Readers on this site probably know food is a big deal for us when we travel. And I don’t just mean what we eat, I’m also referring to the little cooking we like to learn when we’re on the road. We did it in Paris and later in Bangkok, and we were raring to have a go at a cooking class during our trip to Barcelona. In addition to the class, we also hoped we could get a tour of the local market like we did in Bangkok.
So we pretty much jumped off our dining table when Barcelona Cooking invited us over for a cooking class and market tour! You can read all about the market tour here. We had done a pretty enlightening (and entertaining) La Boqueria market visit with Chef Candido. As one of the founders, Executive Chef & Instructor Candido, trained locally at the well-respected cooking school of Mey Hoffman, is the most visible face of Barcelona Cooking. Candido perfectly balanced his humour with interesting insights into the market and the produce. Walking back to the Barcelona Cooking kitchen on Las Ramblas, I discovered Candido and I have a lot in common. His concept of travel, experiencing a new city and living like a local seemed like an echo of what I’d be talking about with a stranger on a walk back from a local market! Armed with all the ingredients we’re going to need for the next few hours, we walked back to the kitchen after heartily promising Candido I’d definitely put Galicia (where he comes from) on my travel list.
Strawberry Gazpacho, Tosta de Boquerones con Salsa Romesco (Anchovy toast with Romesco sauce), Seafood Paella and Crema Catalan (Catalan Cream, sort of like the French cream brulee but very different), announced Candido, were the dishes for the day, along with a little surprise he might throw in.
Taking to the extremely affable Candido so easily, I should’ve known what was in store. Cooking at The Blue Elephant Cooking School in Bangkok and Le Cordon Bleu in Paris felt like I was walking back into my University classroom. In a good way! But walking into the Barcelona Cooking kitchen felt like I was walking into a friend’s kitchen. It was extremely professional, don’t get me wrong. But there was a certain light-heartedness that you only feel when you’re with friends. Candido popped open some wine for us and put us at ease as we were coming to grips with cooking up something that was completely alien to us.
Wine in our glasses, he quickly shot off first instructions. We were going to cook up 4 dishes for our meal and he was going to make us work like a well-oiled machine in a Catalan kitchen! He asked us to team up in groups of two to take on the 4 dishes and he’d help with each of the teams. Revati and I jumped together as the Paella team, considering we’ve been keen on replicating it back home previously. The father-daughter combo made up the Gazpacho team, the mom was adequate for the Crema Catalan team which left the lone son to deal with the fishes. Poor guy, I considered pairing up with him for a second, considering he had to clean, prep, cook and plate up a pretty exhaustive dish but Candido jumped in and got us all started before we could change our minds. First the seafood. He taught us how to clean the Anchovy, perfectly setting up the first for the young man to mimic. Then the Mussels – how to clean out the bits of string sticking out of them and tips on how to clean the Cuttlefish and remove any remaining bits of cartilage. He then gave the father-daughter duo a few tips on pitting the strawberries and with a clap of his hand, he had us all working away at our respective workstations.
The Strawberry Gazpacho team seemed to be creating something really beautiful. Lush, red strawberries tossed into a bowl with mint. Rich tomato pulp. And the rest of us had messy cuttlefish, mussels, bloody anchovy and eggs to deal with.
While I began cleaning up the cuttlefish and mussels, Revati got started on the onions, garlic and tomatoes. Thankfully, Candido had prepared the fish stock for the Paella earlier and we didn’t have to worry about that. At the far corner, the Crema Catalan was going full steam ahead. The egg yolks, sugar and corn starch was being whipped together, while the milk, cinnamon and grated lemon was boiling away on low heat. Every now and then, Candido would have an interesting tidbit that got us all to stop and listen – a particular way to grate the lemon, the right direction to tug the string on the mussels, the way to pit the strawberry so there’s minimal fruit wasted. It was educational and thanks to Candido’s inimitable style, entertaining as well.
Soon the Crema Catalan was ready to poured into the cazuelas (ramekins) and was set aside to cool. While everyone else was talking and checking out other workstations, the young man with the Anchovy had splendidly cleaned the fish with the precision of a 90 year old grandmother from the seaside who’s been doing this since she was born! Candido hopped over to help with the Romesco sauce and a couple of others jumped in as well. The daughter was given the task of thinly slicing leeks into strips (which would later be fried and topped onto the Anchovy toast), while Dad and son teamed up to dust the anchovies in flour and salt and fry them for a minute.
