My husband and I have enjoyed cooking classes while traveling, so when we went to Spain this summer we decided to add another under our belts. Our schedule gave us a full week in Barcelona, so we began looking at cooking classes online there. Two things made me finally settle on Cook & Taste’s classes – first the promise that the class would not solely focus on paella, like some others did – and second, a recommendation from a cousin.
Most experts agree that Paella was developed in Valencia, which is down the coast from Barcelona. You can eat paella all around the country, at most times of day, in many restaurants, but traditionally it is a long, slow, shared afternoon meal served family style – and it made sense to us to try it in a coastal city with fresh seafood that was right near where it was invented.
An add-on to the Cook & Taste Barcelona cooking class was going with the chef to the market before the class to buy the ingredients. We did this in Florence, Italy, with a chef, and really enjoyed it. In Spain, I enjoyed it even more! Chef took us to La Boqueria, the famous market at the end of La Rambla – the popular shopping district. He told us a little history about the market, and as we stopped at different stands to make purchases he knew the owners and some stories behind their businesses as well. He was talking about the woman at the fish market going to 5am auctions of seafood that was right out of the water, and bringing it to her booth by 7am. She chopped and readied our seafood for the paella as he was talking.
We bought saffron to season the paella, and he explained why it was so expensive. Each flower only blooms three of the tasty saffron threads, and they have to be pulled off the flower by hand, so the process is slow and limited. Either way, it is certainly more expensive in the USA than it was in Spain, because it is grown there. One of our dishes needed a specific vine-ripened tomato, and we bought those, and chef showed us his favorite place to buy a wide variety of olives (which I don’t eat, so sorry, no details there.)
Once we had our ingredients, we strolled back to the Cook & Taste kitchens. On the way we passed the Churreria (churro pastry shop) that chef said was “the best in Barcelona.”
Segue: We did go back a couple days later to get churros for breakfast at the recommended Xurreria Manuel San Román. The churros were OK. The chocolate dipping sauce was perfection. The place has no chairs so enjoying them was a lot more difficult than going to Petritxol Xocoa and getting a cute table for two, with drinks, surrounded by delicious confections, fun music – and even wifi available. I’d go to Petritxol.
Cook & Taste appeared to have a main storefront, where we checked in, and then for our class we went into the space next door. We walked into the large kitchen area, then there was a dining space for a full class to sit and enjoy their food, and then bathrooms, storage, etc. in the back. The space was old but updated – like much of Barcelona. Brick and stone, but with modern necessities.
Waiting for all the attendees were recipe booklets, pencils, aprons to put on, wine and water. Chef presented us with some Iberian ham and cheese to munch on, and explained why Iberian ham was so prevalent in the area and how it was sourced. Black Iberian pigs are bred in Portugal and Spain, raised free range while eating a diet heavy in acorns. The meat curing process takes about 12 months. The exercise and diet have a significant effect on the flavor and quality of the meat. It’s not cheap, but the fats are supposed to be akin to those in salmon – full of omegas and oleic acid. The other item on the plate was traditional tomato bread. Often eaten for breakfast, this is a hearty bread with a vine ripened tomato half rubbed all over it.
Chef had some items started for us in the kitchen. He wanted us to make flatbread from scratch with roasted veggies and goat cheese. He roasted the veggies before we came in the oven. We peeled them, pulled them into strips, and baked it up to enjoy.
We were also making Crema Catalana for dessert – but cooking it first so it could set in the fridge for a while. Crema Catalana is like crème brûlée, but with lemon and cinnamon added. Chef gave us a great tip to know when the batter is thick enough. He drew a line on the wooden spoon with his finger and the line stayed in place, the batter didn’t drip or run to fill the empty spot.
Once the flatbread was in the oven, and the wine was flowing and people were comfortable, we started making gazpacho, a cold soup made of raw, blended fruits and vegetables. I am allergic to cucumbers, which are often used to thicken and flavor gazpacho – so ours was flavored with beets and watermelon! And of course olive oil was drizzled on top – because copious amounts of olive oil goes on everything in Spain.
Our group made two kinds of paella. Seafood paella was made in a large pan for the group to share. But one woman was a vegetarian, so hers was made with butter beans and asparagus.
We were able to sit and enjoy our flatbread, gazpacho, paella – and one by one we called to brown the sugar on the top of an individual dessert with a torch before enjoying it with wine and great conversation.
This was a fabulous day in Barcelona, learning the WHY and HOW behind the food cuisine! Chef was so friendly and knowledgable, and kept everything running smoothly – what a pro! A cooking class is a great way to gain perspective on a new location when it is done properly. Our class had a wide variety of ages and dietary needs, and everyone had a great time. Thank you, Cook & Taste, for a fun day in Barcelona and a discount on my class fee in exchange for this honest blog post.