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Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Interview With The Apprentice Finalist

Yes, yes – Nick Holzherr, the cute one with the great hair and the deep dimples.  Did you think, even for a single crazed second, that I’d pick anyone else?

Only kidding, only kidding.
(maybe)

No, seriously! I’m chuffed to have just interviewed Apprentice finalist, tech entrepreneur, design enthusiast, food lover, Nick Holzherr – because his brilliant brainchild, Whisk, is just about the most lovesome thing that could happen to anyone who loves to cook.

And I don’t have to tell you how much I love to cook!

So, for me, this is the foodie equivalent of six runs in cricket, a homerun in baseball, an ace in tennis, the winning goal in footie.

It’s smart, it’s revolutionary, it’s the definitive money shot!

Decide for yourselves:

Nick’s idea, called Whisk (because you can do what I’m about to describe, “in a whisk”) is a Recipe App that allows you to purchase the ingredients for absolutely ANY recipe on the internet, with a single click!

So, for example, say (hypothetically) that Yummyami is your favourite food blog.  And that (hypothetically) you’re checking out my recipe for Chicken with Olives. And that (yes, hypothetically) you are consumed by an overwhelming desire to make it...

BUT

You don’t!

Because, (hypothetically, of course) you don’t know where to buy the ingredients from. Or you don’t know how much of each ingredient you need. Or that you have too much to do and the store’s too far way. Or that you’re simply too comfortable in those Peppa Pig jammies to even think of getting off the couch...

Which are all perfectly good reasons, but the point is, that you put it off. You don’t want to – in fact you can almost taste that Chicken in your head – but you do. “I’ll make it some other time...” you promise yourself, “maybe when I’m near the Supermarket next...”

And we all know how that usually ends up. By the time you’re at the Supermarket ‘next’ you’ve probably forgotten the recipe.

Hmph.

Well, guess what?
With Whisk, there are no longer any obstacles to getting you on your way to Master Chefdom. Suddenly, everything’s possible! Nothing’s hypothetical. And I will never use that word again. Promise.

Because with Whisk, you simply add the entire recipe to a basket and when you’re ready to make your purchase, you select the number of portions you want. Whisk will select the ingredients from a number of supermarket partners and you get to buy what you need online – with a single click.


It gets better.

Whisk is smart enough to distinguish between perishables and non-perishables. It figures out the ingredients with the shortest shelf-life and taking that into account, actually suggests new recipes to cook, with whatever ingredients you have leftover from making the original one.

Exciting? You think!!

And so: in the final episode of The Apprentice when the four finalists presented their respective business ideas to Alan Sugar and his board, and Nick described Whisk, two things happened:
  1. I fell out of my chair
  2. I *nearly* spat out my Spaghetti Carbonara onto Sid’s ancestral Persian rug in what could have been a marriage-ending moment.
The first happened. The second nearly happened. But didn’t. So I’m happy to report that my marriage is intact, thanks. Though my backside isn’t, but hey, life is all about priorities, isn’t it?

I mean, I know you guys don’t need me to wax eloquent about my enthusiasm for food and all things food-related. But really, for someone like me, or my fellow food bloggers, who live and breathe and eat and sleep recipes – this is some serious inspired thinking. Blending recipes with online shopping is the logical progression that takes what we do, forward. It is that crucial intermediate step between reading a recipe and actually making it. It is the future of food blogging. It is evolution. It is utter genius.

And so when Nick didn’t win The Apprentice, I was gutted.

But only momentarily.

Because, then I thought to myself: Hmmm...would I rather win the show or have the kind of hair that turns every L’Oreal hair model (you know, the “because I’m worth it,” ones) green with envy?

No prizes for guessing the right answer, but suffice it to say that I wasn’t so gutted anymore.

Plus, Nick’s got a ton going for him (besides the hair, that is) – The huge exposure and press interest that he and his team have gotten from his being on the show, the recent and very exciting news that Whisk has secured funding from a consortium of heavy-hitting investors. And – more important than any amount of money in the world – he gets to be interviewed by me: the epitome of kindness and grace, sweetness and light…

Just kidding!

