In the first post of her series about falling in love with Madrid’s gastronomy, Demi Perera begins her Love Madrid journey at Mercado de San Anton to gather provisions for creating a sumptuous Spanish lunch to share with friends.
Chef’s Table Tour, Madrid. How does that sound? Delectable? Seductive? Enticing? Well, I can unflinchingly tell you that it was all three and more. It was fun, it was laughter, it was good food shared with the finest company entwined into unparalleled delight. A weekend with Luxury Travel Advisors in Madrid was the most exhilarating gastronomic journey.
Mercado de San Anton
This tale of love does indeed begin at Madrid’s Mercado de San Anton – one of the city’s traditional yet avant-garde food markets. We were met by Chef Rudolfo Debernardi of A Punto Cookery School who would be our guide, guru and mentor for the day. We were to seek fresh, local ingredients at the market and take them to the cookery school to prepare a paella. Our lesson in Spanish artisan food had begun.
White, Green, Red and Black Ham
The message was clear; Quality produce does not merely happen. It is the result of tradition, time and patience. This set a precedence for the weekend. From sampling modest White Label to superior Black Label ham, from thorough bred animals which sell between €400 – €3000 per kilo, I couldn’t help feeling that if there was such a place as culinary heaven, I’d arrived there. As I looked around at the smiling faces of others in the group it was evident that everyone else felt the same.
Three Years for Cheese
With an array of cheese from soft blue Northern Spanish cheese to Cabrales (with a waiting list of three years) they were delightful to behold and a privilege to taste. I have always maintained that knowledge of food makes it taste better. It was certainly true here. As we sampled the immense variety on offer Chef Rudolfo and the quesero expertly guided us through the labour of love that is invested in to the creation of such exquisite food. Deepening our appreciation for food was undoubtedly part of the plan.
The Sea’s Abundance
Prawns, fish and mussels had just arrived at the market and we watched, hungrily, as they were unboxed. It’s worth mentioning that the fish in Spain has been farmed for decades. As fish and seafood is integral to the nation’s cuisine it provides a way of counterbalancing the decline in fish stocks. With year-long Mediterranean sunshine however, this has little effect on flavour, richness or quality of Spanish seafood as we would later discover.
A Punto Cookery School
With all ingredients, Chef and students safely transported to A Punto we began the next phase of our culinary learning – the process of preparation.
There was chopping, peeling and crushing all around as we marvelled at the flavours and aromas rising out of the kitchen under our rookie fingers. As we prepared our feast I learnt that the Spanish way of cooking was akin to my own values – eat while you cook. We were served delicious cheese, bread and ham with a perfect Sangria, made of orange peel, apple and juniper berries as we toiled away at our stoves.
Chef Rudolfo’s expertise was only surpassed by his knowledge of the history of Spanish food and paella in particular. A proud Madrileño with a glint in his eye and a love of cooking so infectious that I was enthralled by his genius.
A Perfect Paella
The final result of the day’s learning was a triumphant paella of undisputed supremacy. I savoured every splash of flavour as it passed my lips – garlic, red peppers and olive oil binding the dish effortlessly as the colours and scent of the dish completed the dance of this seduction. I was overcome with emotion at every bite and left with little choice other than total surrender.
Of Love and Wine
But what is love without wine? No table is full of love until wine is served. As such, A Punto’s sommelier delicately enlightened us with every cork pulled to accompany each dish. The earthy, rich Rioja served here was a treasured, sentimental choice and an elegant pairing.
After every mouthful was eaten and every drop of wine was sipped we continued the Spanish tradition of sobramesa – clearing the table to talk around it for hours. It happened as it would have amongst family – naturally. I had learnt my first lesson in Madrid. I learnt that this city is free and amiable and that these characteristics are deeply reflected in its cooking. As I looked around the faces sat around this table, in Madrid, it also dawned on me that there was no greater intimacy than friendships formed over a table filled with love.
For more information on The Chef’s Table Tour of Madrid visit luxurytraveladvisors.co.uk .
Keep an eye out for more Love Madrid posts coming soon.