The finale – Spain

This has been a long day.  This has been a good day.

The black box final was this morning.  Drinking too much with my friend Gautam and wife last night was probably not a good idea, especially considering that the only thing I knew going into the exam was that I had to cook Spanish food.

My body must have sensed that I still needed some mental preparation for this, for at 4:15 I was awake – and possibly still drunk.  Avid readers of my blog will remember that this happened to me some time ago all the way back in Skills I.  You might also remember that I happened to cook really well at that time.  I was banking on a repeat performance today, only things were much more complex.

So going in I knew I had Spain but had no idea what ingredients would be available, and that I had to make 4 courses.  So I made a few assumptions – course 1 would be an amuse bouche, hopefully mussels of some kind, but maybe clams.  Hell, maybe even a potato dish with aioli.  Course 2 I’d like to do a soup, preferably gazpacho or a salad.  The entree was a wide open field – paella (too obvious), cocido (alluring but I doubted enough product would be available) or skewered meat of some kind with potatoes and some sort of veg.  Course 4 would be a baked custard infused with saffron and vanilla bean (this much I knew since eggs and milk/cream are always available, plus I brought in my own saffron and vanilla to make sure I had them).

And so I arrived with a few notecards written out, plus a few cookbooks for reference.  The ingredients were unveiled and things fell into place:

  1. Steamed mussels with a saffron and orange infused cream sauce
  2. Gazpacho – fuck yeah!
  3. Grilled skewers of chicken marinated in garlic, olive oil, cumin, paprika, hot pepper with patatas bravas and hopefully marinated carrots if I could find them – I took the zucchini just in case.
  4. The aforementioned baked vanilla custard infused with saffron

And I was off with the only restriction that you couldn’t actually cook anything until after an hour had passed.  This kind of sucked because I wanted to get started on the custard.  Instead I got the chicken marinating and made the gazpacho.  Next up was the custard and finally the mussels.

For some unknown reason the custard took forever to set.  A process that takes about 45 minutes dragged on for at least twice this time, or at least the time that I started to panic just a little bit.  If these things didn’t set what the hell was I going to serve for the 4th course?  I perused the ingredients again and thought that a salad might be alright, so prepared for this.  Also during this time I prepared another custard.

On top of all this I thought the flavors (and not to mention the color) of the entree were really redundant.  And suddenly everything clicked.  Have I not made a dish from the Basque region that consists of sauteed red and green peppers with sliced onion?  Why not make this, serve it with the grilled chicken & potatoes and (if I had to because the custard had not set) move the marinating zucchini and tomato to a plate of its very own.

So here’s the final menu I prepared:

  1. Steamed mussels with a saffron and orange infused cream sauce
  2. Gazpacho
  3. Grilled skewers of chicken, patatas bravas, sauteed red and green peppers with onion, and marinated cherry tomatoes and paprika infused oil
  4. Vanilla and saffron custard.

Needless to say I was really happy with the way everything turned out and Chef G loved every bit of it.  I only lost one point and that was the custard – a result of it falling apart when I removed from the ramekin which resulted in me plating it upside down.

Sadly International is over.  To date this has been my favorite class.  In three weeks I’ve gone from following recipes fairly closely to today in which I didn’t have any use for a recipe. 

Next week we move on to American Regional Cuisine.


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