Indeed, I’m VERY thankful to Nick for his time, and for our little chat – I’m thrilled that all my friends and readers of Yummyami can get to know a little more about a product that I definitely think is going to be the next big thing!

Thanks TONS, Nick!

So without further ado, here’s the man behind it all:

Yummyami: Nick, thank you so much for doing this, I really appreciate it. I know my readers are going to love this – so cheers!

Nick Holzherr: No problem at all – my pleasure!

YA: So, to start with, congratulations for getting funding for an idea that I thought was great. Obviously it’s very close to what I do, so the idea really resonated with me right from the start, and I’m very, very excited for you and the team!

NH: Thank you! We are very excited too – there’s a lot to look forward to and the anticipation of what comes next is huge!

YA: Great, so keeping it all nice and casual, let’s get right into it: Can you please describe Whisk in 1 sentence? 

NH: Buy any recipe from any supermarket with a single click.

YA: What drove the idea behind Whisk? Was it a love for food or a love of technology?

NH: It was really a combination of the two. I’d say it was more a love of technology in terms of the opportunity to create a platform and actually enabling the ability to transact, but from an idea perspective, it was more a love for food. So, it’s 50-50. It wouldn’t be possible without technology, but definitely, the passion behind it is a love for food.

YA: Obviously you’re a smart guy, so I understand where the love of technology comes from but where does the love for food come from?

NH: Well, I’m ¾ Swiss, so it really comes from my childhood. My mum used to cook a lot when we were young and we’d help her out in the kitchen. So cooking and food was really a part of my upbringing. Even now, I tend to cook a lot of the things I’ve grown up with – so I’ll cook food from France or Germany or Italy. But I’m also open to new foods and new tastes and I continue to discover these as I go along.

YA: So, what do you cook best?

NH: What I cook best is not really what I cook most! My favourite meal to cook is Rösti and Geschnetzeltes. Geschnetzeltes, a typically Swiss dish, is made with meat, sliced mushrooms and cream. Rösti, has potatoes as it’s base, and a number of different things added to it, such as such as bacon, onion, cheese, apple or fresh herbs.

I like them because they remind me of home.
But it takes a good 40 minutes of hanging over the stove to make a good Rösti!

So on most evenings, I just do what’s quick and easy, like Steak & Chips or Salad. I often make a Chicken dish – it’s Chicken, stuffed with goat’s cheese, wrapped with pancetta and served with broccoli and a bunch of different vegetables. It’s delicious and the easiest thing to make in the world!

YA: Ok, so what would you cook on the evening you order from Whisk for the very first time?

NH: That’s a good question!

This is the geeky answer, but I’d probably let Whisk guide me. So, I’d probably put in the recipe for Rösti and then I’d see what Whisk suggests as ideas for the leftover ingredients. I think that would probably be the most interesting experiment for the system.

YA: When Whisk goes live, who would be your first phone call?

NH: Hmm…who would be my first phone call? A journalist, I guess.
Or maybe my mum. Yeah, I think my mum. She’s not very tech savvy, so I’d ask her order a basket and if she can do it, I’ll know it works!

YA: Aw, that’s sweet, Nick! Right, can I ask a couple of Apprentice questions if that’s ok...because the show is still how a lot of people know you, and I’m sure everyone’s curious about it!

So, given how high-pressure being on The Apprentice must have been – with deadlines and timelines and so on, we’d see often see the pressure show with many of the other contestants, whilst you seemed to remain pretty neutral and apolitical throughout – did being Swiss help?

NH: (Laughs) I’ve never been asked that before!

No, it’s not really because I’m Swiss. I’m just a cool, calm person, generally – I don’t get angry. On the show, you’d often see people get emotional; while I tried to keep emotions out of it and stay logical, and really just use common sense. Perhaps being Swiss helped from a mediation perspective (laughs) – I’d often find myself doing that when things got a bit out of focus. Because I believe that what’s important is for people who work together, to work in the same direction. That, I think, is the only way to achieve good results.

YA: Can you tell us one really interesting thing that happened on The Apprentice that we didn’t get to see on air?

NH: There’s a lot you didn’t get to see actually because of editing and so on. But I’ll tell you a funny thing. On the kitchen gadget task, one of the contestants suggested we create a kitchen cabinet! Given that the task was to come up with a handheld kitchen gadget – the kitchen cabinet idea was met by a deathly silence! That was a funny moment.

