Photo by Lee Woolcock
Cooking class with Dominique Heathcote
Food has always been the ultimate social bonding agent. Taking a cooking class can help people brush up on culinary skills and also expand their social network. There are classes in Barcelona for all levels and interests, whether the desire is to find sources for the best local ingredients, techniques for traditional dishes or just ideas to add a bit of variety to everyday family dinners. Below we detail three such courses to entice, entertain and educate.
COOK AND TASTE
Barcelona’s Boqueria has become as much of a tourist attraction as a marketplace, so it’s no surprise that a tour of the Boqueria is one of the most popular parts of Cook&Taste’s cooking classes (not all classes include this visit, so double-check when booking). The ‘school’ is a bright, modern kitchen in an apartment on the Ramblas, just a couple of blocks from the market. Up to 12 of them sit in front of a long work surface; on the other side is Teresa, a professionally-trained chef who started at Cook&Taste about a year ago after working in a four-star hotel kitchen.
Willing volunteers from amongst the students (usually two at a time) take it in turns to help cook the ‘traditional’ three-course meal of Spanish-Catalan staples: tortilla de patatas with pa amb tomàquet, paella and crema catalana.
Teresa expertly gives ample opportunity for participants to absorb each step without any long pauses in the action. The level of ability and knowledge in the group can vary a lot, but everyone can take something away from the class, whether it’s learning the best way to chop an onion or discovering the correct type of wood for a traditional paella spoon. Teresa also teaches that warming saffron threads in foil over a flame to release their essential oils and the signs to look for in a thickening crema catalana.
The classes last around three and a half hours. Plenty of wine is drunk during class, which helps break the ice, as well as with the consumption of the finished recipes. Other classes are available, including more in-depth three-day courses, and can be tailor-made for groups.
Great for: Entertaining visiting relations
Top tip: Save the skins from skinned tomatoes, dry then deep fry or crumble to a powder and mix with salt for an unusual seasoning
Dominique Heathcote was born in Venezuela to an English father and Dutch mother; she has lived in Barcelona for over 35 years and is married to a Catalan, so she has real local insight. Her classes, held in a specially-built, light-filled extension to her home in Valldoreix, are veritable social events, with participants from all over the world swapping tips about any number of topics.
Heathcote, who is Cordon-Bleu trained, usually uses her own invented or adapted recipes for her cooking courses, which are normally four weekly, two-hour classes. One or half-day classes are also available and classes can be made to measure for small private groups. Her Catalan Cookery course teaches the stalwarts of local cuisine such as fideuà or mar i montanya, and participants also learn about links between Catalunya’s cooking and its culture.
Heathcote’s course dealing with fish is a popular option: many people who move to Barcelona are unused to, and intimidated by, seeing fish that is not in filleted, polythene-packaged form. They’re even more intimidated when faced with the daunting saleswomen at most fish stalls. Heathcote’s advice: smell the fish and be assertive! The fish course includes a shopping visit to the Boqueria market to practise the technique.
Other courses include ‘Everyday Cuisine’ which is full of ideas for livening up day-to-day meals, including artistic plating suggestions; ‘Cooking in Couples’; and ‘Cooking with Children’. They are all held in small groups (usually around six people) in a social atmosphere, tasting the results with local wine, and participating in the actual cooking as much or as little as the student wants.
Great for: Recently-arrived mums; cooks lacking confidence or inspiration.
Top tip: Leave scales on sea bream that is being baked in salt.
Alicia Juanpere’s hotel and cooking school in the Priorat has gained fame in all the chi-chi gastronomic publications, such as Gourmet and Food & Wine. Now she has brought her expertise to Barcelona, where she holds cooking classes in her beautiful Barri Gòtic loft apartment. Alicia only offers private classes for groups of at least two people, so the itineraries can be adapted to suit. The regular class starts with a shopping trip to the Boqueria market, visiting Alicia’s favourite stalls. She may also reveal another of her top shopping tips, such as the La Muntanya charcuteria near Plaça Espanya. Shopping done, it’s back to the apartment (beware—no lift!) to get down to work. Clients can choose whether to roll up their sleeves and get hands-on, or stand back, sip wine and watch.
The recipes Alicia teaches are the fruits of connections made working in ‘gastro tourism’—a mussel dish was taught to her by a local fisherman—and traditions learned from her mother and grandmother. Catalan-born-and-bred, Alicia’s school in the Priorat is in her grandfather’s old home.
When everything is ready, lunch is eaten at a majestic table, accompanied by wines Alicia brings with her from the Priorat.
Great for: Those who want a more exclusive experience. Groups of friends who want an alternative to eating out.
Bad for: Dog-haters. Alicia’s big friendly alsatian Doobop shares the apartment too!
Top tip: Don’t soak mussels, and clean them in as little water as possible.
A Taste of Spain
Private cooking classes for groups take place in an elegant Bonanova apartment with terrace and are led by a top professional chef Jaume Brichs, who takes clients to the Boqueria market and teaches how to buy the best seasonal produce. His classes focus on traditional Catalan cuisine. Avant-garde cooking classes, based on dishes by the likes of Ferran Adrià, are also available. www.atasteofspain.com
Young chef Julio López Sanchez opened his own cooking school on return from working in hotels in the UK. The classes are held in a ‘designer’ space in Gràcia. There’s a wide range of classes, but most are held in Spanish. English classes can be arranged for groups on request. www.coquus.es
Dom’s Gastronom Cookery School
Psg del Roser 43, Valldoreix
Tel. 93 674 5160
Monthly classes start at €90.
Caarrer del Paradis, 3
Tel. 93 302 1320
Half-day cooking classes, €60,
Boqueria visit, €12 extra.
Tel. 93 511 0738 or 619 728 422
One-day private cooking class,
from €100 per person.