Try a Cooking Class in Barcelona
When you visit a city that you have never seen before, you have a tendency to visit the typical tourist destinations. Maybe it’s perusing a museum, a site of historical significance or a tourist trap (try and forgo those…). Maybe you will avoid the tourist traps but you inevitably do many things that are on the beaten path. Whatever your adventures may be, you always want to have an overall cultural, historical and culinary experience. That is the main reason many of us travel. For the experience. For us there is no more an important task at hand than to immerse ourselves in the food experience: the taste of local dishes and specialty beverages. When Lauren and I were in Spain we had the chance to try a cooking class in Barcelona at the bcnKITCHEN, a local cooking school. The workshop included a morning of shopping and and afternoon of cooking. I have to admit, being a first-time traveller to Barcelona, I was not keen on spending the better part of a day in a kitchen cooking. Was I ever wrong… this had to be one of the best experiences that we had travelling together. There is nothing like learning how to cook an authentic Catalan meal to inspire you to take a little bit of Barcelona culture and try it at home.
Our morning began with our chef, Alvaro Brun, leading our small group of travel bloggers and our charming guide Monica from Barcelona Turisme to the Mercat de Santa Caterina in the Old Town area of Barcelona. Chef Alvaro made sure we knew how to pick the perfect tomato, select the freshest fish and debated the difference between Italian and Spanish Olive oil (Spanish being the superior of the two, of course). As we walked around we had a bird’s eye view of some of the most delectable fish that I have ever seen. With Barcelona perched on the Mediterranean Sea, fresh fish is a delicacy you cannot miss in Costa Brava. With an abundant variety of ways to cook it and dishes to savour, fish is very important to the regional economy. Here is a fine example of a seafood platter that we had up the coast in Blanes, Costa Brava. For that reason alone, I was happy to see that our menu included a Paella de Mariscos (seafood paella – with shrimps and cuttlefish – no less). We began with a fresh cold Gazpacho soup accompanied by a bread and tomato tapas, a delicious traditional Tortilla Espanola (Spanish omelette) and ended the meal with Crema Catalana (or a Catalan version of crème brûlée). All of this was accompanied by a few glasses of wine and a Cava (a local sparkling wine/champagne that cannot be missed).
The class is set in a state of the art facility with everything set out for you to start cooking. We were divided up into groups so that we could tackle this huge meal together. There were a few of us working on the tapas, a few on the tortilla, even more on the paella and lastly a few on dessert. This division of labour just made the whole experience more social and fun. Since we are all bloggers, there was no shortage of pictures as we went along our process.
The Gazpacho was served with a very traditional tapas Pa Amb Tomaquet (Bread with Tomato). This has to be the simplest tapa that you can make but if you choose the wrong tomato, you will go wrong! If you are lucky enough to be in Spain remember to use tomaquets de penjar (ripe hanging tomatoes). Take a piece of crusty bread and toast in the oven. Rub the slice of bread with the tomato (which you have cut in half), drizzle a bit of olive oil and then add a pinch of salt. You can also rub the bread with garlic before rubbing in the tomato. If you rub the tomato once it out of the oven, you will get an even more aromatic flavour.
The Catalan version of a Tortilla Espanola or Tortilla de Patata has both caramelized onions and potatoes as a base. If you are from Madrid, you would only have the potatoes. You can serve this dish as an appetizer with bread or as a full meal and maybe include some jamon serrano on the side.
Chef Alvaro’s Tip:
If you’re feeling innovative, I recommend adding cream cheese, grated cheese (Parmesan is especially good), chorizo, sobrassada (the paprika and pork sausage with a creamy texture), diced olives, fresh herbs (oregano or basil work really well!), and even spices.
The Paella de Marisco (Seafood Paella) can be lengthy in preparation but all good things take time to come together. Paella is a mixture of shrimp, crawfish, onions, peppers, paprika, garlic, tomatoes, cuttle fish (or squid), fish broth, Bomba rice and mussels (we used clams). All cooked together then baked to perfection. Timing is everything when making paella so making sure we had everything prepped before we began cooking. Each of us had a role to play and we did: grate the tomatoes, cut up the vegetables, clean the clams but the skinning and cleaning of the cuttle fish was all done by the chef.
I think my favourite part was watching the chef skin the cuttle fish (a type of squid) and assemble the fish broth: with shrimp shells, fish spine (yes, that is what the recipe calls for), carrots, leeks, onions, garlic, white wine and Spanish paprika. This is the point where you find out that Spanish paprika is very different from Hungarian in that the chilli peppers are grown in south-eastern Spain and some are oak-smoked slowly for a deep, dense flavour. Whatever you do, do not use Hungarian paprika in a Spanish dish as the sweet, smokey flavour will be missing. Make it authentic!
Making the Paella was the most labour intensive part of the meal but it was the most gratifying. When all those ingredients come together on a plate, you are tasting a little bit of Catalan Heaven. You can fully understand when you go to different restaurants why they make different versions of paella or rice dishes. With an abundance of fresh ingredients and fish and seafood from the sea, the combinations are endless. But the simplicity of this traditional Paella de Mariscos was excellent.
We finished our meal with Crema Catalan. For many, you will be more familiar with its French cousin the crème brûlée. Many regions claim to be the creator of this dessert although crema Catalan is registered in Catalan cookbooks dating from the 11th century. The mixture of milk, egg yolks and sugar is divine. This has to be one of my most favourite desserts of all time. My daughter even had the opportunity to learn how to brown the tops with a Chef’s torch.
There is nothing like sitting down and having a meal with friends. By the end of our afternoon we were hungry and ready to eat. We had all learned something: for some good cooks they may have taken away a few ideas on how to make a favourite dish ‘authentic’, for other ‘learning cooks’ it was a way to acquire new techniques and lastly for the very few that don’t enjoy the cooking process, it was a means to an end – a great ‘home cooked’ meal. Don’t pass up the chance to try a cooking class in Barcelona!
bcnKITCHEN has two locations in Barcelona. Both are located near fresh food markets. The one we attended was in El Born district. Although this was a very traditional meal, you can also sign up for classes on how to make tapas, paella and rice dishes as well as dishes from other countries (Japanese and Thai). Be sure and try taking a cooking class in Barcelona it was wonderful experience.
bcnKITCHEN – El Born
Fusina 15, El Born
08003 Barcelona Tlf.93 268 12 53
bcnKITCHEN – La Boquería
Rambla, 91 La Boqueria Market (Administrative Building , 3rd floor)
08001 Barcelona Tlf.93 268 12 53
Cooking classes are held in both English (for two different workshops) and Spanish (for more specialized classes). You can check out their calendar to see if there is a class running when you are visiting. The workshop fees range from 50€ – 190€. Our class was 65€ including market visit, cooking lessons, recipes to take home, some lovely local wine and a full meal. Can’t beat that for such a wonderful experience! Be sure and connect with them on-line:
and also on INSTAGRAM: @bcnKITCHEN
Disclosure: As a guest of Barcelona Turisme, I had the opportunity to spend some time with the chef of bcnKITCHEN for a cooking workshop. I would like to thank them and the organizer of TBEX for creating this truly unique experience.