In the same task, when we were brainstorming, I demo’d a cake slicer to the team by making a paper prototype.  For some reason, everyone loved it and I was like – “No. The idea is to show you that it doesn’t work!”

There were a lot of instances like this, really. When you think about it, you get to see such a small portion of the whole thing.

YA: Yeah, I’m not surprised. Thanks for that though!
Ok, so the next two questions are 1-word answers – the first set is ‘your favourite this or that’, so I’ll ask you something and you tell me your favourite; the next set is a ‘pick one’ question, so I’ll give you a pair of choices and you need to pick one of them please:

Your Favourite...
TV Show: Spooks
Movie: Body of Lies
Restaurant: Any Tapas bar in Barcelona
Passtime: Fondue
Alan Sugar one-liner: "You're hired!"

Pick One...
Chocolate or Vanilla: Vanilla
Microsoft or Apple: Microsoft
Surf & Turf or Swiss Fondue: Surf & Turf
Nick or Karen: Karen
Truth or Dare: Dare 

YA: Uhoh, well, you asked for it! I DARE you to tell us….the secret ingredients that go into your hair?

NH: (Laughs). Nothing!
That is genuinely the answer! I wash my hair everyday with shampoo and conditioner. I don’t have any particular brand. I just buy what looks good or whatever’s on offer and that’s all I do to make it soft and look the way it does! Oh and as you saw on the show, I run my hand through my hair a lot, maybe that helps, I don’t know!

YA: Watch out Nick – you’re going to start a trend…the entire country is going to start running their hands through their hair now!

NH: (Laughs) That'll be quite cool, actually. No, that's it really. And I honestly hate products in my hair. Mainly because when I run my hand through my hair after products have been put in it, it comes out all sticky. So, NO products, just shampoo and conditioner and wash it every day! That’s the secret!

YA: Ha! I’m definitely going to try that and let’s see how I get on ;) 
Well, that’s all from me. Thank you very much for your time. It was great speaking to you.  And I’m very much looking forward to following how things progress with Whisk. Good luck and thanks again!

(End of Transcript)

Well, folks – I hope you enjoyed reading that! I asked Nick for the secret ingredients to his Rösti and Gschnetzlets recipes, which he was kind enough to share with me, and which in turn, I’m sharing with you (because I’m nice like that).

So here it is, verbatim (and a lot more thorough than I generally am - he even tells you what cooking implements you need!)

Nick’s Recipe for Rösti and Gschnetzlets (Swiss ‘hash browns’ and fast cooked meat ragout)

Rösti and Gschnetzlets is one of the best known and best loved Swiss dishes. It consists of a potato ‘cake’ and a ‘quick cook’ stew of thinly cut slivers of tender veal, beef, pork or chicken in a cream sauce. Best served with a side salad or steamed vegetables.

Total preparation time: approx 40 min
Cooking time: 30 min for Rösti; 20 min for Gschnetzlets;

Unless you are an experienced cook or have cooked this dish before, it might advisable to first prepare all ingredients ready for adding into your pans, especially the slivers of meat, the chopped onions and the grated potatoes (see below).

Cooking implements:
Frying pan for the meat, preferably cast iron or similar heavy metal, suitable for searing meat fast
A non-stick frying pan for Rösti (with wooden or other spatula suitable for non-stick pans)

Ingredients for 2 people:

For Rösti:
- 4 – 6 potatoes (about half a kilo)
- Generous amount of butter (preferably clarified butter or ghee) or olive oil, or half oil, half butter
- Approx. 1 level teaspoon of salt

For Gschnetzlets:
- About 200g of a tender cut of meat ( e.g. steak for beef, fillet or chops for pork, breast for chicken) cut into strips of approx. 2 to 3 cm length, 1 cm width and 0.5cm thickness
- Oil (olive oil or other, depending on your budget)
- Half an onion (or 3 shallots), chopped finely
- Chopped parsley (optional)
- Half a small glass of dry white wine
- Approx. a quarter of a small glass of double cream
- Half a good quality stock cube
- Salt and pepper

Method:

Rösti:
Peel the potatoes, grate them on very coarse grater and mix them with the salt. If the potatoes are very floury, you can run them quickly under cold water in a sieve and pat them dry before mixing with salt.

