Culinary writer Gerry Dawes draws on his 50-year relationship with Spanish gastronomy in his new book, 'Sunset in a Glass'. More than just a postcard picture of Spain’s food and wine, it’s a full-blown love letter.
A multi-award winning blogger and writer, Dawes has made his mark not only in the food-literary world, but also on the people of Spain. He draws from these connections and friendships, as well as the culinary history of the country. His experiences are beautifully captured by his photography along the way – a curated collection spanning from 1968 to the last few years - revealing glimpses of Spanish life and its characters across the country. We caught up with the author to talk about the launch of his book.
So, how did you become such an aficionado of Spanish culture and cuisine?
“I had the extraordinary luck of being stationed by the navy in Rota (Andalusia). I got out of the gate with 500 bucks and went around the country for a few years attending a lot of the (town) fiestas. This became a fascination in food and wine, there’s hardly any place in Spain that doesn’t interest me.” Thus he began a long career in food journalism on the Iberian Peninsula, a career he has dedicated to uncovering every delicacy in each of its provinces, with frequent Transatlantic trips - “I’ve been running these routes for 50 years…I went close to 70 times in a decade and I’ve crossed the pond like 130 times”.
Although he argues “you could write a book about every province really”, this latest work, aptly titled 'Sunset in a Glass – Adventures of a Food and Wine Road Warrior', is like a condensed volume: a bible of Spanish food and wine that spans half a century. Dawes admits “this book has been writing itself for 50 years”. The name of the book, he explains, comes from one of his visits to sherry-producing friend Javier Hidalgo of Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana, who appears in the photo of a horse race on the beach at Sanlúcar de Barrameda (Andalusia). The quote comes straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak – or that of his friend Hidalgo – who told him “if you ever have a glass of manzanilla at sunset on Bajo de Guía beach, you will never have another glass of manzanilla anywhere in the world without seeing the Sanlucar sunset in the glass”.
And what can readers expect from Sunset in a Glass?
Gerry muses “that they just read a book by a great writer. It’s about the food and wine of Spain, it’s about the people and it’s about the writing. They expect to pick up some sort of guide to Spain and they can’t put it down”. Indeed, his sense of humor - and that of the Spanish food celebrities within - is stitched into the very fabric of this book. It’s a core strength of Dawes’ writing, thanks to his dabbling in stand-up comedy on occasion. He allows that “the Spanish sense of humor, amongst men frankly, is very ribald and they joke around a lot and tease you and you tease them back. I’m a bit of a maestro at it in colloquial Spanish and they love it.”
Joking aside however, 'Sunset in a Glass' is for serious Spanish food and wine lovers. They get a window into the more obscure and niche aspects of Spanish regional cuisine and craft, such as the focus on jamón cutters in one chapter. “Nobody, either in Spain or US or England or France, has been spotlighting these guys for the great professionals that they are. It’s as important as foie gras is to France or caviar to the Caspian Sea. With Ibérico ham and charcuterie, these guys are maestros”.
“Spain has some of the greatest artists, chefs and food products, but sometimes they need somebody from the outside to tell them that. They don’t understand how wonderfully unique they are.” The book offers special insight into the people who are responsible for Spanish gastronomy.
You’ve received a lot of accolades for your contributions to Spain’s food and wine scene, but what’s your most memorable to-date?
“The Premio Nacional de Gastronomía in 2003”, Gerry laughs, “that must have been a weak year for candidates” and probably helped by his friend Juli Soler who brought Ferran to El Bulli. He insists: “being a guiri, I mean being a foreigner, I was flabbergasted to receive that award.”
Finally, we ask Gerry to sum up, in one word, what Spain tastes like? “Soul. The essence, the soul of Spain is in a lot of dishes, it’s in shellfish, a plate of clams or something”. He elaborates further, “going from Barcelona to the Basque country is like going to another country… If you refer to Spain as a Mediterranean country, well it’s only half Mediterranean - it’s really like something else in Galicia. In recent years I’ve been visiting Ribeira Sacra (wine region) and it’s absolutely beautiful. God gave us what Chardonnay couldn’t...God gave us Godello.”
Gerry Dawes, thank you for your insight. Soul searchers, you may now hang up your coats and put your feet up, as the reason for being is clearly in this book - it’s food and wine from Spain!