The Kitchen on the bridge of the Jews
Martí Gironell i Gamero
Edited October 2009
Columna Ediciones S.A.
I read the novel ‘The Bridge of the Jews’ during a family holiday in Mexico, whenever Mark and Marina would allow me to. You know kids on summer vacations, especially if their father spends most of the year away, in the country’s busiest kitchens.
They say Chef’s are always thinking about cooking, even on vacation, constantly looking for new gastronomic ideas. But, curiously, though travelled the land of beans, chicken, maize, avocado and chilli’s, I could not stop thinking about Marti Gironell’s attentive description of the medieval town of Besalu and its culinary traditions.
I was on holiday in a continent whose discovery led to one of the greatest revolutions in Spanish history, introducing a new world of culinary products which, since the 15th century, have infiltrated into our daily diet; today, in the same way, the wealth of Sephardic gastronomy is finding its ways into the kitchens of homes and restaurants around the world.
My kinship with Jewish Sephardi cuisine began years ago when I was privileged to research it’s roots for a promotional event in the famous Jewish quarter of the city of Girona, near Barcelona. During the event the Chefs prepared century old jewish dishes, some going far back into the middle ages in the form of spiced broths, sweet and salty pastries, meatballs with dries fruits, Gfilte Fish with lime, eggplant salads with cumin,… all of which I would later find on many of Besalu’s daily restaurant menus.
One day my friend Miquel Sen, director of a culinary show on the Catalan channel TV3, asked me to prepare a week-long special on Jewish cuisine. I assembled my dishes with the help of a culinary book by Rabbi Robert Sternberg; a book which introduced me into the wide spectrum of jewish gastronomy created by the Jews expelled for Spain forced to settle elsewhere.
Nowadays, it is Catalan gastronomy whose living its appetizing golden age. Examining it’s dishes, its easy to acknowledge how Catalonia always knew how to exploit to it’s best advantage the culinary legacies left on its territory by diverse cultures and civilizations through the ages. Catalan cuisine, which emerges from a range of different landscapes and climates, has built its rich gastronomic substance by adopting dozens of culinary techniques and products into its different climates and geography.
Today Catalonia sits comfortably, robust yet thankful to history for enriching it with products unknown to it in the middle ages. The tomato, today indispensable in the Catalan kitchen, raw on bread or stir fried in sauces; eggplants and peppers in a freshly made ‘Escalibada’ or a grilled ‘Pisto’; diced paprika in a ‘Picada’, these are the tastes which best define the qualities of our dishes. The baroque taste of chocolate in a in unique bitter-sweet blends. There’s no doubt that the marriage between salty and sweet, Jewish and arabic heritages, like mountains and seas, have led the Catalan cuisine to a creative freedom and a quest for new delights. They are the conceptual pillars that opened the doors to a diversity, audacity and eclecticism which was already beginning to emerge in their gastronomy, towards the development of new techniques and methods based on the appreciation of fresh local products while keeping up with the latest technologies.
At present, their greatest challenge is to conserve their culinary tradition and to continue disseminating it into modern gastronomy, as was done centuries ago with the treasures of the Americas.
‘The Kitchen on the bridge of the Jews’ is the brilliant work of Marti Gironell, a culinary book of recipes from everyday ingredients which can be recreated at home. The dishes are culinary bridges between Christian and Jewish traditions, as a synthesis to the bridges which built out culture and led to the gastronomy which Catalonia thoroughly enjoys today.
[tab title=”Note” icon=”entypo-book”]*The article is an excerpt from the book’s introduction by Joan Roca, Chef of the restaurant Celler de Can Roca in Girona, which was awarded best in the world in 2013, and second best in 2011, 2012 and 2014. The book is a collection of Jewish recipes from the middle ages from Besalu in Catalonia. The literary work was a result of the autor’s research for the novel ‘The bridge of the Jews’ published in several countries.[/tab]