Democratized deli for kids?
Aylin Öney Tan - email@example.comMini golf! Who remembers it? I do. I remember meeting my schoolmates at the only mini golf course in Ankara back in 1976 after our university entrance exam. It was the pre-internet, pre-mobile phone era, we had to either pre-fix a meeting point, or show up in the most popular place to catch up with others. A mini-golf course, open-air seating in terraced gardens, and a bar that served drinks and snacks, that was it! But it was one of the mandatory hangout places for Ankara’s cool kids.
I bizarrely think about my mini-golf years in my last Barcelona trip. I try to imagine whether our teenage hangout place could ever evolve to a Michelin-starred top venue, but every time I try to weigh its possibilities, I come to the conclusion that it would not be likely, even if the world’s best chef came over. But here in Catalonia, such an unimaginable wild transformation in a remote place two-hour-drive away from the town could be possible. It was a line cook, Ferran Adrià, who step-by-step, transformed a mini-golf bar to a Michelin-starred restaurant, and himself from a line-cook to the world’s most influential chef, making elBulli the world’s best restaurant several years in a row. But how could that be possible? During my week in Barcelona, I think about this phenomenon in every step I take and in every bite I eat.
Instances that make me think are numerous. I walk past a dusty old bookshop, and peek in just to have a look. On a shelf, there are several books aimed at school kids, with titles like “How to draw like Gaudi”, “How to draw like Picasso”. I see school trips in all museums of all age groups, learning about Picasso, Miro, Dali, Gaudi etc.
All these kids are nurtured with the rich culture of their city. Then I suddenly remember how Adrià used to explain his food when I listened to him back in 2000 in Torino at the Slow Food Conference. He likened his cuisine to the architecture of Gaudi, which in a way was true at least from one point; both are unique of its own, not replicable, or should not be replicated, but had been pioneers like an icebreaker breaking a new channel in their own fields for others to flow in their own ways. It was crystal clear that Adrià was greatly influenced by the great architect who shaped his city.
Then, I coincidentally found out about a show in the Liceu Opera House. I take the 20 Euro ticket, valid both for the show and the tour of the opera house. It is a cooking show featuring two Catalonian iconic chefs, Juan Roca and Carme Ruscalleda. The show is for kids and families. I sit in a back seat, not understanding a word, yet I try to listen carefully. Here the two celebrity chefs are explaining and demonstrating their signature dishes, not like a kid’s entertainment, but seriously, as if doing the whole demo for their colleagues. Juan Roca did the same in Istanbul at MSA last year for the students of the culinary academy, and it was almost the same level of passion he demonstrated. After the show, there is long queue of kids, young people and their parents waiting to have their pictures taken with the celebrity chefs. Amazing scene!
I briefly say hello to Juan and continue to the exhibition/tasting multisensory experience named Opera Samfaina in the same building. The atmosphere is a reminiscent of a late 70’s disco setting with a food theme described as a new gastronomic entertainment concept promising an unprecedented culinary voyage through Catalan culinary heritage. It is mid-afternoon and here again, there are kids and families all around.
In Barcelona, I took two culinary walks from Culinary Backstreets and one from Context Travel. All three tours are carefully constructed to give a deep insight to the culinary culture of the city, all worth of writing other articles. But when we have our Bodega tour imbibing vermouth and wines, at one stop, as our guide Paula Mourenza was speaking of Catalan white wines, there was a women breastfeeding, a couple of pushchairs and a few children in the same place, not imbibing like us of course, but enjoying other food and drinks with their foods. Even the drinking places were family-friendly. I think it was that moment, and another moment at our last day that I got my answer. My Context Travel docent colleague Esther Dotras recommends a one Michelin-starred restaurant on the outskirts of the city and fixes us a reservation. Lluerna is silent at a mid-week night at 9:00 pm, but soon fills up with young couples. Opposite our table is a couple with their baby girl comfortably sleeping in a pushchair. The couple seems to be from the city’s middle-class neighborhood, and not like having a special day like an anniversary or birthday. They’re just here to enjoy good food. That is when I realize that such miracles like the one of Adrià is no coincidence.
Barcelona’s food scene is nurtured from its art and architecture, but one striking thing is that it is accessible to all, right from a very early age. That lovely baby in the pushchair sitting with her parents in the Michelin-starred restaurant will surely have her first date in a similar place, may be receiving a jeweled candy ring from Pastisseria Escribà as a Valentine present. Citizens of Barcelona are brought up lovingly with positive things in life, quite unlike our deserted ever-declining capital Ankara, which in its early years had been the hub of opera, ballet, theatre, classical music and art galleries that changed dramatically in the past few decades. The city we grew up in did have a similar mini-golf club but it was destined to be closed, as our city rapidly fell into mediocrity. How can one expect so much from a city under an ideology that wants to close down its own National Library and constantly threatens its foremost technical university, and demolishes all the splendid jewels of the Early Republic Period architecture, or even later most recently, annexing its own Parliament.
Gastronomy is about life and is interrelated with other life feeding fields like art and architecture. The success of Barcelona lies here, delicacy and delights of art are not reserved for the rich and elite only, it is democratized within access of all, even the kids!