Saturday, July 15, 2006

In the Kitchen

About this time a week ago, I was standing over a hot stove in a stifling kitchen, watching Carmen Barrios (above) prepare her trademark meatballs with squid. Carmen is one of the Cocineras de Sils (they used to be called The Grandmothers of Sils, but that was before a couple of 38-year-olds joined the group), a collective of about 100 women dedicated to preserving the traditional cooking of Catalonia. She is also the sort of woman who brings to mind the word "pistol."

When I met Carmen, she was cooking for The Cocineras' annual dinner. The Cocineras have published cookbooks, demonstrated how to prepare pollastre amb salsafins at the Hotel Ritz in Barcelona, received awards in Madrid, and appeared on television and radio with Arzak and Adria. But the dinner is what they most look forward to: the spiffed-up gym as dining hall, the adulatory speeches, the band with two female singers in matching dresses who complement their repertoire of pasodobles and foxtrots with synchronized dance moves. And of course, there's the food: 94 tortillas, 94 casseroles, and a whole lot of cake, all made by the Cocineras.

Carmen didn't waste any time. As soon as she saw me at the dinner, she marched up--recently coiffed hair bobbing, high heels clicking--and demanded in that machine-gun voice of hers, "Don't I look great?" Then she went off to ask the table that got her casserole if they didn't love her meatballs.

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