin is best known for his powerful reds including his 100-Parker points wine Contador but he is deeply devoted to the traditional aged wines of La Rioja and wants to see these classics get their due. For that reason he has organized what promises to be a memorable series aptly called 10 months, 10 legendary tastings.

Over the course of the year the owners and enologists of top traditional wineries, such as López de Heredia, CVNE, Muga, Bodegas Bilbainas and Vega Sicilia, will present historic vintages. In alternating months the new gold standard will be represented by prestigious contemporary winemakers from Clos Erasmus, Pingus, Telmo Rodriguez and, of course, Bodega Contador.

The Marques de Riscal tasting was exceptional. Enologist Francisco “Paco” Hurtado de Amezaga, the current head of the family, brought fascinating insight into his wines. A descendent of the original Marques, he is the man who reinvented Rueda.  Charming and engaging, he discussed choices he makes as a winemaker, historical factors, varietals and the delicate decision about when to harvest.  His love for the land and the vines is evident.

Rarely does one have complete silence at a wine tasting. Once the glasses are poured and the first sips taken, people cannot seem to resist voicing their own opinions and things can get chaotic fast.  Not here. For one thing, the group is intentionally small. Only 20 people are invited, most from the wine and restaurant world: chefs, sommeliers, enologists and some very serious wine drinkers. For these were serious wines. Paco brought four excellent vintages of Marques de Riscal: 1945, 1956, 1958 and 1964, as well as Baron de Chirel 1994 and the as yet unreleased 2010.  As expected, the older bottles, which had their original corks, were opened with red-hot tongs. Over the course of the tasting, the wines changed rapidly in the glass. The most surprising fact was that they were all fresh. There was fruit! My favorite was the 1945, which I had been lucky enough to try before.

A lot can be and was said about these wines but across the board they were elegant examples of a form of winemaking that has ceased to exist. Paco insists that climate change plays a big part, as well as the damage done in the 60s and 70s when vigorous clones of accepted grape varieties were widely planted. Whatever the cause, we were lucky to have an opportunity to drink these gems. Because once the remaining bottles of these extraordinary wines have been opened, that’s it. They’re not coming back.

There are still wonderful stores of old bottles in the cellars of La Rioja.  Happily, Benjamin Romeo has created an intimate forum for those who really really love wine to enjoy them in good company. La Tercera Estación aspires to be the much needed place in La Rioja where wine is treated with due respect. With this series, it is on its way.

Sajazarra

There are lots of Riojas. And they don’t all come in bottles. Yes, La Rioja is a wine region (with three sub-regions in 4 provinces); it’s also a province and an autonomous political region.

For such a small landmass it is remarkably diverse.  And everyone who has ever visited has his own concept of Rioja.  I love Rioja Alavesa (which isn’t even in La Rioja – it’s in the Basque Country). I lived in Laguardia when I studied oenology and it still holds a place in my heart.

I also have a fondness for San Vicente de la Sonsierra and the station neighborhood in Haro.  Every time I go to Ezcaray I vow that it will be the base camp for all of my future trips. But once in a while I get pulled out of my routine (usually to visit a new winery or hotel) and re-discover an unexpectedly beautiful corner of the region.

Sajazarra is one of those places: a well cared for stone village with 137 inhabitants with 13th century walls and a beautifully restored 15th century castle.

Like any self-respecting village in these parts it has a bar, a restaurant and two wineries.

All in all: a charming spot which wouldn’t be out of place in Tuscany or some of the French wine regions.  But there are some weird things in Sajazarra which suggest that something else might be going on.

Sajazarra’s artist in residence program Encuentros de Arte has been giving contemporary artists a chance to expand their vision outside of the studio for the past 23 years.  Every summer the residents of Sajazarra house, feed and support the artists who become honorary citizens.  In turn the guest artists nurture the creative process with elements from the village – photographs, stories, materials – and leave their mark in the form of a permanent piece of art which turns a walk around town in to a magical treasure hunt.

 

Cloudberries

I bet that I am the only person in Spain eating Arctic Cloudberries for breakfast this morning.

Often called highland gold they grow wild in northern Norway (and Sweden) and cannot be cultivated. People jealously guard the secret locations of their stashes and wade through marsh and mosquito-filled bogs in remote forests to get them. There are strict rules for harvesting cloudberries punishable by prison if ignored and even stricter unwritten ones for poachers. In some areas you are only allowed to pick them if they are eaten on site!

The Arctic Cloudberry is a golden orange puff of mysterious flavors. The flavor has been compared to everything from yogurt to a dry Riesling.  Yep, it’s something like that. They can be very tart thus the addition of sugar or honey in most preparations. The ones I have are quite sweet because they were picked ripe by a friend and packed carefully by his mother!

Hand picked, hand packed and hand delivered by private jet!  If any rules were broken along the way, it’s our secret.

Sergio Coimbra


Last year, a friend sent me a beautiful book by Brazilian photographer Sergio Coimbra. Sergio is a Brazilian businessman and photographer with a patent love of food. Winner of the photography prize at the 2012 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Paris, he has built an incredible studio in Sao Paolo with an art gallery and a state of the art kitchen where he invites chefs to cook under his watchful lens. I am by his sensitive eye for light and color which transforms vegetables, fish and fruit into jewels and makes you look at the ingredients we use in the kitchen in a whole new way.

Last night, the same friend, Luciana Bianchi an acclaimed food writer and chef in her own right invited me to Sergio’s exhibition at the Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastian.  The subjects this time were finished dishes, most of which I have actually eaten. There were plates by Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz, Quique Dacosta, Juan Mari and Elena Arzak, and the Roca brother
Avant-guard cuisine is ephemeral. Sometimes the moment passes as quickly your liquid nitrogen cocktail.  Sergio Coimbra’s work captures that moment and lets you walk through a forest of Arzak’s mandioca cromlech. Or see Quique Dacosta’s ethereal Corazon del Toro bleeding on a lunar landscape.
Sergio Coimbra allows us revel in the fantasy of modernist cuisine.