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

"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

9/11/2021

9/11/2001 and Four Chefs: Quique Dacosta (El Poblet, Denia, Alicante), Mark Miller (Coyote Cafe, Santa Fe), Michael Lomonaco (Windows on the World & Wild Blue, World Trade Center) and Teresa Barrenechea (Marichu, NYC). Excerpted from Sunset in a Glass: Adventures of a Food and Wine Road Warrior in Spain by Gerry Dawes©2021

 
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Chef Michael Lomonaco and Gerry Dawes at the James Beard House, New York City.

During the tragic events of September, 2001, I was traveling in Spain with Santa Fe Chef Mark Miller. Our itinerary included Madrid, La Mancha, Córdoba, Mijas, Granada, Murcia, Alicante, Valencia, Tarragona, Priorato, Barcelona, Conca de Barbera, Navarra, The Basque Country, Ribera del Duero, and back to Madrid. On Sept. 11, we were having a wonderful lunch at El Poblet in Denia (Alicante), when my cell phone rang. The call was from Teresa Barrenechea, chef-owner of Marichu Restaurant in Manhattan. Teresa was in Marbella doing her consulting job at the posh new Rio Real Golf Resort.

 

 Chef-author Teresa Barrenechea. Photo by Gerry Dawes©2021.

"You won't believe it," she said, "a plane has hit the Torres Gemelas (the twin towers of The World Trade Center). . . ." Then, her cell phone faded out . (Isn't it weird how some very important calls get dropped because of poor coverage?) A few minutes later, Teresa called again with more of the terrible news, including the attack on the Pentagon. 

Mark and I broke in the middle of what had been one of our best meals in Spain and went into the bar area to watch the rest of the tragic events unfold on CNN. Quique Dacosta, then a brilliant young chef of El Poblet (now the three Chef at the same place, now the eponymous Quique Dacosta, and most of his staff were intently focused on the devastating events that were changing the world as we knew it. In that moment, standing amongst the Spaniards, who were as appalled as we were, I knew that we were all in this together and however much it might appear to be an American problem, the scope of the events of September 11 would touch us all deeply - - emotionally, psychologically, and economically - - before it ran its course. 

 

Chef Mark Miller.  Photo by Gerry Dawes©2021.

As we watched the stomach-churning events, I worried in particular about the fate of Chef Michael Lomonaco of Windows on the World & Wild Blue; of Jules Roinnel, Director of the World Trade Center Club; and of several members of the World Trade Center Club, 25 of whom Michael, Jules, and I had led on a wonderful trip around Spain in May. 

 

 Chef Michael Lomonaco and Gerry Dawes at Porterhouse Restaurant, New York City.  Photo by Kay Balun.

Mark Miller and I half-heartedly finished our lunch, then headed for Valencia, following the news on Radio Nacional de España. I felt in my heart that I had lost both Michael and Jules. As one of the original members of the Chefs From Hell group that I founded in 1989, Michael had long been a dear friend and Jules and I had become very good friends over the months of planning the WTCC trip and traveling to Spain together on both an exploratory trip and the subsequent tour. 

 On the World Trade Center Club trip to Spain in May, ironically also on the 11th day of the month, our group had another brush with terror. Looking back, I see it was a premonition of things to come. Our group had lunch at La Trainera, the great classic Madrid seafood restaurant on calle Lagasca in the Barrio de Salamanca. Because Lagasca is too narrow for a bus, our driver parked our bus in front of a BBVA bank branch on calle Goya and we walked the three short blocks to the restaurant. 

After lunch, we returned to our bus and went to the Prado to meet our excellent guide, Juan Barrionuevo, who took us on an enlightening tour of that magnificent museum. At my request, we began our tour of the Prado with the Flemish masters section, which includes such masterworks as Rogier Van der Weyden's Descent from the Cross and Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights and the table of Seven Deadly Sins. Then we went on to the see the paintings of the great Diego Velasquez de Silva and finished the tour with Francisco de Goya's paintings and drawings on the disasters and futility of war. 

That night, the World Trade Center Club Group had dinner at Casa Botin, the famous roast suckling pig restaurant where Hemingway set the last scenes of The Sun Also Rises, then many of us went to the bar (then called the Hemingway Bar) at the Palace Hotel, which also figures in the final pages of that book. We were having drinks, when my cell phone rang. It was John Ewing, a dear friend who lives in Pacific Palisades, California. John had had dinner with us at Botin and had decided to return to his hotel, the Lagasca, coincidentally up the street from La Trainera, where our group had lunch. On the phone, Ewing told me he had thoughts of stopping off in the Bar Goya for a nightcap, but decided to return to his room and read instead. Around midnight, he heard a huge explosion down the street. A car bomb planted by the Basque terrorist group, ETA, exploded in front of the BBVA bank branch precisely where we had parked our bus that afternoon. The explosion trashed the block, destroyed Bar Goya, and injured 14 people, a couple of them critically. 

