Early one sunny and very humid evening I rushed my way across Barcelona mixing between a walk and a run, dodging tourist with selfie sticks. I made my way past the Roman wall and wound my way through the back streets of the Gothic Quarter, rounded a barren corner and found Cook & Taste Barcelona. I had been in Spain for 3 days, I should have known not to rush. The Spanish are at ease with most things and being late is one of them.
I met a lovely group of seven from New Zealand, Boston and Chicago, all eager to see what our chef Mario had in store for the evening. The menu for the evening was to be; Beetroot and Watermelon Gazpacho alongside Vegetables with Romesco Sauce for the starters, Paella for the main and Creme Catalan for dessert.
We began with some local wines and started preparing the dessert so it would have time to cool. The pressure was on not to over-cook the milk in the whipped egg yolk cream, but luckily the wine had only just been opened. We infused the mixture with lemon and cinnamon making the place smell like Christmas. Once ready, it was carefully poured into individual terracotta dishes and left to cool.
Mario explained in detail the gazpacho basics, then the benefit of adding in beetroot and watermelon to boost the colour and flavour. Gazpacho is commonly used as a vegetable juice in Barcelona now and is bursting with nutrients, as well as being the opportunity to use up all your straggly vegetables.
Romesco sauce has to be one of the most delicious and versatile sauces ever invented. A smooth blend of roasted garlic, Nyora (dried Spanish peppers), roasted tomatoes, the ever essential olive oil and hazelnuts. It goes well with fish, meat or vegetables. I think it would go smashingly on toasted bread too.
Paella was our main course. Any restaurant targeting tourists on Las Ramblas is silly not to serve Paella as people seek it out here in Barcelona. Mario, shudders when someone shares they ate paella with chorizo. The worst excuse for a paella is one with chorizo. Paella is from Valencia, not Catalonia, and is traditionally made with rabbit. Or, as they say, whatever they used to find on the farm. So, rabbit. Mario tells us that most locals from Valencia would not call our paella we are about to make, paella. They would call it “rice and things” as it doesn’t have rabbit in it and tonight, chicken takes it’s place.
There is a lot of chopping that takes place in preparation of Paella. Tomatoes, peppers, beans, capsicum, and garlic all have to be chopped in different ways.
Before we start cooking the paella, it is snack time. The Spanish love to eat. A lot. Usually they eat about 5 times a day. Breakfast at 7:30am, a simple spread of toast, orange juice and coffee. Then around 2-2:30pm is their big meal of the day. The meal they are likely to sit and eat with their family and fit in three courses. Finally dinner about 9-9:30pm, something light of just proteins and vegetables, rarely any carbs. Then, “to stay alive” as Mario states, they fit in two more snacks mid morning and again around 5-6pm. Sometimes fruit, or yoghurt, other times pan con tomate (tomato bread). Nothing we have comes from a packet, everything is fresh and does not need a nutrition label.
Like clock-work, our snack is ready for 6:30pm. Including pan con tomate, three different types of olives and two types of jamon. Paired with more and more Catalan wine.
Mario bought out a large paella pan and the preparation began. We all take turns chopping, cooking and stirring constantly so nothing sticks to the pan. We needed two people stirring at once with such a big pan. Wooden spoon in one hand, wine in the other, the group becomes chattier as the night gets on.
Once the paella is almost ready to serve, it was time to put the finishing touches on the starters. We blended the Gazpacho smooth and decorated it with more olive oil and edible flowers. The Romesco sauce was spread out on the plate and topped with roast vegetables. Both were devoured and left me wondering how there was still room for Paella and Creme Catalan.
The paella had crisped up around the edges whilst we ate our entrees so once plated, was the perfect combination of flavour and texture. Next time, I might just have to try it with Rabbit!
Our Creme Catalan had cooled and we each took turns armed with a blow torch caramelising far more sugar than anyone could imagine until the top turned a golden brown. One strong tap of my teaspoon revealed the flavours of summer and Christmas combined to finish off an excellent meal.
The finer details
The workshops with Cook & Taste are hands on, so everyone gets to be involved in every recipe. There are two options to visit Cook & Taste; a midday cooking workshop, with extra market tour, or an evening cooking workshop (without the market tour). There are many cooking workshops available in Barcelona, all at varying prices and value, but Cook & Taste Barcelona’s name literally depicts the experience you will have.