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Why Spain?

This is my first real trip to Europe (2 hour layover in Hamburg doesn't count), and my first as a professional cook/chef. Some might say that France should have been my first priority. Growing up, I always thought I would go to Italy first. A few people were surprised that I chose Spain.

While I'm wide awake due to jet lag, I'm going to fill in the blog as much as possible. Click the link below for more about why I'm here in Spain.

While at one time it was the Italians, then the French, then the back to the Italians, then back to the French, Spanish chefs have been at the center of forward thinking cuisine for 15 years or more now. Yes, technique is often a part of the arsenal (foams, airs, spherification, sous vide, gels and other textural effects, manipulation of temperatures, non-traditional cooking equipment and more), but they seem to have also incorporated curiosity and playfulness into the dining experience. Spanish chefs are exploring every aspect of food: redefining what is and what can be food, conceiving of new combinations and new dishes, preparing the components, the methods of cooking and assembling the dish, presenting a dish, how the diner will interact with the dish, and the entire experience of the meal. Is the meal a succession of carefully orchestrated courses (degustation), is it casual selections of bar snacks (tapas and pintxos), or is it a communal, all-in-one pot dish (paella)?? What is the context of the meal? What is the meta-context of the meal?? Does it make the diner nostalgic or sentimenal? Or is it quite novel? Is it in season? How does it pair with wine? Every. Aspect. of. Food.

All the while, these chefs still seem grounded in their traditional cuisine. I have not yet been to France or Italy, but I WILL GO SOMEDAY. But for the reasons above, Spain jumped to the top of my list. The Spanish just seem to have their own approach. In my current position, we don't really have much application for the new techniques. As a cook, I'm not so excited by technique for techniques' sake. Unfortunately, there's quite a few examples in Los Angeles and elsewhere of less than successful homages or flat out imitation of these avant garde dishes. On the other hand, I can appreciate but am not excited by being traditional for tradition's sake, either. I get fired up about something traditional that is the best damn time tested way to prepare and eat something. I feel there's a tension AND a synergy between the old and new here. I hope to get a sampling of the best of both the modern and the classic regional cuisines of Spain.

One last note: jamon Iberico - When I worked the cheese and charcuterie bar, I was lucky to taste a variety of dry cured hams - prosciutti and speck from Italy, jamon Serrano and jamon Iberico from Spain. Prosciutti tend to have an aspect of sweetness along with porkiness, whereas Spanish hams tend to be deeply savory, but with a complexity that I attribute to umami - the somewhat difficult to pin down fifth taste. While they are made in similar ways and are both delicious... I'm in Spain.

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