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36. Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel

"My good friend Gerry Dawes, the unbridled Spanish food and wine enthusiast cum expert whose writing, photography, and countless crisscrossings of the peninsula have done the most to introduce Americans—and especially American food professionals—to my country's culinary life. . .” - - Chef-restaurateur-humanitarian José Andrés, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Oscar Presenter 2019; Chef-partner of Mercado Little Spain at Hudson Yards, New York 2019


A Homage to Culinary Adventures with Juan Suárez, One of the Great Non-professional Cooks in Spain: Teaching Famous Culinarians How to Fry an Egg, Cocido Madrileño, Cooking in Napa Valley at Cindy Pawlcyn's, Cooking at Home for the Madrid Fusión Mejicano Contingent and a Magical Adventure at Kaia near San Sebastián

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Gerry Dawes's Persistence of Memory* (Salvador Dalí)  Melting Watch Awards.

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Text & Photographs by Gerry Dawes©2010

Juan Suárez and his grandson, Borja, in a photo in Juan's kitchen in Madrid.

Juan Suárez, husband of Esmeralda Capel, one of the Directors of the  annual Madrid Fusión Gastronomy Summit, is one of the most accomplished non-professional cooks in Spain.  For several years, I have been following the cooking exploits of Suárez, a retired lawyer, avid golfer, one Hell of a culinarian and one of my great friends.  Even calling Suárez “non-professional” chef is stretching the point.  Technically, he does not get paid for cooking, but he is so well thought of by the great Chef Juan Mari Arzak that he has been invited to spend a week cooking in Arzak’s kitchen on several occasions.

Juan Suárez and Juan Mari Arzak at Arzak, where Juan has spent whole weeks cooking.

Read the rest of the article by clicking here 

Once, back in 2004, on the spur of the moment in Napa valley, he cooked dinner at Chef-restaurateur Cindy Pawlcyn’s home in St. Helena, Napa Valley at a private party that including seven of the top winery principals in the valley, including Shafer, Duckhorn, Frog’s Leap, Spottswoode and Silverado.  

Juan and Cindy Pawlcyn in Cindy's home kitchen.

During Madrid Fusión 2006, Juan held high court in his kitchen, showing Mark Miller, Norman and Janet Van Aken, José Andrés, Harold McGee and me how to properly fry on egg in olive oil, Suárez style. 

And during Madrid Fusión 2010, his wife Esmeralda Capel called me to come over to their Madrid apartment “for a dinner we are doing for the Mexican contingent at Madrid Fusión.”  Cocktail star, mixologist Junior Merino wowed us all with a series of Latin inspired cocktail and Juan served us a stupendous dinner.

Slide show of Junior Merino making cocktails at the 
Juan Suarez-Esmeralda Capel dinner party at the beginning of Madrid Fusion 2010.
(Double click on image, go to Picasa web albums, click on slideshow and the F11 for full screen view.)

A few weeks later in Madrid, I had been on the road and had come back to Madrid and was laid up for a few days in Juan’s and Esmeralda’s apartment on calle O’Donnell.  I was really under the weather, but nothing could have kept me in bed, because that Sunday, Juan was cooking a full-blown Cocido Madrileño for some 20 people at his friends’ home in northwestern Madrid and there was no way I was going to miss either eating or photographing Juan’s cocido technique.  

Juan Suárez Makes a Cocido Madrileño in Madrid Feb. 8, 2010. 

Add to all this, dinners at his txoko, or gastronomic society clubhouse; shopping trips for food with Juan in Zarautz, near San Sebastián; in Biarritz, France; and in his Madrid neighborhood, numerous luncheons and dinners while I have been staying at Juan’s and Esmeralda’s apartment. 

Shopping at the Mercado in Zarautz.

Lunch after shopping in Juan's neighborhood near calle O'Donnell.

Once, when I was staying with Juan and Esmeralda at the family apartment in Zarautz, Juan and I wandered off to Getaria for some "tapas" before lunch.  I poked my head into Restaurante Elkano to see if Pedro and his son, Aitor were there.  Aitor was.  He beseeched me to fetch Juan and come in for a couple of tapas, then proceeded to roll out several truly stunning small plates of ethereal  kokotxas (tender "cheeks" from the neck of merluza, hake), a supreme delicacy, chipirones (small line-caught squid) al Pelayo (in onion sauce, typical of Getaria) and chipiron con su tinta (a grilled squid with ink sauce alongside); and then sublime ventresca (belly of tuna), all seafood that was among the best we had ever tasted.  After fighting off the impulse to have a whole grilled turbot and stay for the rest of lunch, we returned an hour or so late to take the ladies in our contingent for lunch, mumbling something about how gastronomic research was Hell and thank God, they didn't have to do it. 

"Tapas" at Elkano.

And then there was the peripatetic road trip with Juan, Kay and I to the Basque Country,  where a misunderstood request for a reservation at the exalted Etxebarri, instead took us on a twisting drive in the mountains of the Basque country to Etxebarria, where we would have had lunch in a country hotel that looked dedicated to banquets and weddings.  Instead, we bailed out and I called Maria Rosa at Kaia-Kaipe in Getaria west of San Sebastián and we had a spectacular lunch overlooking the picturesque port of this distinguished fishing village.  

We began with the exceptional anchovies house-cured in extra virgin olive oil and a perfect dish of almejas (clams) a la marinera with a bottle of the local effervescent wine Txakolina Getariako, then had a whole grilled rodaballo (turbot)--those pellets of fish between the spines of the fins are as good as caviar to me, the hummingbird tongues of the sea.  With the fish, as is often done in Spain, we had a red wine, this one a very special Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Gran Reserva 1970, which did not top 13% alcohol and was excellent with this delicate, but meaty turbot.

A whole grilled turbot brought tableside at Kaia in Getaria.

Kaia Turbot Luncheon Slide Show

After lunch, we heard some stunningly good choral singing coming from the Kaia annex below the restaurant, Kaia-Pe.  It was a private party, but I went in anyway, told the people behind the bar that I was a friend of María Rosa, the owner of Kaia, got permission to stay, ordered a patxaran (sloe berry-infused anís; see patxaran story from Pamplona and Madrid) and called Juan and Kay to join me. By coincidence, Juan recognized a friend sitting at the tables full of singers and during a break in the singing, went over to greet him.  That gave us legitimacy and they invited us to stay.  

Patxaran (sloe berry-infused anís).

We had stumbled in on a special luncheon for the choral society of Getaria and we experienced one of the most magical hours I have ever spent in Spain.  There were fifty or more singers, singing for their own enjoyment and some of them even stood on chairs to sing.  I had experienced that illusive Spanish quality called duende, about which Federico García Lorca wrote a famous essay and which I had been lucky enough to experience at flamenco performances and at a very few bullfights in the past.  Think being in on a legendary jazz jam session or be there when the Million Dollar Quartet of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins got together or when Roy Orbison was singing with Traveling Willburys.  It was that kind of magic, but with fifty Basque singers singing to show off for their peers. 

Basque Choral Group Slide Show

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(With more stories to come.)

About Gerry Dawes  

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià. 

". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009. 
Mr. Dawes is currently working on a reality television series 
on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Gerry, thanks for the great memory and the wider context! Good times.


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