« on: September 20, 2015, 05:34:30 PM »
We recently returned from a trip to Spain (actually, Catalonia and the Basque area, two places that don't want to be part of Spain). While in San Sebastian (or Donostia, in Basque) we had a private cooking class. After hitting the local farmer's market for ingredients, we went to one of the local "Gastronomy Labs". This was a really interesting place. In San Sebastian, a city of 110,000, there are 230-ish "Gastronomy Labs". These are private clubs devoted to cooking. The structure is similar to a member-owned country club, with an initiation fee (small, but I did not hear an exact amount), and then you buy into ownership. The place we visited (allegedly the most exclusive in town) had a 200 member limit.
I found the whole concept intriguing. The place is essentially a restaurant, with a professional chef, but members have access to the kitchen to do their own cooking if they want. You can have the chef do everything, including buying and preparing all the food. You could bring your own ingredients and have him cook it, you can bring your own stuff and you cook it, or you can have the chef do the shopping and you cook it. It's all the same price (monthly dues), except if the Lab buys the food. You can make a reservation and treat it like a restaurant, although you'll get what the chef chooses, unless you make a specific request ahead of time. The other stuff you consume with your meal (drinks, etc.) are extra, but it's on the honor system. You fill out a sheet listing what you had and leave it at the desk when you leave.
These Labs are extremely popular in San Sebastian, and all have waiting lists for membership (up to 20 years). Our guide told us that they haven't worked elsewhere in Spain. The concept is just too foreign, and the honor system of payment always breaks down.
Our class started with local chorizo (Spanish, not Mexican-style) fried in olive oil, then local Padron peppers, pickled and served with an anchovy and an olive. We then had "rice in seafood sauce", what you and I would call seafood paella, but the Basque don't use "that Spanish word", and insist theirs is not the same. We followed with "cod in sauce", the sauce being a local specialty of olive oil and parsley, plus some other spicing.
We finished with an apple brandy cream cake. Wow!
I think the whole concept of these Gastronomy Labs is incredibly cool. In a big, dense city where most of the apartments (and 90+% live in apartments) have tiny kitchens it makes a lot of sense, but I can see how the honor system wouldn't work in most places. The class was great, and we plan to try out some of what we learned in the very near future.