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Food and Flamenco

Food and Flamenco

Hmm, once again time has rather flown by since our last blog post, and so much has happened, so we really ought to catch up and write down a few of our recollections of the past few weeks.

One of the reasons that we have been a little neglectful of our blog is that we have been occupied putting together the first two of our 4 Creative Course holidays here in Spain. For those of you who have no idea what our creative course holidays are all about, then do take a quick look at the relevant pages of our website -

When we arrived in Moclín, we were given a fascinating tour of the village by Rafa, one of our neighbours, and so inspired were we by the architecture, history and culture of the place that we decided to use the village as a base for a series of Creative Course holidays.

We decided that we would start with a handful of courses with tutors that we either knew personally, or who were known to us as being experts in their particular field. The main criteria for us was to provide unique insights into the rich cultural depths that we have experienced ourselves since living in Spain. It is also very important for us that we include the people of the village in which we live. All very altruistic, we agree, but we love it here and want to share our particular passions for no other reason than that - because we love it!

Our first course was a week of Andalucian Cooking and we had a lovely group of people working with our chef, Paco Rodriguez, as he created daily menus of dishes originating in Andalucia but with a few contemporary twists thrown in. For Andrew and I, it was rather lovely being fed every day by a bunch of enthusiastic cooks.

As it was our very first course, we were undoubtedly nervous, not helped by an email we received from one of our guests the day before they were due to arrive. The email read something like the following:

My wife if a VERY good cook and my son is a chef”. No pressure there then! Between us, we managed to teach them all many new skills.

During the week, we visited a couple of markets to source products, including a challenge to whizz around the market in nearby Alcalá la Real to find the most ghastly piece of tut for under 5€. The Blackwell Family won with an incredible collection of tasteless porcelain cats and some very suspect underwear.

As the week drew to a close, we hosted a wine event for the village and invited guests. One of our favourite Granada wine producers, Bodegas Calvente, came with 5 of their wines for us to sample and a selection of delicious cheeses and jamones was provided by Andalucia Delicatessen. Our Cooking Guests provided tapas of their own creation from recipes they learned during the week - ajo blanco and gazpacho, and tortilla, all judged to be extremely good!

We took the group for a tapas tour in Granada, I shared my own recipe for paella and we generally ate and drank rather well for 7 days. Our wonderful neighbour, Mari-Petra, came to the kitchen to give a masterclass in traditional Andalucian pastry-making. Pounding the dough to make Borrachuelos and Roscos with our English guests, Mari-Petra declared that James (who had barely set foot in his own kitchen in the UK) was ‘una maquina’ (a machine) when it came to making pastries.

Our most recent course was an immersive week of Flamenco, exploring not only the choreography, but also the history and the music that evolved into this passionate and evocative dance form. It was a truly exhausting week, and Andrew and I found that we had a knack for catering for a group of people over a protracted period of time. Not that we would want to do it every time, I hasten to add!

Now that we have time to look back on the course, we had a fairly ambitious programme - to take a small group of people and, in less than one week, prepare them with the technique and choreography to take part in a public performance. Fortunately, as we found ourselves in the kitchen for much of the time, we simply didn’t have the time to learn our own routines for public scrutiny!

Again, we were very lucky to have two great tutors - Natalie Solgala-Kaz and her fiancé Cacho who is a very talented and passionate musician.

During the week, we learned so much ourselves, as Natalie and Cacho took us on a chronological journey of Flamenco from the lowest castes in India, and the influences of the Moors, Jews and Christians as the dance and music of Flamenco evolved.

We shopped for Flamenco dresses, visited the fascinating Museo de Cuevas in Granada’s Gypsy barrio of Sacromonte. This was a corner of the city that none of us had really visited before, and it gave a wonderful glimpse into the lives of the inhabitants of the caves in this flamenco-rich corner. The legends of hidden treasures beneath the trees in the Barranco de los Negros were particularly engaging.

We went to the theatre to see a flamenco performance that formed part of the 68th Festival of Granada. In our opinion, a slightly strange performance that, despite the seemingly glowing reviews elsewhere, did little for us. The flamenco was rather overshadowed by too many ‘clever’ devices that broke up the narrative and slowed down the pace. Space suits, gold-fish bowl head-sets and quite a lot of flailing on the floor failed to engage our section of the audience. Indeed, I fell asleep!