 
John Ewing and I at Las Fiestas de San Fermín in the 1990s.

The members of the World Trade Center Club group were momentarily sobered by the event, then we toasted our good luck in having had lunch instead of dinner at La Trainera. Two days later, Mike Nestor carefully checked every bag that went on board our bus at the Ritz hotel to insure that it belonged to a member of our group. 

 After Sept. 11, Mark Miller and I decided to continue with the rest of our trip. Closed airports and the fact that two of Mark's restaurant managers, Brian Cochran of Coyote Cafe in Las Vegas and Carter Teague of Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe were already en route by plane and arrived in Valencia on the evening of the 11th. As the days passed, the four of us went on, alternately trying to absorb and assess the impact of the terrorist attack and still trying to focus on the great food and wine experiences we were having as the days went on. Each day, news from CNN & BBC kept us informed and news from telephone calls and e-mails from America kept us abreast of what was happening on the personal front. In this global world of instant communications, we were probably no less informed about the events in New York and Washington than someone in Los Angeles or Phoenix, for instance, and certainly less affected by the rampant rumors racing around America. As all of you might imagine, surreal is the word that comes to mind when looking back on the events of mid-September. 

As we traveled, the fact that our world had changed forever soaked in a little deeper each day. Just how the attack was going to affect everyone's livelihood became more sharply focused as I periodically got more bits of information from Mark, Brian, and Carter. Washington had become a ghost town, hotels were at 10% capacity, and many restaurants closed at night. Business was down dramatically in Las Vegas, where hotels were at 35% occupancy and that was just the first week. Business was off substantially in Santa Fe. There would be layoffs, pay cuts, cutbacks in expansion plans, glitches in plans for a new restaurant in Australia. It was obvious that the extent of the economic damage had radiated far beyond Ground Zero in New York. 

Reaching people in New York by phone was tough. Within a couple of days, my daughter Elena called from Phoenix to let me know that she had seen Jules Roinnel in a television interview. Someone else e-mailed me to let me know that Michael Lomonaco was alive and cooking for relief teams. Through miracles, Michael, Jules, and others I knew at Windows on the World, were spared the physical fate that befell their friends and colleagues. Emotionally, they will live forever with the scars of what occurred. 

Michael Lomonaco escaped because he stopped on the first floor to get his eyeglasses fixed, Jules Roinnel was saved because he decided to work the dinner shift instead of his normal breakfast and lunch turn. Michael Nestor, who was also on the Spain tour, had breakfast at Windows on the World, caught the elevator at the 107th floor, and had reached the 77th floor cross-over when the first plane hit. After a harrowing time, during which he suffered neck injuries helping others to escape, Mike cleared the north tower just before it collapsed. Another of our tour members, Vondell Carter, was in the Pentagon, but escaped injury. It took me a couple of days to find out about Michael and Jules. I was relieved, but still concerned for other members of our tour group, with whom I had formed a family-like bond during the trip. It would be several more days, before I would learn that no one from our tour to Spain was killed. 

 

World Trade Center Club Tour Jules Roinnell Director at Mesón Cinco Jotas in Madrid on an exploratory trip to Spain in early 2001.  We visited every restaurant and every hotel I proposed before Jules would okay for the WTC group.  Photo by Gerry Dawes©2021.

There was little point in canceling this expensive, laboriously-planned trip and trying to fly back under the chaotic conditions the country was experiencing during those first few days after the attack. Many American airports were closed, including those in New York. (Friends were three hours into a Madrid - New York flight on Sept. 11, when the plane turned back. They were stranded for five days before they were able return to New York.) 

In spite of having this heavy communal cloud hanging over heads, we decided to make the best of our experiences in Spain. Mark, Brian, Carter, and I had some fine culinary and wine experiences in Valencia, in the rice-growing area of the delta of the Ebro river, in Priorato, and in Barcelona, where we had a remarkable day touring La Boqueria market and a number of Barcelona restaurants and tapas bars. 

