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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


Grupo Lezama's Café de Oriente in Madrid: Platos de Cuchara (dishes eaten with a spoon) and Other Dishes from Chef Pedro Quían; The Solemn Changing of the Guard at the Palacio Real; Celebration of Chinese New Year in La Plaza de Oriente

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When I was in Madrid in late November, early December, late January and early February doing interviews for a book on the career of Padre Luís de Lezama, the priest-restaurateur who founded the Grupo Lezama, which runs some 20 establishements--restaurants, hotels and cooking schools, I was privileged to eat many meals at his restaurants on the Plaza de Oriente.  

At Café de Oriente, one of the great platos de cuchara (dishes eaten with a spoon) is verdinas (young, green, flageolot-type beans) cooked with centollo (spider crab), a specialty of northern Spain, especially in Asturias.

Some days and nights, I went to La Taberna del Alabadero (see my report), but several days for lunch, Chef Pedro Quían invited me to Café de Oriente to sample some of his superb platos de cuchara, traditional dishes usually made with beans or garbanzos that are eaten with a spoon.  These are wonderful, hearty, winter dishes. that really hit the spot when the brisk, chilly wind that comes from the snow-capped Sierras de Guadarrama north of the city sweep through Madrid.  Sometimes it is said that the wind may not blow out a candle, but its chill can kill a man.  These delicious, classic platos de cuchara are life savers in the wintertime in Madrid. 

Pochas con almejas, Café de Oriente, Madrid.

Each day was a new adventure:  alubias con almejas, vedrinas con cangrejo, potaje de garbanzos, alubias de Tolosa con chorizo y morcilla, patatas a la Riojana, etc.  Along the way I sampled other dishes from Chef Quían's kitchen:  foie gras with fruit gelatins and purees, cured anchovies with green olives, croquetas de bacalao, pheasant, merluza with clams and some artfully constructed desserts.   Below is a slide show of some of the dishes I ate at Café de Oriente.  

Cafe de Oriente Platos de Cuchara and other dishes Nov 2010 - Feb 2011.
Photographs by Gerry Dawes©2010. Contact

Since I was staying on the Plaza de Oriente, at the Hostal Posada Real Manuel, above the Café de Oriente, I was able to observe and photograph life on the Plaza, day and night, and I was able to photograph the Solemn Changing of the Guard, which takes place only on the first Wednesday of each month, weather permitting, and not in the months of July, August and September or when another official event conflicts with the changing of the guard.  Below is a short slide show of the Solemn Changing of the Guard.

Solemn Changing of the Guard at the Palacio Real.
Photographs by Gerry Dawes©2010. Contact

On a beautiful, bright sunny February morning that was comfortably warm after several days of brisk cold,  I was waiting for the changing of the guard to begin when I heard  music coming from the Royal Theatre area on the far side of the Plaza de Oriente, near where the Café de Oriente is located.  Unbelievably, it was the Chinese expatriate contingent from Spain celebrating Chinese New Year at almost exactly the same time the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace was to take place.  Several hundred Chinese  wearing colorful costumes and carrying dragons that they danced along the parade route filed through the Plaza de Oriente and headed past the Senate toward the Plaza de España.  Slide show number three shows the Chinese parade celebrating their New Year. 

Expatriate Chinese New Year parade through the Plaza de Oriente in Madrid.
Photographs by Gerry Dawes©2010. Contact

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

Dawes 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. 

In December, 2009, Dawes was awarded the Food Arts Silver Spoon Award in a profile written by José Andrés

". . .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. 
A trailer from a proposed reality television series with Gerry Dawes  
on gastronomy, wine, culture and travel in Spain.

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