Who is the Galician Cook?

10 Jul

Throughout the world, many countries and cities are known for their food and the chefs that cook the food. But one genre of cooking and chefs goes mostly unnoticed to those unaware of its existence.  In Galicia, an uber-traditional style of cooking has very old roots, and Galician chefs are a race of their own.

When I say Galician chefs, in reality, I am talking about cooks.  The chefs in Galicia are not pretentious: they don’t wear chef coats with an air of superiority, if they wear them at all.  A chef coat for them is just plain work clothes.  And many times, a t-shirt and apron does the trick just fine.

unpretentious uniform

Furthermore, the Galician chef is ubiquitous–anyone with a kitchen in Galicia could surprise you by cooking food on par with the best restaurants in the region.  The typical dishes are best executed by the elders of the region, who have the most experience.  A lunch invitation is probably just as good as a reservation at a restaurant.  But why, exactly?

The Galician chef believes that everyone must be extremely well fed at all times and believes that everyone around them is perpetually famished.  The chef (or home cook) always makes sure to put out many large hunks of bread.  He probably knows the baker if he didn’t bake the bread himself.  And one protein is usually never enough.  Clams or mussels are not a main course.  They must be accompanied by another fish, octopus, meat, or empanada.

mini surf and turf? a langoustine boil is not sufficient without veal chops...

Furthermore, the Galician chef does not consider the calorie or dieting, for that matter.  The Galician people eat to fulfill–not to feel fit and healthy.  But the food is mostly wholesome, anyway.  So the Galician chef serves with a generous hand, pours oil over many foods without shame, and is suspicious of those with small appetites.  Skinny people are seen as an issue that needs to be taken care of.

The Galician chef goes to the market on a routine basis and has a bountiful garden of many staple foods.  Peppers, onions, potatoes, peas, green beans, and more.  The supermarket and large-scale suppliers are thought of as sketchy or a last resort.  The Galician chef knows his farmers and has seen the animals he cooks during their natural lifetime.  The food is of known provenance, and the quality is always prime.  Artisanal goods are a common commodity.

the galician chef knows his food

The Galician chef does not have a large spice rack or dried herbs.  The most important flavoring agent is salt–to bring out the natural flavor of the earth’s bounty.  Lemon, garlic, white wine, black pepper, and saffron are basics, and branches of fresh bay leaves are commonly used when boiling seafood.  Even though many preparations are almost identical, the flavors of the raw material–be it fish, shelfish, or meat–shine through, making the dish distinct–a whole different animal

When the Galician chef prepares food, it is not with prissy knifework.  The Galician chef is agile as shit with a paring knife and a large meat cleaver.  He can hack apart large fish with ease, slice perfect slivers of onion with just a paring knife, sans cutting board, and gut tiny fish like a machine.  The Galician chef makes strength-requiring tasks look easy but can prepare the most delicate foods with a delicate touch.

As for vegetables, I would like to understand where the Galician chef is coming from.  With such a bountiful, beautiful abundance of vegetables, why does the Galician chef boil the crap out of every living plant?  Potatoes are often boiled until falling apart; greens are boiled into wilty submission; green beans are never al dente; and peppers are boiled floppy.  None of the vegetables retain any of their life.  But I ask if this is something important to the plate.  When considering the same dishes with vegetables cooked to perfection, I don’t think the taste would be the same.  For fish a la gallega, maybe mushy potatoes are the best canvas for the meaty fish and paprika oil.  Who knows?  But no one is pushing the envelope with crisp veggies–so if this is an age-old technique, then OK.

In restaurants, it seems to me that the Galician chef is always named Marisol.  I’ve worked in 3 kitchens here, and every chef was named Marisol…I don’t get it, but maybe I should change my name to Marisol if I ever want a shot at chef-ness.

All in all, the Galician chef kicks ass, and if you are unaware of Galician food, get your ass to Spain’s west coast and eat.

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