Saturday, October 11, 2014


Here’s how I came to make lunch for two American chefs. An old friend, Gerry Dawes, got in touch, saying he was taking two young chefs around western and southern Spain on a mission to explore regional Spanish cooking. One of them, Ryan McIlwraith, will be the executive chef for a new, Spanish-inflected restaurant  in San Francisco (at 888 Brannon), part of the Absinthe Group (name and opening date still not announced). The other, Joel Erlich, will be the executive sous chef there.

Lunch at my house: Chef Ryan McIlwraith (left) and Gerry Dawes, gastronome.
I know Gerry from way back in the 1970s, when he lived in the same village where I live. Now he’s  an expert on Spanish gastronomy, wine and travel, who does specialized custom tours for culinary luminaries.

Gerry said they would be traveling from Sanlucar de Barrameda via Ronda to Málaga and would like to stop off in Mijas so he could introduce the chefs to me and to my cookbooks.

Sure, I said, come for a late lunch.

Ohmygod. Whatever will I cook for a couple of chefs? This would be Ryan’s third culinary trip to Spain, so he was no novato. He was previously chef de cuisine at Michael Chiarello's  Coqueta (San Francisco) where he garnered experience working with Iberian-inflected cuisine.

“What do you know about gazpachuelo?” Gerry asked me. “Ryan wants to try a version of that while we’re down there.  Is there any place we can have it?”

Gazpachuelo--Mediterranean seafood chowder.
Gazpachuelo, although it sounds like “gazpacho,” is not a cold soup. It’s a hot soup, typical of the traditional Málaga kitchen. The simplest version is made with nothing more than egg, olive oil and potatoes, although refined versions usually include fish and shellfish, ham and a bit of Sherry as well.

So, it would be gazpachuelo for lunch. As starters, I added another village dish, calabaza frita, sauteed pumpkin (I just happen to have a pile of pumpkins from the garden), and a salad of oranges, onions, olives and salt cod, called salmorejo in my village (yes, salmorejo is something entirely different in Córdoba).

Calabaza frita, pumpkin sautee, for a starter.

Another starter--salmorejo--salad with oranges, onions, olives and salt cod.

Chefs Joel Erlich (left) and Ryan McIlwraith in my kitchen.
Chef Ryan serves the soup.

Ryan and Joel joined me in the kitchen as I finished off the soup, poaching chunks of hake in fish stock, whipping up olive oil mayonnaise (Hojiblanca varietal oil, so typical of Málaga) and whisking it into the hot soup. Pros that they are, the chefs served the soup.

What did they think?

“I enjoyed it very much,” said Ryan. “Sure, my chef brain kicks in and starts reworking every morsel I put in my mouth. That just comes naturally after awhile. A little more salt and umami (ham bones, mushrooms in the stock, more Sherry) would have elevated the dish pretty quickly.

“I'm also always looking for acid, texture, and freshness. Would herbs or spices make this dish more exciting for American palates?  What about a topping of crispy potatoes or leeks?  What seasonal Californian vegetables would have brought texture and freshness to the dish—radishes, beets, cardoons, watercress, sun chokes—maybe all of the above,” he laughed.

“What local fish would work best? Lingcod, black cod, or petrale sole maybe. Maybe a finishing oil of chive or sorrel oil would give it punch and break up the flavors on the palate.  And, because we always eat first with our eyes, what dish would it be best served in? Some sort of local ceramic pottery or classic Spanish cazuela.”

“Wow!” says I. A glimpse inside the mind of a chef. I will definitely think about Ryan’s ideas next time I make gazpachuelo. My rendition absolutely needed  more salt and I completely forgot to add the lemon juice to the mayonnaise. Ham bone in the fish stock is a great idea. Crispy leeks would be fine. But, no, no, no beets in it! Don’t go there, Ryan!

Chef Ryan is not saying whether gazpachuelo will be on the menu of the new restaurant, nor revealing anything else on his menu yet. It's all still top secret.

The point of Ryan and Joel’s trip (Madrid-Ávila-Segovia-Sevilla-Sanlucar-Granada-Córdoba), planned by Gerry Dawes, who knows everybody in Spain who is part of the gastronomy world, was to familiarize themselves with regional dishes, with an emphasis on Andalusian-style tapas and dishes with Moorish and Jewish roots. 

“We visited all four of the ibérico ham regions,” said Ryan. “In California, we buy Cinco Jotas, so it was amazing to see their new facility and all of the history and science that goes into preserving the true Iberian pig.” They also spent time with Florencio Sanchidrian, a master ham cutter, to learn the art of slicing jamón ibérico.

