Logroño-La Rioja – Spain’s gastronomic capital for 2012

When the media publishes statistics, La Rioja is usually at the bottom of the chart because we’re the third smallest province in Spain, just ahead of Spain’s two North African cities of Ceuta and Melilla.

We recently got a big boost to the top with the announcement of Logroño-La Rioja’s appointment as Spain’s gastronomic capital in 2012.

What usually happens in cases like this is for the local and regional government tourist bodies to organize a series of events.  The private sector here usually waits for the government to open its pocketbook rather than take the initiative.  This time, however, local business has taken the lead.

Somos Capital (an expression with the double meaning of ‘We’re the Capital’ or ‘We’re Important’), created by the restaurant Tondeluna, owned by the Paniego family in Ezcaray, one of La Rioja’s two 1-Michelin-starred restaurants and the Marqués de Vallejo hotel has organized a program of appearances by some of Spain’s best chefs and food writers to celebrate this honor throughout the year..

Among the chefs who have accepted an invitation so far are:

  • Juan Mari and Elena Arzak
  • Andoni Luis Adúriz
  • Quique Dacosta
  • Paco Morales
  • Lorenzo Cañas
  • Marisa Sánchez
  • Ignacio Echapresto
  • Juan Ángel Rodrigálvarez

The last four chefs are from La Rioja, adding to the excitement.

Francis Paniego of Tondeluna hopes that Ferrán Adriá will accept, too (“He hasn’t said ‘no’ yet”).

The timetable for each event is:

6:30 pm   a press conference with the week’s guest

7:30 pm   a short talk by the guest

9:00 pm   dinner and wine pairing featuring some of the best Rioja wines, with the guest chef-inspired menu prepared   by the staff of Tondeluna.

Five per cent of the total take for the evening will be donated to ARSIDO (the Down’s Syndrome Association of La Rioja).

Each dinner and tasting costs 50 euros per person and is open to 50 guests.

I was pleasantly surprised to read about this and hope I can attend at least one of the dinners.  It’s going to be tough, however. The price is right, the chefs are the best in Spain and it’s for a worthy cause. 

How can the local government top that?

The Brotherhood of the Fish, a longstanding tradition in Logroño

Escudo_cofradiaIf you ask a Spaniard what Logroño is best known for, they will probably say  it’s the wine festival in September.  But if you ask a resident of Logroño, they will unhesitatingly say it’s the festival of St. Barnabas (San Bernabé in Spanish) on June 11.

The festival of San Bernabé commemorates the lifting of a siege of the city by French troops under Francis I whose rivalry with Carlos V, king of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire was legendary.  The French troops arrived outside the city walls on May 24, 1521, confident that they would quickly force the city to capitulate, but the local militia, although outnumbered, heroically resisted, causing panic among the invaders by flooding their campsite and warning them that a large Spanish force was approaching.

To stave off hunger, residents fished in the Ebro river at night.

After the French troops had fled on June 11, the city celebrated its victory and swore an oath to St. Barnabas, mandating a celebration every year.

One of the most endearing traditions of this celebration is the distribution of fish, bread and wine to the citizens of Logroño outside the city walls on the morning of June 11.  Since 1940, this has been the responsibility of the ‘Cofradía del Pez’ or Brotherhood of the Fish, an organization of 26 members (the sum of 6+11+1+5+2+1, the date of the lifting of the siege), who must have been born in Logroño, profess a love for the city and be elected by the  other members of the brotherhood.

This year, the brotherhood distributed 24,000 small trout, pieces of bread and wine, served in a small ceramic pitcher.

To ramp up the atmosphere, for the first time in 2009 the city fathers created a medieval festival in the old town, with paredes, a recreation of the French camp, mock battles and a bazaar, which added a lot to the festive spirit of the week.