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San Sebastian has traditionally been chock full of ace chefs. With a new culinary school in the works, soon you can be one of them.
The investigation and innovation unit will focus on the research of cooking techniques and ingredients, technology development, education of eating habits and social responsibility. Aizega said agreements with Spain’s High Council of Scientific Investigation will help the center whip up newly discovered or lab-developed components into morsels that are pleasant to the palate and good for your health.
“Research in food and cooking is as important as investigation in medicine. Food goes in through your mouth, you don’t put it on [like clothes],” said Marili Calvo, co-owner of Zeruko, a bar in San Sebastian with traditional and innovative pintxos. Calvo said the Basque Culinary Center will further strengthen the town’s culinary fame.
There will also be an observatory of food trends. “We are losing our Mediterranean cuisine, and, as a result, we have one of the worst rates of child obesity in Europe,” Aizega warned. The center wants to be a model for healthy eating too.
“Food does not just come from a factory. It involves farmers, fishermen, ranchers. We want to build biodiversity and quality by balancing proximity goods within a globalized industry,” Aizega said. That is the social responsibility ingredient. Downtown San Sebastian streets are lined with bars and restaurants, packed with locals and tourists hopping from bar to bar to indulge in Basque cuisine samples. The procedure is simple: customers are given an empty plate to fill up buffet-style with the pintxos of their choice, invitingly displayed on bars’ counters. When they finish, they simply tell the waiter how many they had and pay accordingly.
Tables were hard to come by on a weekday last month in Casa Bartolo. Traditional combinations reign supreme here: Cold artichoke heart under a vinaigrette tossed with finely diced onion, green and red peppers on top and an anchovy-stuffed olive; a pastry base stuffed with smashed spider crab and crowned with fried tomato sauce and red pepper pieces.
Ingredients are often held together with a toothpick; pintxos are finger food for the indecisive — the delight is in trying so many.
“The diversity is great, there’s a lot of thought put into the food,” said Mike Herbert, 30, a tourist from Manchester. “I’ve never been anywhere where everything is spread out on the bar. Seemed a bit chaotic at first, but then it’s great,” he added.
Zeruko does not abandon conventional food, but it also dares to innovate. Blood sausage with pistachio and raspberry sauce; a rose made up of a green leaf (bread) and red petals (dehydrated strawberry) stuffed with lobster and foie cream, served in a tall glass — the rose fragrance emanating up from an aromatic oil at the bottom of the “vase.”
Josean Calvo, Zeruko’s chef, adds 20 to 30 new creations a year to his 500-pintxo catalogue. “One of the reasons we come to San Sebastian is its gastronomy,” said Raul Escudero, a 31-year-old Spaniard from Cordoba. “Ingredients are the same as anywhere else in Spain, but here it’s all about innovation and creativity.”