Heat oil or butter in non-stick (very important that it is non-stick) frying pan, add potatoes and fry on medium heat for about 5 to 10 min, stirring and turning every now and then.

Leaving the potatoes in the pan, pat them down gently into a round cake ( about 2 to 3 cm thick), add some more oil or butter and fry this cake on one side for about 10 min on low to medium heat – until golden brown.

Now turn the potato cake (either by flipping it in one go, or by turning it onto a plate and sliding it back into the pan). Add some more oil or butter and fry the other side of the potato cake on low to medium heat for another 10 min until it is golden brown too.

Gschnetzlets:
Lightly salt and pepper meat strips

Heat oil in cast iron frying pan to a high heat.

Sear meat strips in 2 or 3 goes as follows: place a small portion at a time into a very hot pan and fry for about 1 minute, stirring a little to make sure meat strips take colour on each side. Place each portion in dish next to frying pan.

Turn down heat, add more oil or butter and add chopped onion, fry for about 1 min, stirring continuously.

Dust 1 level teaspoon of flour over onion/oil mixture and fry for another half minute, stirring all the time. Pour in white wine, then a few spoonfuls of water (not too much) and the half stock cube, stirring all the time. Bring to boil. (Alternative to adding flour: instead of adding flour to thicken the sauce you can add a level teaspoon (at most) of gravy granules to your heated onion/wine/water/stock cube mixture.

Add meat and parsley and heat everything thoroughly, take off the heat, then mix in double cream.

Heat again, but this time make sure it doesn’t quite boil (otherwise cream will curdle).

Taste and add pepper/salt as required.

Serve immediately with Rösti and vegetable or side salad. 


And that's that!

Sounds absolutely delicious, and I love that our ¾ Swiss, Guest Chef suggests the use of a “generous amount of butter (preferably clarified butter or ghee)” – that did make my Indian genes chuckle!

I still need to give these a go, but thankfully, they involve many more “secret ingredients” than the ones that go into Nick’s hair, so while I know I'll never have hair like his, I’m hopeful that my cooking might be almost as good!

I hope you guys enjoy making (and eating) Nick’s favourite Rösti and Gschnetzlets too, and please stay tuned for the Beta version of Whisk – Yummyami has volunteered to test it, and I’m sure I shall be a very happy Guinea Pig indeed!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Fruit Salad for Oscar


I was terribly intrigued by something an old school friend of mine, the very lovely L, recently posted on Facebook. Namely: “Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative” - Oscar Wilde

Meanwhile, a lesser genius (me) looked skywards, many a time in the last several months, and asked with a sigh - “How many tears hath this heaven?”

Same difference.
(poetic brilliance aside)

Anyhow, in defence of myself and the current generation of his countrymen, I’d like to inform Mr Wilde, that when the sun has eluded one for the better part of a year, it’s fairly hard to be imaginative.

Think: rain, rain, rain. grey, grey, grey. dull, dull, dull.
Do you feel imaginative?

And thus, sick and tired of trying to use what little was left of my once thriving, now dwindling imagination, to come up with creative, season-appropriate fare, I put my hands up in the air and conceded defeat.

And ran away to Spain.
Where it seems the sun never stops shining.
And where, by Wildean logic, imagination should run wild like a Cheetah in the Serengeti.

Whatever.

Anyhow, I'm happy to report that at long last it seems that the heavens have stopped shedding their copious tears and given way to the bluest of English summer skies.

That or the Spanish sun got taken by my winsome smile and decided to follow me home.
That's what I'd like to think.
My husband says I'm full of poppycock.
But when have I paid any attention to what he says anyway?

Hee!

So, as you know from here - I spent an inordinate amount of my Spanish holiday in here.

For the Mercat de La Boqueria in Barcelona, a chaotic brilliant feast for the senses, is reason enough to warrant a visit to this dynamic, alive and energetic city. Stalls piled high with fresh seafood, meat, eggs, cheese, vegetables, hanging legs of the prized jamon iberico

And fruit, fruit, fruit.

