San Sebastián in the Basque community of Spain has more Michelin starred restaurants per square metre than any other city in the world, in fact since 2002 Spain has been in the top 3 BEST restaurant in the world locations and had the number 1 spot SEVEN times. elBulli had held 5 of those but closed in 2011 with El Celler de Can Roca taking over the top spot in 2013 and 2015.
So it was with great excitement that I was to spend a day with José Pizzaro at Bertinets’ Cookery School in Bath, and learn some new skills and better understand the cuisine of the Basque region of France, something I have been keen to do for a while now. I booked this course last year and couldn’t wait for the day to arrive, I had purchased the book Basque last year too which José had penned, and already tried a couple of recipes with great success so I was hoping a day spent with this Spanish legend would improve my capability in the kitchen.The course was fully booked, 12 of us with good mix of people of all ages and nice to see some other guys on a cookery course for a change. There were some friendly faces from previous events that many of us new, it was a bit like a school or family reunion and in no time at all we were all chatting about food and looking forward to settling down and getting stuck in.Things started with an introduction and a couple of demonstrations. After being told about Bacalao (Salted Cod), and preparing it for cooking, the art of making ‘Béchamel’ for the ‘Croquetas’ was shown as it’s a slow methodical process to produce a smooth silky base for the many ingredients you can add, ours being Goats Cheese and Spinach which was very nice too.We learnt a few hints and tips but you will have to try and get on a course to find out the tricks of the trade. Trying to manipulate a ‘Boquerone’ (Anchovy) into a pitted Spanish Gordal Olive can be quite challenging when the available space in the Olive versus surface area of the Anchovy don’t quite want to agree to work with each other!San Sebastián appears to have a lot going for it, apart from the Michelin starred restaurants it is one of the most famous destinations in Spain, which looking at the annual rain chart seems rather surprising! Along with some quality restaurants the area is also famous for pintxos a local Tapas or snack. The stuffed Olives were to be one such Pintxos, along with the Croquetas, and some Padron Peppers.We had a couple of Boquerone left (actually loads, José had bought along a big tub!) so also prepared some marinated, sprinkled with finely chopped Garlic and given a good douse in Extra Virgin Olive Oil which were divine on some of Richards famous bread, given a quick toast and sprinkle of Olive Oil too. We had a quick taster during one of the famous coffee breaks (well, more than a taster actually as they were delicious).To make this Cookery School so good, apart from having an awesome range of regular and guest Chefs, Richard Bertinet has a well organised and experienced team of smiley happy people who are on hand to help, guide, advise, fetch, clean, make me Earl Grey Tea and the others coffee! and fill in where we need to get things done. Dessert was to be an absolutely delicious Caramelised Vanilla Pear Dish with Hazelnut Ice Cream and as we had to keep an eye on other dishes, two of the team made sure the Ice Cream was finished and the Hazelnut praline was suitably ‘crunched’ (sorry, these two lovely ladies were new and I did not get their names!). We were split up up into 3 groups of four for the day and ours decided to sneak in some of Richards famous Rum soaked Dates to add a bit of ‘zing’ to the dessert and glad we did too, very very tasty.
José Pizzaro, what a absolutely lovely teacher and thoroughly decent chap. As we were preparing the dishes (7 if you include the Pintxos) he would come round and assist, guide and chat, always with a big smile and lots of encouragement. During the numerous times he showed us particular techniques he prompted us to ask whatever questions we liked, and we certainly learnt a lot about his background, coming to England over 16 years ago and the restaurant trade in general.So, on the menu today is;
- Padron Peppers (They were eaten pretty much during the break, 2 plates of them!)
- Boquerones with Garlic & Extra Virgin Olive Oil (One plate of those also got devoured in the break!)
- Gordal Olives Stuff with White Anchovies (They didn’t last long either!)
- Spinach and Goats Cheese Croquetas (They made it to the dinner table)
- Swiss Chard Stew with Pimenton
- Bacalao a la vizcaina (A Basque dish using salted Cod)
- Caramelised pears and vanilla, and Hazelnut Ice Cream (and some Rum infused Prunes!)
We cooked LOADS, if was really good fun and everyone learnt lots too. Some of the subtle things you pick up include how to plan menus and work out what needs cooking when. The Béchamel needs to cool right down, so get that done first, the Stew needs to ‘Stew’, and the vizcaina needs time to cook so get those on after the Béchamel, Ice Cream needs to Freeze etc. etc. etc.The Day at the school always finishes with a communal meal, everyone sitting down to enjoy the labours of the day, copious amounts of wine on flow (unless you are driving like me) and chatting about the food, what we had learnt, what course we were going to book next etc. This was my Sixth visit, others had been on over 10 courses, it’s very good indeed.
Thank you José for sharing your extensive knowledge and experience and Richard again for making it happen.
So there we have it, another great day cooking and making new friends, take a look at Richard Bertinets’ School HERE (I don’t get a commission, I paid the same price as everyone else for this trip, the views are my honest opinion and I WILL be going back for more later in the year).
………………………….Until next time, L8ers………………………..