“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.
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
“Breaking potatoes makes them less watery, and all the starch comes out.”
“If things don’t get stuck in the pan, it’s hospital food.”
“You should not be obsessed with fat. What you should be obsessed with is opening packages.”
“The texture of a Spanish omelet should be not too egg-y, not too dry.”
“When making paella, never add more than one ingredient at a time.”
“The food talks to us, we need to listen.”
“The most important ingredients in cooking are love and patience.”
We made it!
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!
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Thank you to Barcelona Tourism for this wonderful opportunity and to Chef Alvaro Brun for making our time in the kitchen so enjoyable!