‘You see these roads?’ asks Tío Angel, as we look down on Segovia.
It’s an oppressively hot day in the late 1980s. He has brought me along on a work trip, and we have far to go, but for now he has pulled over and we stand overlooking the town.
‘In the summer, on weekends, they are full- full of cars, full of people from Madrid coming here … coming here just to eat cochinillo’.
And as he tells me about queues of Madrileños enduring stifling heat and frustration, travelling a couple of hours for lunch, just to eat one of those classic dishes of the region, something clicks. I probably don’t realise quite how it reverberates for years to come. It’s a sentence which opens new vistas: the idea of a single meal as something worth serious commitment and time, of effort; food as a reason in and of itself. Of making a journey just to eat something special.
Even as someone whose family grew and sold wine and owned multiple bars and restaurants, he was tye one who went the extra mile. Literally: he once drove 100 of them because he had heard of some fantastic beans, perhaps for a fabada. I suppose you’d call him a foodie but there was never anything so smugly self-congratulatory about him. Just a love of good things.
Years later, he collects me from Madrid’s Barajas, then drives us north to home. We end up in some cool, dimly lit bodega. We order until the table is groaning. Hours later, happy and sated, I offer to pay. And he half-rises, stretches across and mimes slapping me across both cheeks. Don’t insult me, he laughs. You are my guest. I get to pay.
In my early thirties he makes me an offer. Run my restaurant for me, he says, his gold tooth winking conspiratorially.
He had had a simple but perfect idea: open a little place with wood burning ovens, specialising in classic Castillian asados, cochinillo and lechazo, yet miles from their native region. In Benicassim on the Valencian coast, where city dwellers escaped for cooling breezes, and would enjoy an unexpected taste of home. It’ll be the hardest job you ever have, he promises. You’ll start the ovens at 5am and work eighteen hours a day. You’ll never be so hot or so uncomfortable or so tired, but do that for three months and you’ll make enough to take the rest of the year off.
Having just remarried, I have to say no. And as a principle, I don’t believe in regrets. But that moment is as close as I get.
And today he died. He raged so hard against that dying light. He was a complex man: there is much we wouldn’t agree on. But he left me with these memories and principles. The thing he hated most about his body turning against him, among all the ravages of illness, was being robbed of his enjoyment of food. So now his pain is over. I feel hollowed out, but that will change.
Descansa en paz, Tío. Se te extrañará.
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.