After Barcelona, we drove across northern Spain, stopping for lunch in Tudela, the capital of the La Ribera, the center of the great vegetable-growing region of Navarra. After lunch, I took Mark and his crew on a walking tour of the Tudela's old Jewish quarters and Moorish quarters. Once the home of Benjamín de Tudela, Tudela's attractions also include the remarkable Romanesque portal of the Cathedral, the remains of the synagogue (along one wall of the cloister), and an exceptional town plaza. We wandered around for a couple of hours before leaving for San Sebastián. Within a few days, in Tudela Spanish police arrested a suspected Al Qaeda terrorist, who had been living in a nearby village and was believed to be the man slated as the suicide bomber for a planned attack on the American Embassy in Paris. 

In San Sebastian, Telebista (Basque television), who has plenty of first-hand experience with ETA terrorism, interviewed me for 45 minutes about the situation in America (why me?). I basically told them that this was not an American problem, that people from more than 60 nationalities were working in those buildings, that companies from 24 countries had offices there, and that this was an attack on the Western economic system. I believed then and I believe now that the short and long-term economic effects of this attack are far more pervasive and dangerous than terrorist threats and the anthrax scare. The cumulative effects of these events has ripped through our economy, devastated many restaurants, not just in New York, but elsewhere, and shot holes in the livelihoods of anyone who depends on tourism. The ripple effects through other industries are also taking their toll, as the shock waves from the collapse of the Twin Towers continue to be felt.

Spanish tourism, as one might imagine, is also being hit hard. If the planes I was on to and from Spain are an indicator, they are flying at 25% - 50% capacity. Conversations with airline employees verify the drop. While I am convinced that Spain is a very safe place to travel, fear of flying and travel to foreign countries in general is taking its toll. (Basque terrorism seldom touches tourists and certainly is not aimed at Americans, since most Basques have American relatives living somewhere in the United States, usually in the western states; Spanish police arrested several suspected Al Qaeda operatives during September.)--Excerpted from Sunset in a Glass: Adventures of a Food and Wine Road Warrior in Spain by Gerry Dawes©2021.


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Sunset in a Glass: Adventures of a Food & Wine Road Warrior in Spain (Volumes I, II, III & IV; publication of the first two volumes in Fall 2021. 
 
“Gerry Dawes has lived, analysed argued, savoured, prodded, tested, teased and loved his way through Spain's extraordinary gastronomic heritage for decades. Food as friendship is at the core of this wild, passionate road trip through Spain. This is a masterclass in storytelling - delicious and addictive. I have always loved his writings and deep, deep knowledge of Spain and often hear accolades about him from mutual friends in Spain "--Spain expert Gijs van Hensbergen, author of Guernica: The Biography of a Twentieth-Century Icon, In the Kitchens of Castile and Gaudí: A Biography. (Endorsement quote for Sunset in a Glass: Adventures of a Food & Wine Road Warrior in Spain.)   
 
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 Constructive comments are welcome and encouraged.
 
If you enjoy these blog posts, please consider a contribution to help me continue the work of gathering all this great information and these photographs for Gerry Dawes's Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel. Contributions of $5 and up will be greatly appreciated. Contributions of $100 or more will be acknowledged on the blog. Please click on this secure link to Paypal to make your contribution.
 
Text and photographs copyright by Gerry Dawes©2021.  Using photographs without crediting Gerry Dawes©2021 on Facebook.  Publication without my written permission is not authorized.
 
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  Shall deeds of Caesar or Napoleon ring
More true than Don Quixote's vapouring?
Hath winged Pegasus more nobly trod
Than Rocinante stumbling up to God?
 
Poem by Archer M. Huntington inscribed under the Don Quixote on his horse Rocinante bas-relief sculpture by his wife, Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington,
in the courtyard of the Hispanic Society of America’s incredible museum at 613 W. 155th Street, New York City.
 __________________________________________________________________________________
 Gastronomy Blogs

In 2019, again ranked in the Top 50 Gastronomy Blogs and Websites for Gastronomists & Gastronomes in 2019 by Feedspot. (Last Updated Oct 23, 2019) 

"The Best Gastronomy blogs selected from thousands of Food blogs, Culture blogs and Food Science blogs in our index using search and social metrics. We’ve carefully selected these websites because they are actively working to educate, inspire, and empower their readers with frequent updates and high-quality information."  

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


 
About Gerry Dawes

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


Gerry Dawes is the Producer and Program Host of Gerry Dawes & Friends, a weekly radio progam on Pawling Public Radio in Pawling, New York (streaming live and archived at www.pawlingpublicradio.org and at www.beatofthevalley.com.)

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

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