For the last seven days I’ve been starring in my very own Menorcan Tele-Novella-come-cooking-show called In la Cocina con Sofia (In The Kitchen with Sofia).
It’s a little bit like Saturday Kitchen Live except it’s starring only one capable cook and her completely incapable su-chef as they serve up a vegetarian storm for forty people, communicating only via mimes, smiles and occasional broken Spanglish.
Catastrophes in la Cocina
There’s a few things in my culinary repertoire that I will never live down.
The first was mistaking orange zest for an entire orange peel and ‘slow cook for three hours’ for ‘blast in the oven on full heat for three hours without a lid’ – the creation of Boeuf Bourgi-NON. The second was attempting to substitute double cream with vanilla flavoured Actimel in a steak sauce which congealed so much it wouldn’t leave the serving pot. And the third was browning chicken thighs then baking them for an hour without switching the oven on – and eating half of the dish before realising it wasn’t cooked.
I’ve also been rushed to hospital covered in blood just from opening a can of kidney beans and have burned my finger through to the bone just from holding a pot of tea.
In short, Sofia had no idea what she was in for.
Pelar, levar, picar
She was the master chef in this operation; a lovely little Spanish lady from Murcia who’s been a practising Buddhist for almost ten years. She’s sweet and friendly, and working with me in a confined space containing sharp objects and electrical items, she clearly has the patience of a Saint.
Sofia speaks only a few words of English and my Spanish is limited to I have a cat and I’m horny, so she’s been speaking at me in Spanish and I’ve been replying in the best Spanglish I could muster up. But this was the best situation for learning, I had to learn muy rapido.
Pelar, levar, picar – peel, wash, chop
She’s helped me with a whole list of new vocabulary and a steer on pronunciation. I adore any voice that’s garnished with a lisp and the Spanish language almost forces one upon you. I love it. Cebollas (onions), is pronounced th-eh-boy-as.
Simple, Seasonal, Sustainable
And it wasn’t just about the lingo, I actually got myself some serious kitchen skillz. I’m no longer just a Master Crapper Extraordinaire , I’ve also now got tortilla talents and paella perfection to boast.
I love Mediterranean cuisine; it’s simple, seasonal and sustainable. No wonder their skin glows and they have figures to die for, they eat what nature offers up.
Menorca is a rocky island, with strong winds from the north scattering the lands with marine salt – that’s what gives its famous cheese it’s uniquely salty taste. It’s self-sustaining too; animals are reared to provide meat, leather and milk for the island, the fish in local waters gets served up as catch of the day and around thirty percent of the landmass is dedicated to growing crops.
The cooks here pride themselves on simple dishes with minimal ingredients and maximum taste. Even today, when most products can be obtained all year round, Menorca’s dishes change with the seasons, following the cycle of nature.
Meat, meat, meat today, where’s my meat today?
Right now, almost everybody seems to be on the road heading away from the carnivore carnival…Meat-free Mondays, part-time vegetarians, fish-fanatics, vegan as f*ck and a whole host of other anti-cow-chewing categorisations.
I’ve been avoiding meat so much for the last six months that when I accidentally slip up and eat a steak, I actually don’t enjoy it a hundredth as much as I would have a year ago.
As I’m sat there trying to break through the leathery edible fabric with my inadequately shaped teeth, all I can think of is everything you learn about from Cowspiracy.
The poor little cow’s face, the hormone injections, the genetically modified cow corn, the squeals of sanguinary slaughter, the contaminated waters and the deforestation. Thinking of all this, it’s not difficult to lose my appetite.
Out here in the Kadampa Kingdom, I have no choice but to chow down on vegetarian goodness and I have not missed meat one tiny little bit.
Kids’ Legs & Vegetales
Traditionally a lot of Menorcan dishes do contain an animal of some sort.
I read somewhere that, and I quote, “Menorcan kids’ legs are a delicacy” which made me gasp with disgust and terror – I thought I was surrounded by a load of cannibals, but when I read further on, I realised they were just referring to goats. (Actually, this is probably the reaction we should have to eating animals too). Menorca is known for its kids’ legs, beef, chicken, sometimes rabbits and horses and of course, fish of the day.
Typically here, people have their own little plot of land on which they’ll keep themselves in good supply of fruit and vegetables. Courgettes, aubergines, tomatoes, onions, roman lettuce, mushrooms, traffic light peppers, potatoes, cucumbers, lemons, limes, oranges… there’s an edible rainbow growing all around.
My three favourite things we cheffed up together in the kitchen were an aubergine bake, homemade pizettes and a traditional Spanish tortilla.
Piscina de Potaje
Amongst the Spanglish and the sign-language, we did manage to laugh quite a lot.
One of the first phrases I learned for the kitchen was – ¿lo siento, estoy torpe, tienes un yeso? (I’m sorry, I’m clumsy, do you have a plaster?), because I’d accidentally grated my thumb instead of a carrot.
I almost burst into tears when she walked in holding a tiny little tortuga (tortoise), thinking she was going to cook him, but actually she’d just found him pottering underneath the washing line and wanted to show me. So that got a giggle.
And when we were serving up some sort of chickpea and butternut squash potaje (stew) in shallow plastic bowls, it had disaster written all over it. When the silent guests were arriving it was my job to walk from the kitchen to the serving area, which is approximately seven footsteps, carrying said plastic bowls of boiling hot loveliness without spilling.
She quietly whispered two words to me in her lovely Spanish accent which made me want to throw my head back and howl with laughter….”SWIMMING POOL!” She pointed to the floor and smiled as she trudged through my mess to the other side of the kitchen, meanwhile I stood there at the sink pretending to wash dishes but really just trying to pull myself together.
Some chefs say their secret ingredient is Love, mine is Supervision.