This is what pulls me into the cool, dark, cavernous depths. 
And makes me never want to leave.
For I love fruit.
And everywhere in La Boquería there is fruit.

...Of every conceivable colour and shape. Blush orange and pink peaches; apples – green, red and gold; custard apples and papayas, mangoes and dragon fruit; oranges – shiny and round and sweet; coconuts and figs and burgundy cherries; baskets of bright carmine currants; raspberries and blueberries and blackberries; melons dripping with juice…all beautifully arranged in colour-coordinated tiers with the painstaking detail of an aficionado; the genius of an artist.

We’d saunter across every morning before getting on with the day's happenings and grab a bowlful of fresh cut mixed fruit, mysteriously labeled “macedonia.” I had to look this up, (because curiosity kills the cat) and this is what I found...(!??)

In any case, it was a simple, sweet and lovely start to the day. And this is what we’re doing today. Because, simple, sweet and lovely, is the true meaning of Life.

(Ignore me, I spout utter nonsense before the caffeine kicks in)

Droning on then...
Of course no mention of fruit salad is complete without bringing to mind my sweet friend M, because once upon a time (I don't know if she still does this) she'd get up and make a fruit salad for her hubby, A, before he left for work!
Now - has a thought of greater virtue ever crossed your noble minds?

Contrast that if you will, to the following real life scenario in the household of a less virtuous mortal:
Alarm rings, Sid wakes.
I sleep.
Because, hearing is one "sense" my darling husband is endowed with, that's stronger than mine. God always gives one some compensating attribute, that's what I always say...

Anyway:
Sid showers, changes, leaves.
I sleep.

Most of the time, I'm not even aware that all of this stuff happens. It's like a dream. Excuse the pun.
Of course sometimes there's the odd "I gave u a kiss goodbye when I left for work this morning..."
"Ohhhh...ummm...yeah....it was...delicious"
(Oops)

What can I say?
We all have our different strengths. 
Making fruit salad at the crack of dawn is not one of mine (yet)
But I am making it on an exquisitely warm Sunday morning at 11am.
So be proud of me, M - I'm getting closer :)

Here’s what you need:
I kg of mixed fruit such as:
Pineapple
Mango
Kiwi
Cherries
Peaches
Tangerines
Melons
Grapes

For the dressing (simple, sweet and lovely): 
2 tbsp runny honey
½ tsp grated orange rind
2 tbsp orange juice
2 tbsp pineapple juice
1 tsp lemon juice

Here’s how you do it:
Pour the orange and pineapple juices into a bowl. Stir in honey and whisk until it's combined.
Cut the fruit into slices or chunks. Pour the dressing over the fruit and toss it to combine.

Chill and enjoy!

Granted, this is less a recipe, and more an idea - but hey! When a clever, dead man accuses me of being unimaginative, I really do feel compelled to respond...


Friday, 20 July 2012

One off The Bucket List: Meeting Juanito Bayen

So...the planned order of operations upon touching Barcelonan soil was fairly straightforward:
Off tarmac and into airport.  Out of airport and into apartment.  Dump bags.  Out of apartment and off to meet Juanito Bayen.

Step 4, my friends, was the sole purpose and mission of my Barcelona trip. 

And so: I. MET. HIM.

Juanito Bayen – the man behind the Pinotxo bar, the tiny L-shaped, 14-stool kitchen that whips up creative Catalan classics in the heart of the gastronomic wonderland that is La Boqueria.

And now: I will die happy.

By the way, I knew I was far from being the only person dying to meet this man of legendary fame – the internet is rife with photos and writings about him, his food, his smile, his attire, his way-larger-than-life personality.  And so I’d read about him. About how tourists and locals and celebrities alike, jostle to get a place at the coveted counter and observe the busy goings-on in Juanito’s kitchen. I’d read and I’d wondered if he was worth the hype.

And so, it had to be the first thing we did upon arriving in Barcelona. It was required. Full stop. So, off we went.

It is prime lunchtime when we arrive, and I’d prepared myself for a 30-45 minute wait for a place to open up.  But just as I catch my first glance of the bright orange, slightly crooked Pinotxo sign and Juanito himself, dressed in an immaculate black waistcoat and bow tie, two people get off the stools right in front of us and without missing a beat, Sid and I slink in. There is even space for the pram.

