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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


James Michener's Iberia: Spanish Travels and Reflections: Photographs and Recollections from Iberia and from Gerry Dawes's Homage to Iberia

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Gerry  Dawes giving a derechazo to a vaca brava at a tienta at Concha y Sierra ranch, 1971.  Photographs
of me showing my arte taurino and vino courage by Robert Vavra, photographer for James Michener's Iberia.
Although the passage from James Michener's Iberia below my Homage to Iberia excerpt doesn't have an autograph, it has a personal story behind. One day in 1971, I was lucky enough to be invited by Matador John Fulton to a tienta (a testing of the fighting stock) at Concha y Sierra ranch. Joining us was Iberia photographer Robert Vavra, the novillero Curro Camacho (about whom Vavra was writing and photographing a book), another bullfighter aspirant and my friend, the up-and-coming novillero Alonso Morillo, who had already had several triumphs in the La Maestranaza, Sevilla's La Scala of bullrings. 
Giving a derechazo to a vaca brava at a tienta at Concha y Sierra ranch, 1971.  Photograph by Robert Vavra, photographer for James Michener's Iberia.
The professional toreros gave passes to several of the vacas bravas as I photographed them from a burladero (the protective barrier behind which the toreros stand when the animal first comes into the ring). There was also plenty of Palma del Condado vino, a Sherry-like wine made in Huelva province. I had drunk my share to work up my courage in case they might invite me to try my hand at some passes.
Interior patio of our first home at Justino de Neve 3 in

the Barrio de Santa Cruz, the old Jewish quarter of Sevilla.
I had been living in a lovely house in the Barrio de Santa Cruz, the old Jewish quarter of Sevilla. Some nights when my pareja Diana Valenti and I came back from a night of in the tapas bars of Sevilla, in the Plaza de los Venerables, right off our street, Justino de Neve, we would encounter a very friendly big black and white hound that I called "Hombre."  Hombre was very playful, so I began pulling out my pocket handkerchief, unfurling it and giving the perro bullfighting passes. I had done this numerous times. Surprisingly, it was not much different from fighting a bull, except a bull is much, much larger and has horns that can kill you. 
Fulton and the others did not know that I had been practicing with the big dog plus I had the advantage of several of those glasses of 15% alcohol Condado de Palma wine, which mercifully was a fear inhibitor. So, when they asked me if I wanted to give some passes to that Concha y Sierra vaca brava, I was very pleased to get the chance. 
 Gerry  Dawes giving a derechazo to a vaca brava at a tienta at Concha y Sierra ranch, 1971.  Photograph by Robert Vavra, photographer for James Michener's Iberia.

John Fulton gave me his muleta and lighter wooden fake sword that is used to spread the cloth for right-handed passes. I went out into the ring for my date with destiny, a several hundred-pound cow from fighting stock, with horns. Cows, which are tested to see if they are brave enough for breeding fighting bulls, have wounded and killed numerous bullfighters. The most notable was the great Antonio Bienvenida, who was killed when a cow that had been fought and let out, came charging back into the ring, caught him behind, lifted him into the air and dropped him on his head, which broke his neck and caused his death. 

But, with my Condado de Palma-induced bravery and having seen El Cordobés, the most popular bullfighter in those days, advance towards a bull crossing the trajectory as they say, slapping his outer thigh and shouting, "Ey, ey, toro," imitating El Cordobés. I advanced slapping my left thigh.
Fulton shouted, "Don't do that, Gerry, you will call her in on you."
Giving a derechazo to a vaca brava at a tienta at Concha y Sierra ranch, 1971.  Photograph by Robert Vavra, photographer for James Michener's Iberia.

But, when I advanced the muleta (the red cloth), the vaca brava charged like she was "on rails' and was an excellent very brava specimen. She went for the cloth and not for me, for which I will forever be grateful. I got off seven passes, three of them linked, and actually heard "Ole's" from my professional torero friends and Bob Vavra, my photography mentor. Fortunately, Vavra used my cameras to capture my "faena" for posterity. --from Homage to Iberia, a work-in-progress by Gerry Dawes©2020
Giving a derechazo to a vaca brava at a tienta at Concha y Sierra ranch, 1971.  Photograph by Robert Vavra, photographer for James Michener's Iberia.


Part of Jim Michener's description of his outing with John Fulton to visit Concha y Sierra ranch in Las Marismas in the province of Huelva. 
Photograph of a page about Concha y Sierra with a photo of a burladero at the ranch. Iberia, p. 213.  Photograph by Robert Vavra.
"I was fortunate in visiting Las Marismas for the first time in winter, for this was the rainy season and I was thus able to see the bull ranch in maximum swamp condition; it seemed to me that about seventy percent of its land was either under water or was so water-logged that if I stepped on what appeared to be a solid tussock, it collapsed beneath me with a soft squish, so that my feet were again in water. It was on such land that the Concha y Sierra bulls flourished, but it was not until the matador led me to the dry area on which the ranch buildings stood, and I saw the famous brand of an S inside a C scrawled on the side of a corral, that I was ready to believe that this was the territory of the bulls about which I had read so much. 

The Concha y Sierra bulls had a brave history, and many a noble head had gone from the bullring to the taxidermist’s and from there to the wall of some museum, with a plaque beneath to inform the visitor as to what this bull had accomplished before he died. 

On June 1, 1857, the Concha Bull Barrabás participated in what the books describe as ‘one of the most famous accidents in the history of bullfighting’ in that, with a deft horn, it caught the full Iberia 228 matador Manuel Domínguez under the chin and then in the right eye, gouging it out. It was assumed that Domínguez would die, for his face was laid open, but with a valor that had characterized his performance in the ring he survived, and three months later was fighting again as Spain’s only one-eyed matador, having stipulated that for his return the bulls must again be from Concha y Sierra. For another seventeen years he fought with only one eye and enjoyed some of his best afternoons with Concha bulls. He is known in taurine history as Desperdicios (Cast-off Scraps, from the contemptuous manner in which he tossed aside his gouged-out eyeball)." -- Iberia: Spanish Travels and Reflections, James A. Michener, page 213 in the original copy of the book.

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 About Gerry Dawes

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. 

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. 

Gerry Dawes was the Producer and Program Host of Gerry Dawes & Friends, a weekly radio program on WPWL 103.7 FM Pawling Public Radio in Pawling, New York.


Pilot for a reality television series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

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