Sometimes, when you are Basque, you speak English with a French accent. Sometimes, that accent will sound a little more Spanish than not, and yet you are still Basque. Such are the complications of one of the more peculiar pockets of humanity to be found. For the country occupied by the Basque people is in both France and Spain while remaining unique unto itself. The Basque language is like no other, and no one knows where it comes from. Even Basque DNA is different than the DNA of other Europeans. Food--the taking of meals--is central to the culture. In some places it's a little more French than Spanish; in other places in Basque country, just the opposite is likely to be true.
Chef and restaurant owner Gerald Hirigoyen invites the reader into The Basque Kitchen. In page after delicious-looking page, Hirigoyen presents what he most loves about the cuisine. And rather than suggest that what he so loves remain frozen in a museum of cuisine, he embraces the foods and cooking techniques he has encountered in Paris and California. His Seared Ahi Tuna Steaks with Onion Marmalade honors his uncle's tuna and onion casserole. But instead of covering a tuna steak with onions and olive oil in a casserole and cooking a long time, Hirigoyen prepares an onion marmalade, then pan sears thick ahi steaks until they are hot and rare, and serves it all on a bed of lentils. He's saying that you have to be Basque to get there, but now that we have all arrived, we're somewhere else, yet connected.
And what a marvelous connection. The vast majority of the foods to be encountered between the covers of The Basque Kitchen are simple in nature, yet complex in the flavors they deliver. Potato and chorizo tortilla, an omelet of onion, potato, chorizo, salt, pepper, and parsley, gains added radiance with a little piment d'Espelette, powdered small, dried red peppers with a distinct flavor. Steamed mussels are prepared with tomatoes, crusty bread cubes, white wine, parsley, and chives. It's a dish from St.-Jean-de-Luz, over which the author proposed to his wife.
Gerald Hirigoyen brings to life the foods of his youth and family, as well as foods he has created from experience and whimsy. Refusing to be confined by tradition, Hirigoyen takes inspiration from Basque tradition and demonstrates the timelessness of the Basque kitchen. The benefits for one and all are right there, page after page after page. --Schuyler Ingle