By Richard Frisbie
When you’re hungry, any kind of food sounds good. When you are planning a dinner for fifty or sixty hungry people, tapas sounds like a brilliant idea, but is it dinner? At the Paradores Hotel in Santiago de Compostella last February, Emilio Gomez proved it was both!
It was the first of ten concept dinners, each encompassing eighteen regions of Spain. Called “La Cocina de Paradores,” this visually stunning event was held in the equally beautiful Parador de “Hotel Dos Reis Catolicos,” originally built as a hospital, or place of shelter, for the pilgrims arriving at the Cathedral of St James just next door. The cross-shaped dining room, its vaulted ceiling and ornate altars evidenced earlier religious use, was a spectacular setting for this over-the-top culinary event. The casual tapas and bar hopping typical of other evenings could not compare to this, The Ultimate Tapas Party.
It was designed as a standup meal with 8 to 10 people for each large round table. Plates of tapas were placed so that diners could rotate around the table stopping at tapas “stations” to eat that region’s best. Each individual tapas was made of ingredients solely from one region, and each was accompanied by the wine (or primary beverage) of that region. Drinks were served on trays, and mobile bars rolled around the room’s perimeter to have refreshment always at hand. But it was the tapas that stole the show, and what a show it was!
Imagine having the most artistic chefs creating each unusual tapas design. They had a team of sous chefs to help them replicate the design times 20 – for each table – to total about 500 of each design. The tapas arrived in little bowls, on little plates, on small spoons, with pipettes of various liquids, and arranged upright on skewers of various sizes and colors to create a veritable forest of colorful and unusual shapes. The display was beautiful!
An artistic interpretation of each tapas was created as a sculpture, all from non-perishable material.
They were on display in a great hall on pedestals, each in a Plexiglas box rising above the principle wine and grapes of that region. Behind each were tables lined with hundreds of real tapas ready to plate and deliver to guests” tables.
The problem with the event was that I was there to cover the culinary aspect as part of the Gastronomy Congress I was attending. After eating, drinking and tasting all day, standing for three hours while the pomp of the very formal evening played out was just too much to ask. Compound that by needing to taste each of 18 tapas with the accompanying alcoholic beverage, which included hard cider, beer, and all manner of wines. A lesser person could not have done it; a smarter one wouldn’t have! I neatly fit between those extremes and consumed them all – I was working – then joined a group of chefs at a jazz club for drinks and dancing afterward. My stomach still hasn’t recovered!
I’ll be politic and say Galicia’s were the best. One because I love their white wines, so the Bocarribeira 09 D.O. Ribeiro local white served in the traditional manner – a small white bowl – was a refreshing treat; a simple uncomplicated not too sweet delight. The fancy take on St James cake as a dessert tapas was a surprise. St James cake is sugar, butter, almond flour (and ground almond, no wheat) combined into a melt-in-your-mouth simple but luscious cake. Here it was topped with little pancakes and no small amount of whimsy to excel. Besides, Galicia, a place I love to visit, was my host.
After that, the Canary Island’s offering of the second-best potatoes of Spain (after Galicia, of course) speared with pipettes of their green (mild) and red (hot) mojo sauce reminded me of an incredible visit there as only the aromas and tastes of food can trigger the big memories of our lives. The rest (both tapas and wine) could all be grouped as in the good range, but no others stand out as winners.
My final thought? Next time I’ll photograph the event and skip the fancy food. I know, I can say that now, but when beautiful food is placed before me, it is rare that I can refuse it.
For More Information:
Tourist Office of Spain
Parador de “Hostal Dos Reis Católicos”
Turismo de Santiago de Compostela
Richard Frisbie is a food, wine, and travel writer; a bookseller and publisher of New York centric books; and a professional baker who resides in New York’s Hudson Valley. Online, his articles appear here, on Gather.com, GoNomad.com, travellady.com and the many websites of EDGE Publications. He also writes for regional New York magazines such as Life in the Finger Lakes, and Kaatskill Life. Richard can be reached at Richard@globalfoodie.com