With the Crema Catalan cooling off, the Gazpacho nearly done and the Romesco sauce blending, Candido brought in another surprise to munch on while lunch was being made – Razor Clams. Funny little things they were, considering we were seeing them for the first time in Barcelona. Long, stick-like clams with little bits of flesh sticking out on either side. Look, Candido said, they are fresh…and alive. Alive? We moved in closer to actually see them doing a tiny wriggle inside their shells. And now I’m going to teach you the best way to have them, Candido continued. But they’re alive, I wondered. I don’t have a queasy stomach at all and would gladly pop things into my mouth, dead or alive. But as Candido heated the oil and touched one of them to it, I gulped watching the little guy shoot back into his shell. A couple of others turned away. Me? After 2 seconds of getting over the “they’re alive” dilemma, I joined Candido in tossing the rest of them into the pan. Candido told us we didn’t need to add anything to the clams, as I tossed them around while they popped open their shells. Not even salt. I lopped them out onto a plate and we offered the first to the daughter, the one who looked the queasiest, encouraging her to take her first bite of Razor Clams. She did, I did, everyone did. And I bet everyone wished there were more of them!
Once the Razor Clams disappeared, it was time for us to start on the Paella. Paella doesn’t take too much time to cook and needs to be eaten when done, so it was saved for the last. First the prawn went in, whole with the heads (the juiciest parts that add flavour to a dish, as Candido confirmed). Prawn cook quick, so after a minute on each side, they were removed and set aside. While the rest of the ingredients went in (recipe below), we began plating up the dishes. The Anchovy toast that just filled the room with an earthy roasty smell that came from the Romesco sauce (remember the Romesco that’s leftover can be refrigerated and used later for a variety of things). The Gazpacho, which Candido dressed with croutons, cheese, olive oil and edible flowers. And the action packed blowtorching of the Crema Catalan!
Playing not just the chef for the evening but also a personal waiter, Candido had us all sit down with our wine, while he brought out our courses. The Strawberry Gazpacho tasted just as beautiful as it looked. Sweet and tangy and creamy all at once. Next came the Tosta de Boquerones con Salsa Romesco. Candido then served out perfect portions of the Paella that tasted simple, yet so divinely filled with flavours of the sea. And last came the Crema Catalan, the perfect end to a fantastic meal…that we cooked!
Once lunch was done and everyone left, we lingered on in much the same way we’d do in a friend’s home. Candido spoke more about food and his love for it clearly shines through. It was wonderful to have Emma join us as well as they quickly gave us a history of Barcelona Cooking. Young though it may be, Barcelona Cooking is growing bigger and bigger in such a short span of time. The large expansive kitchen is matched by another on the floor above that’s equally impressive. And while they’re rapidly bringing in more people on board, we had a suspicion that Barcelona Cooking would pretty much fill all the floors of the building if they continued this way with such passion and love.
Candido has this easy style of teaching that makes him really a delight to spend time with. With lots of interesting tips outside of what we were cooking, he managed to make us learn so much while sweating it out and always laughing. Is that, perhaps, one of the lasting learnings from Barcelona we’ve taken back? That with a little love and laughter, everything in life becomes so much more beautiful? Thank you Candido and Emma for sharing your time, your skill, your kitchen…and this lovely lesson with us.
Traditional Seafood Paella Recipe
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 360g (approx 3 1/4 cups) of rice, high starch consistency
- Seafood: 12 mussels, 8 prawns, 250g (approx 2 1/4 cups) of cuttlefish or squid)
- 1 litre fish stock
- 1 onion
- 1 garlic clove
- 2 tomatoes
- 8 saffron threads
- 6 tablespoons of olive oil
- Salt to taste
The first step is to peel and chop the onions and garlic. Grate the tomatoes. After this is done, chop the cuttlefish into cubes. The clams and mussels need to be cleaned under cold water and set aside in a container. Heat the oil in the pan and saute the prawns for one minute on each side. Remove the prawns from the pan and set aside to be used later. In the same oil saute the cuttlefish and the cut onion. When the onion turns light brown add the grated tomatoes and the chopped garlic. Let the tomatoes saute until the water from the tomatoes evaporates. Add the rice, mussels and clams, saute for one minute before adding he fish stock with saffron threads. Allow to cook for 5 minutes on high heat, then reduce to a much lower heat setting for another 10 minutes. Approximately 3 minutes before the end of cooking time, add the prawns that were earlier set aside. Let paella stand for 3 minutes before serving.
*Disclosure: We would like to thank Emma, Tony and Candido from Barcelona Cooking for making this post possible. The views expressed here are our own.Barcelona Cooking La Rambla, 58, Barcelona, Spain 08002 Tel: +34 931 191 986 email: firstname.lastname@example.org