Lessons from a Catalan kitchen

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cooking in Barcelona

“We are chefs, not magicians!” Chef Alvaro told as we toured Barcelona’s Santa Caterina market, collecting ingredients for our cooking lesson. Basque-born and -trained, Catalonian by marriage, Alvaro Brun is a food enthusiast to the core. He is also an ambassador for the fundamentals of good cooking. Before we even tied on our aprons, we were reminded to choose fresh ingredients, choose the proper ingredients for the dish at hand, and above all choose ingredients sure to deliver authentic flavors.

I travel on my stomach, always have. Whenever possible, I join a cooking class, with the idea of bringing local flavors and cooking ways home with me and into my own kitchen. From Vietnam to Turkey to Mexico in this kitchen and this one, professional chefs and home cooks have shared their kitchen wisdom, family recipes and time-honored techniques with me. In Barcelona, our morning with Alvaro of bcnKiTCHEN was hands-on, flavorful and most of all, a lot of fun! Oh yes, we also learned techniques that will be helpful in our home kitchens, whether making dishes from Spain or anywhere else.

 

Tasting Spain

crema catalana
In bcnKITCHEN, we prepared a three-course meal: starters of gazpacho, Catalan tomato bread and Spanish tortilla, seafood paella as a main course and, for dessert, crema Catalana.
Santa Catarina Market
Our food experience with Alvaro began in Santa Catarina Market. There, we learned about choosing the right ingredients for the dishes we would prepare, from veggies to seafood.
Santa Catarina market
On our market tour, we paid special attention to the selection of seafood. Alvaro told us to always choose wild fish, strong and muscular, and avoid supermarket fish filets that “steal information” –a cook cannot verify freshness without seeing the shiny eyes and bloody bits firsthand.
Catalan market
The secret to great Catalan food is choosing the right ingredients. Here, thin-skinned, juicy tomatoes for Pa amb tomàquet (Catalan tomato bread) and crisp peppers for gazpacho.

 

Hands-on, flavorful and fun!

At our work stations, we were assigned, loosely, to teams–each working primarily on one dish. After a quick demo from Alvaro, we went at it: hacking potatoes into chunks, cubing peppers for the paella, then even tinier cubes to top the gazpacho. Prawns were pummeled into the pot for a flavorful seafood stock, and several of us got to try our hand at flipping tortillas after a lesson on proportions for this Spanish standard.

The aromas soon began to lift from the paella pan, and from the onions caramelizing on the next burner. Alvaro popped from one side of the kitchen to the other, stepping in as needed to keep us on track. Passing a tin of smoked paprika, he offered an aside on ingredients as we stirred and chopped.

As our meal began to come together, the room was a beehive of determined effort, interspersed with friendly chatter. We could tell lunchtime was approaching when Alvaro set two members of the group to making Pa amb tomàquet (Catalan tomato bread) and asked someone else to get the bowls out for gazpacho. His assistant set the table and suddenly it was time to eat take photos of the food, then enjoy our meal.

 

Lessons from a Catalan kitchen

Spanish tortilla

“Breaking potatoes makes them less watery, and all the starch comes out.”

 

Seafood stock

“If things don’t get stuck in the pan, it’s hospital food.”

 

in the kitchen

“You should not be obsessed with fat. What you should be obsessed with is opening packages.”

 

in the kitchen

“The texture of a Spanish omelet should be not too egg-y, not too dry.”

 

paella

“When making paella, never add more than one ingredient at a time.”

 

Chef Alvaro

“The food talks to us, we need to listen.”

 

Anita in the kitchen

“The most important ingredients in cooking are love and patience.”

 

We made it!

lunchGazpacho Seafood paCrema Catalana

 

If you go

This was a great cooking class, but not everyone enjoys a hands-on cooking experience as much as I do. Even if you have apprehensions about it, Chef Alvaro makes it easy to get involved without getting lost in the mysteries of a professional kitchen.

  • bcnKITCHEN offers the Spanish Cooking Workshop in English in El Born and in La Boqueria Market.
  • Be sure to inform the school of any food allergies before joining a class (our main course was seafood paella).
  • Set aside the better part of a day for a multi-course meal, and bring an appetite!
  • Read what others have to say about our marvelous cooking experience! Thank you Leyla Giray Alyanak of Women on the Road, for taking such good notes!

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I participated in a cooking class with bcnKITCHEN as part of a post-TBEX Europe 2015 blogger tour of Barcelona. Thank you to Barcelona Tourism for this wonderful opportunity and to Chef Alvaro Brun for making our time in the kitchen so enjoyable!

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24 COMMENTS

    • Thanks Charles. I agree about the life lesson…itt was especially rewarding to see–and taste–the results of treating each ingredient with such respect.

  1. Spanish Cooking Workshop is something I will add to my list of things to try out next visit to Barcelona – this all looks so marvelous! Looks like you had a lot of fun too!

    “The most important ingredients in cooking are love and patience” So true 🙂

    • Thanks Susan. There were certainly lessons aplenty in our Barcelona cooking class…love and patience in the kitchen can be difficult in practice, but oh so rewarding!

  2. Wow! This cooking class looked like lots of fun. We love Spanish food this would be right up our alley. We’ll definitely check it out next time we’re in Barcelona.

  3. I love paella! And, Crème Brûlée! And, local markets! And, cookery schools! And… one should not contradict a great chef, but I’m convinced they ARE magicians! Well done – everyone.
    #hungry

  4. Hi Anita,
    I am definitely going to look up this class. The format seems loose enough to do some good work and not simply take part in an assembly line. And the quotes are pure joy. My favorite: “If things don’t get stuck in the pan, it’s hospital food.”
    Words to live by.
    Thanks for this delicious look at (my favorite) Catalan food.
    Regards,
    Josie

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