Score!

Even luckier for us is that our little corner is being serviced by Juanito himself. And oh my, IRL (in real life) the man is every bit as dapper as in his pictures – he’s somewhere in his 70’s, totally full of life, as tiny as the establishment he runs, with spiky hair, an incredibly expressive face and eyes that smile. So yes - to end all potential speculation - he is worth the hype. Every last little bit of it.

See for yourself:



I turn to Sid and say simply, “I love him.”

Juanito notices us, greets us like long lost family, and places a placemat and clean cutlery on the counter, while we plonk ourselves down, somewhat in disbelief about how lucky we’ve gotten to be seated without a wait…you don’t understand, this kind of thing NEVER happens to me…

Within seconds, he’s back with an enquiring look, holding up a slim green bottle of something.
I have no idea what’s in the bottle – but hold a bottle in front of my face and I won’t say no.

So I don’t say no. He winks jovially and vanishes momentarily.

“Will you ask for the menu?” Sid says, “I’m starving”

“Haha,” I say, “there’s no menu. He just brings us stuff and we tell him when to stop.”

“How does he know what we want?” Sid asks slightly alarmed, conjuring up visions of broccoli and other green monsters in his head.

“Where’s the trust?” I retort, at exactly the same time that Juanito places two glasses of Cava 
in front of us

I think I’ve just answered my own question.

Barcelona is HOT HOT HOT and the Cava – ice cold and fizzy – comes as a very welcome respite. One sip later, our spirits are already lifted.

The next hour goes by too quickly.

An oven-fresh, floury loaf is placed rustically on our placemats – this is not to be eaten now, but saved for later, to mop up the leftover juices from the plates of food…
…which begins to come out thick and fast.

First comes a plate of garbanzos...chickpeas cooked with butifarra (Catalan white sausage), golden rasins, pine nuts and parsley, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic and sprinkled over with course sea salt to kick up the flavours.

I taste a mouthful of the chickpeas and stop mid-sentence. I mean - I’m no pro, but this dish is decisively competing for top place in my amateur but eventful food-writing life.

It’s stunning.

And it just shows you how the simplest ingredients entrusted to a pair of masterful hands can be transformed into gourmet cuisine with such utter perfection.

Six minutes later, we’ve inhaled it.

Juanito’s back now and is asking us something, while pointing to the plate of almost-over garbanzos that we have shamelessly chased around until the last round pea is gone.

I think he wants to know if we liked it.
Ha!

“Muy Bien!” I say exuberantly, thankful for my vague recollection of a few choice words from Spanish class at undergrad.

But it’s the right thing to have said. For the look on his face is one I will never forget. The wide smile he flashes back is one of pleasure and gratification, and most of all, pride. It is clear that this is a man with passion.

And thus, over a dish of chickpeas, begins my infatuation with the genius that is Juanito Bayen. Because nothing is more appealing to me than one who takes pride in his work – say what you may – it always shows.

And so as a tribute to Juanito, here’s my version of the dish. I neither know where to get the butifarra, nor do I know how to cook it, so I’m doing the vegetarian version...

Please note, this is how I think he makes it.  If he spoke English or I, better Spanish, I’d have asked for the recipe. But alas, our communication was limited to smiles and winks and many thumbs ups, so this is all me, and it’s probably way off. But here goes nothing:

Here’s what you need:

-  400 grams can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
-  4 tbsp golden raisins
-  4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
-  1 medium onion, thinly sliced

-  Handful, pine nuts

-  1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
-  1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped

-  1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
, to drizzle
-  Coarse sea salt, to taste

Here’s how you do it:

Soak the raisins in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes till they swell up, nice and plump. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a pan and cook the onion until browned. Add the raisins, garlic and pinenuts. Add the chickpeas and parsley, reduce the heat, cover, and cook, stirring from time to time, until the chickpeas are cooked and the flavours well combined.

Pile onto a plate, drizzle olive oil and vinegar. Sprinkle over with coarse salt and serve hot.

Right.  That done, kindly rewind back to Bar Pinotxo, por favor.

Where we are merrily on our way to our second course.

