When I heard that Channel4 was screening a new series called "A Cook's Tour Of Spain", I pricked up my ears. Well, I would do of course. Channel4 has produced some good quality food programmes in recent years along with the tat and Spanish cooking is what I do for a living as a professional chef in Barcelona.
When I checked out the Channel4 website I was less impressed. The series, I discovered, was to feature Thomasina Miers, winner of MasterChef 2005 and subsequent star of the much-panned "hunter-gatherer" series The Wild Gourmets, in which she and Tarzan-impersonator Guy Grieve went scouring the British countryside for escaped deer and magic mushrooms. A positive review by Andrew of The Foodie List gave me some encouragement, until I remembered how irritating I had previously found the "Jamie-esque" lisp and nervous giggle of the star presenter, now re-branded as "Tommi". So when I gained access to Episode 1 over the Easter weekend as a result of some geeky manipulation by my dad, I settled down to watch it without high hopes.
To my surprise it turned out to be a very knowledgeable and interesting programme. Never mind Violet Elizabeth and William Brown - although in fairness to Tommi, her male bimbo chaperone did make her look good - the content was simply fantastic. And to the best of my judgement, technically correct. So many British food programmes in the past have imposed distant imperial views on the food of other nations, but here's a series that leaves you in no doubt that it has got up close and personal with its subject - in some cases literally under the skin of Spanish produce! Full of passion and humour, this is a series that takes the viewer closer to fantastic, simple, regional food than ever before.
I've never hidden my personal lack of interest in cooking regional rustic food on a professional basis, but like most people I really enjoy eating it and I have no doubt that to cook great global food you need to understand the regional cultural roots that underpin the produce and processes you are working with. The importance of getting close to your food and the people who produce it and not being blinded by the sanitisation of food by the big supermarkets - that perennial theme of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall - is a sentiment with which I totally concur. And you don't get any closer to real people with real passion for their produce than visiting the towns and villages of Spain in this series.
I've edited 20 minutes from episode 1 in two 10-minute uploads as a taster for anyone who missed the screenings and those unable to access the series via 4OD. I didn't include scenes of matanza (ritual pig slaughter) because I didn't want this to become the focus of comment. But the woman sticking her finger in the fresh blood and checking it for seasoning should give you a flavour. Sit back and enjoy!
Tonight's episode takes us to Castile-La Mancha - land of cheese, saffron, marzipan... and Don Quixote! I can't wait. Next week I plan to post my own Cook's Tour Of Spain - a compact guide to the regional cuisines of each of the 17 autonomous communities that make up modern Spain.