We had a slight hiccup or two as we prepared for the final performance. The Ayuntamiento de los Pueblos de Moclín very kindly sought and obtained the permission of the local priest so that we could hold the performance outside the church in the most magical setting. Imagine a village square, lined on one side by tall cypress trees and with a backdrop of the illuminated 13th Century Castillo de Moclín. Beyond the square, the village drops away and the views take in the vega of Granada and the whole of the Sierra Nevada beyond. To be able to perform in such a real space, in such stunning surroundings, is unique, and our guests would get to experience it.

The afternoon of the performance, we went to have a look at the staging that we had been able to borrow from the ayuntamiento and it was, sadly, impossible to use due to its size. We had a group of 6 dancers and they would not, by any stretch of the imagination, fit on a stage that measured less than 2 metres x 4 metres. Fortunately, we had two large platforms that we had also borrowed from the town hall and on which we had rehearsed all week, so we managed to haul these on to the top of Cacho’s car and transport them up the hill to the church. We also found that we had no electricity supply and as it was Friday afternoon, everyone had gone home. Luckily, a few phone calls summonsed the electrician who got us connected at the last minute.

The second concern with any performance is whether or not anyone would turn up to watch it. We needn’t have worried, as our neighbours in the village turned out in very healthy numbers, and our recently elected mayor was also in the audience.

Our guests gave a fabulous performance, woven into an hour-long show with Natalie, Cacho on the guitar and a band of two singers and a percussionist. Apart from the above mentioned Festival performance, Andrew and I never fail to be moved by flamenco and we get carried along by the emotion, the passion and the percussive rhythms. I think we were both thrilled by what we all managed to achieve, as a group of non-Spanish people having the audacity to put on a show of dance so deeply embedded in the Andalucian soul. As a mark of their appreciation, ladies from the Asociación de Mujeres in the village went off and returned with a dustbin filled with Sangria, and the little square outside the church became the venue for an impromptu fiesta. A bluetooth speaker was found and suddenly a group began to dance as others chatted and out the world to rights. It was a rather magical end to a magical week.

Running creative courses is, it transpires, an immensely rewarding experience. A group of people who don’t know each other come together to learn something new, very often well beyond their comfort zones, and it is fascinating to see how relationships form and evolve. By the end of each week, we have undoubtedly formed close friendships based on these shared experiences. Andrew and I discussed yesterday what we considered to be our highlights from the week. For me, it was arriving at our hotel to prepare lunch or dinner to hear music drifting across the courtyard, accompanied by the hard tap-tap of flamenco shoe on wooden floor and the strains of Cacho’s guitar. For Andrew, and the guests, it was the passion and depth of knowledge that Cacho brought to the course content. Flamenco oozes from his every pore, and both he and Natalie wove together something rather magical.

For all the hard work, the nervousness, the stresses of pushing oneself to achieve something, the rewards come when an audience expresses their satisfaction. This satisfaction can come in the shape of guests sampling dishes that you have produced in the kitchen, and unanimously agreeing that the food is delicious. The satisfaction also comes when you receive the most wonderful comments from the audience members who turn up to see the show:

"GRACIASSS a ANDREW WATSON Y A IAN RUTTER por hacernos disfrutar de una bonita noche de flamenco en Moclin.

GRACIAS por implicaros tanto en nuestro pueblo y de traer y organizar estos cursillos tan bonitos, se ve que disfrutáis con lo que hacéis y estáis muy a gusto en nuestro pueblo, yo me alegro mucho y todo el pueblo también, GRACIAS de nuevo y a seguir asi."

"Qué velada más bonita. Gracias por todo vuestro esfuerzo. Qué suerte que eligiéseis este pueblo para vivir entre nosotros, y compartir hermosos momentos."

"Enhorabuena a las bailaoras y los organizadores todo estuvo perfecto"

"Una velada espectacular. Todo muy bien organizado. Enhorabuena."

As I was finishing this post, we received an email from Fernando (who, with Vanesa, has been helping us so much with our course venue):

“Muchas gracias Ian y Andrew, los comentarios son fabulosos. Adjunto un poema que escribió Cacho en la pizarra que es fantastico.”

The poem in question…

GC_flamenco Moclin Poem.JPG

Who knew that organising creative course holidays could be so emotive?!

Recipe: Pork in a Barbecue Sauce

Recipe: Pork in a Barbecue Sauce

Builders! Be gone!

Builders! Be gone!