“We’ve met so many outstanding people on this trip,” said Ryan. “One is Javier Hidalgo of Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana (Sanlucar de Barrameda).  He gave us a tour of his family’s bodega and a great education in Sherry.  We had lunch with him at Casa Bigote and went to the market with him in Sanlucar.  He is also a biologist and horse jockey, what a smart and interesting individual.

“Almost every morning for breakfast we had café con leche, fresh squeezed OJ, and pan con tomate with ibérico de bellota ham.  I would attack each day with a smile if that was my breakfast every day for the rest of my life.”

Ryan noted the absence of eggs for breakfast in Spain, with egg dishes appearing throughout the rest of the day.

“I’m a huge fan of eggs with dinner,” he said. “Fabulous scrambled eggs with wild asparagus for lunch or Spanish-style fried egg on top of vegetable and ham dishes are some that won’t leave my taste memory anytime soon.”

“Why a Spanish-themed restaurant in San Francisco?” I asked Ryan.

“Small plates with bold flavors, shared amongst friends—it’s my favorite way to dine," he replied.  "Spain has such a rich history of undiscovered gems that you find in all the different regions.  As a chef, studying Spain and Spanish food continues to drive me forward."

In my kitchen with the chefs--video by Gerry Dawes.


This is the recipe for gazpachuelo that I served to the chefs. Following their suggestions, I’ve added more olive oil and Sherry to the recipe. Oh, yeah, and salt. Important to taste! The fish I used was merluza (fresh hake). I used the head, bones and trimmings to make a fish stock.

Serves 6.

1 egg, room temperature
¾ extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
8 cups fish stock
1 ½ cups diced potatoes
¼  cup shelled peas, fresh or frozen
1 ½  cups boneless chunks of white fish
¼ cup chopped serrano ham
1/3 cup peeled shrimp (3 ounces)
Roasted red pepper, chopped (optional)
½ cup Sherry (fino or amontillado)
Salt, to taste

Place the egg in a blender container. With the motor running, add the oil in a slow stream until it is emulsified. Blend in the lemon juice and salt. Set aside.

Put the fish stock in a soup pot and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and simmer, covered, 10 minutes. Add the peas and cook 5 minutes more.

Then add the chunks of fish, ham, shrimp and Sherry. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

With the motor running, ladle some of the hot soup into the emulsion in the blender. Remove the soup from the heat and whisk the emulsion into the soup. Serve immediately. The soup can be reheated, but do not boil.

Orange and Cod Salad

In my village this salad is called salmorejo. But in Córdoba and Sevilla salmorejo is something else altogether, a thick gazpacho. The salad, also known as remojón or ensalada malagueña (Málaga salad) sometimes includes potatoes as well as oranges.

The cod is scattered on top almost like a seasoning. Chunks of canned tuna, drained; cooked shrimp, or strips of serrano or ibérico ham can be substituted for the dry salt cod.

4 ounces dry salt cod (bacalao)
4 oranges, peeled and pith removed
6 scallions or 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
10 green or black pitted olives
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
Red pepper flakes (optional)

Place the cod in a bowl and cover with water. Soak it, changing the water once, for 12 hours. Rinse, squeeze out water, then pat dry on paper towels.

Toast the salt cod under over a gas flame or under the broiler until it is lightly browned. Shred or chop the cod, discarding any skin and bones.

Slice the oranges or else separate them into segments and cut the segments in half to make bite-sized pieces. Arrange on a serving plate. Scatter sliced onions on top. Arrange the olives on the oranges.

In a small bowl combine the minced garlic, oil, vinegar and red pepper flakes. Scatter the bits of cod over the salad and drizzle with the dressing.

The recipe for calabaza frita (pumpkin sauté), pictured above, appears here.


  1. So right, Janet. NO BEETS! One of the things that drives me nuts about modern American cuisine is the tendency to throw in the kitchen sink in everything. I think it was Coco Chanel who said, before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take off one thing. I would recommend the same for cooking. If you're tempted to add a lot of ingredients, take a step back and leave something out. And please....easy on the damn KALE!!!

    1. Lee: Point well taken. But, better kale than beets in this fish soup!

  2.  It is a big challenge because it is not easy to invite two chefs on lunch and then impress them with your food items. I cannot say anything about your guest but of course would like to say I am very impressed by your presentation of menu items. So Good Luck you my friend.
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  3. Great to read this again, Janet. Even greater to have been there! Hugs, Geraldo

    1. Gerry: Glad to see you're making gazpachuelo at home! I wonder if Ryan put this Málaga soup on the Bellota menu---