Last Sunday’s warm-up event for the San Sebastian Gastronomika food festival saw London take centre stage. Guests were treated to an array of British classics including hotdogs and, of course, fish and chips!
San Sebastian Gastronomika food festival kicked off last Sunday with a taste of Britain, courtesy of top Spanish chefs working in London. The event, held in the city’s Kursaal congress centre saw four Spanish chefs standing up for the much maligned cuisine of the British Isles, and preparing classic dishes in front of a live audience.
Ivan Ortiz, chef at Hispania London, produced an interesting take on the English breakfast with his scotch egg, ratatouille and salad. Members of the audience, including one of the event’s youngest visitors, then got the chance to taste the dish.
Second to take to the stage was young chef César García of Iberia London, who made English classic fish pie. He explained to guests that this ‘pie’, topped with mashed potato, originated as an alternative to the meatier but equally delicious shepherd’s pie. García explained to the audience how fish pie is a recipe which has as many versions as there are home cooks in the UK. Meanwhile, he made his own interpretation, with expert assistance from Alberto Criado, from London based Spanish restaurant ‘Cambio de Tercio.’
Criado also enjoyed his own moment in the limelight, as he told the audience all there is to know about carrot cake. After listing the precise ingredients and quantities for the perfect cake, he explained the history of this classic desert. Having emerged during wartime as a result of sugar rationing, it became popular in the USA in the 1960s, before finally reaching the rest of Europe in recent years. Criado explained the British love of all things sweet, claiming that cakes and desserts are a real highlight of British cuisine. The chef himself clearly shares this sweet tooth, enthusing “I really love this cake- whenever I have a free moment in the restaurant I eat a slice or two!”.
Last to present his dish was José Pizarro with his take on fish and chips-quite possibly the most famous British meal of all. His presentation may therefore have come as quite a surprise to the audience. According to this chef from Extremadura, fried fish was actually an idea brought to the UK by Jewish emigrants from Spain. Pizarro sang the praises of this dish. Speaking out against its unflattering reputation, he claimed, “it can be glorious, but only if you know where to eat it.” Answering a question from an audience member, Pizarro also claimed that Britons are now looking beyond the “full English breakfasts” of Benidorm and coming to know and love true Spanish food.
A definite highlight of the evening was provided by Alfred Romagosa, former maitre d’ at the Ritz and, for two years, gin and tonic maker to the queen mother. The audience learnt of the queen mum’s personal preference for her pre-dinner drink (heavy on gin, light on tonic.) Spectators then had the chance to try a gin and tonic made to this royal specification by Romagosa himself.
The night ended with the official opening of the festival by its director Roser Torras. In true Basque style, he was met with an Aurresku- a local folk dance, and toasted with regional speciality txakoli wine.
As they left, attendees were greeted by vans serving hotdogs and cava . This finishing touch went down a storm. One guest, named Gonzalo, claimed that hot dogs were not usually, “his sort of thing,” but done properly, with all of the toppings, they were delicious. This sentiment serves as a good summary of the event as a whole: Spain’s gastronomic capital finally accepting that British food is not actually all that bad!