Our garbanzo plates have just been cleared and it seems Juanito is showing us something. 
He’s dangling a dead crustacean in front of us. 


“Gambas?” he asks, politely.

Now – at the risk of repeating myself: Hold a dead crustacean in front of my face and I won’t say no. Or a live one for that matter. I don’t discriminate.

So, Gambas it is. Langoustines fresher than a freshman at college, easily accomplished because Juanito simply has to walk over to one of the multifarious stalls around him to have his pick of fresh seafood – all of which has literally come off the boat a few hours ago.

And boy, can you taste the freshness! Like all his food, Juanito’s langoustines are simply cooked – dunked in boiling water, if I were to guess, drizzled over with salt and olive oil and that’s it.

The flesh is sweet and succulent and infinitely pleasurable.
I could have eaten a few more platefuls.

Next, we get bacalao – salt cod, a must-have Spanish delicacy.  These are cod fillets, first dried, then re-hydrated and deep fried. The result is a light and crunchy exterior yielding to steaming hot and moist cod pieces interlaced with slices of caramelised garlic, drizzled with olive oil.

The dish is simply superb.

This duly consumed, we are sated. For now. But not without dessert. (Naturally!)

So when Juanito comes by again, I point to of what looks like a huge tray of flan, topped with a hard shell of burnt sugar lying not far from us on the inside of the counter.

“Ah, postres!” he says with a wicked wink. And off he goes to dish us up an insanely generous hunk of crème caramel and two sticks of flaky, buttery pastry, covered with almond slivers and filled with stewed calabaza.


And promptly places it in front of Sid.

Which is fine by me, because Sid is the one who wanted it. “Go for it” I declare magnanimously - “I’ll have a little taste later.” But, here’s the problem with the “I’ll have a little taste” declaration. It never stops there, does it? If you’re like me, that is. But hopefully you’re not.

So, before I know it, “a little taste” becomes half the blessed plate, and I can’t stop myself till all three of us have licked the plate clean. And I don’t even like sweets.

And so concludes our meal.
But just for that day.

Because, a few days later, after Sid leaves for London, I go back.
Twice.

The second time I go, Juanito is wearing a bright green vest and matching bow tie. I eat pa amb tomàquet (pronounced pom to-mah-ket), which is basically toasted bread  rubbed with a garlic clove and the cut side of a halved tomato, then drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled over with salt.  This comes alongside scrambled eggs with razor clams, which come apart magnificently a la plancha, (on the grill). I end with perfectly fried croquettas, stuffed with rock lobsters and salt cod – a delightful crunch of creamy, salty, faintly sweet flesh.  

I leave wholly satisfied.

The last time I go, I get there bright and early – not really by choice, but because I need to catch a plane.  Juanito looks debonair in a pale blue and pink striped waistcoat and bow tie to match. This time, I pass on the cava (even a person of my mettle can’t get myself to do it at 8am in the morning), opting instead for a cortado – black, oily Espresso with a dash of milk - and a xuxo (chu-cho).

Oh my Lord.

Really, I think it’s been many years since I’ve felt the delight of experiencing an entirely new sensation. 

Because tasting this stuff takes me back to the time my baby went from milk to solids – the look on his face when I gave him something he liked for the very first time.

I feel exactly like that - like a kid tasting something utterly delicious for the first time - marvelling at the novel and utterly wonderful discovery of taste.

I don’t know how to describe the xuxos, but I’ll try – it’s a kind of deep fried pastry filled with vanilla perfumed crème anglaise.  The pastry is fresh and fluffy and warm, lightly dusted with sugar. The inside is filled with a delicate, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth softness with notes of nutmeg and spice.

It’s rapturously good.

I ask for more. Juanito laughs and promptly brings me more.

I won’t tell you how many he brings. But I eat it all.
(Lord forgive me, for I have sinned)

As I say goodbye, Juanito gives me a kiss on the back of my palm. And my heart leaps in a bittersweet way because this gesture has just reaffirmed why meeting him has been on my bucket list all this time.

And now I’m lucky enough to be able to strike it off.
If I want to.
Or…
I could pretend it never happened and go back sometime and do it all over again.

Which is what I think I will.

Just. That. Good.