The first day of my new life as Jordi Asin’s prep boy began with a tour of the pre-dawn Boqueria. Shhhhh… there are two Barcelonas. Version 1 is crazy busy, sometimes stinky, way too crowded with too many people from God knows where eating muy autentico“tapas” and “OK paella” washed down with Don Simon sangria (which is actually not all that bad… but save the washing up and just grab a straw and suck it right out the box), street pie mined and insanely noisy… When I am alcalde I will ban all “tuned” 2 cycle 50cc scooters and imprison the hormone-spewing teenage boys with vertical greased hairdos known in the trade and by every school kid including my daughter as “douches… or “dooshes” if you are from Jersey… who with their cackling chicas clinging to their popped collar polo shirt clad espaldas rev their puny model airplane engine-driven juguetes up and down Carretera de Sants from 10pm until 6am every damn noche de jueves i dissabtes. “Joder tio… ¡Cálla-friggin-te!”
The other Barcelona is darkly romantic, tranquil, mysterious, peaceful, bucolic, song bird infused and drenched with a half light that makes you want to buy a ukulele and sing the Israel Kamakawiwo`ole version of “What a Wonderful World”, and just a heck of a long way from 82nd Avenue. It is also only available from the hours of 5am to 7am… so get yo booty out of bed and enjoy it. I do… and did particularly on that chilly November morning. At slightly before six I had descended the stairs from Karen’s spectacular flat. Except for the panaderia opening up I had all of Carrer Hospital to myself. I head up the narrow and seemingly medieval Carrer de la Petxina… which is this really beautiful sort of secret passage entering the Boqueria which is neither as unceremonious nor as stinky as the backend or as horrifically touristy as the main entrance just off the Ramblas… which as mentioned previously at this time of day was neither of those things and was all mine. The Alcalde of the Raval was walking his beat, taking it all in and enjoy his city.
I made my way past the closed up paradas… “El Hogar del Pollo Quili”, “Menuts Javier”, “Tocineria Victor i Paquita”, “Fruites i Verdures Cal Neguit.” All was quiet now… their metal gates drawn while they finished their last moments of sleep before all hell broke loose. I rounded the bend to see that Jordi had just arrived and was beginning his morning rituals. We exchanged sleepy but warm bon dias and I hopped right in ready to do my best on my first day.
The thing about institutions like Pinotxo is that they really are living things that have a life of their own… and as such can, if need be, repel invading microbes like me. It’s best to take it a little slowly… to stand back and look and ask before you say… reprogram the cash register. I was intent on dodging Pinotxo’s immune system.
The early morning regulars were arriving and Jordi was preparing the first rounds of cafe con leches and cortados. Here’s a potentially interesting sidebar: Sorry Don Jordi Pujol but like many restaurants around the world the official behind the counter kitchen language of Pinotxo seems to be Castellano. No cafe amb llet or tallats for these sleepyhead fish sellers and delivery guys. At “o dark and early” it’s, “Look jefe save the Parla catala dot org stuff, I got 50 merluzas and 20 bags of snails to sling so I grunt and give me the joe, OK?”
After one of the members of the Pinotxo breakfast club showed me how to set up the long legged exterior tables “just so” I headed over to see if I could mess up anything in the kitchen.
Observing maritime and kitchen protocol I requested to come aboard the good ship Pinotxo. Let me state the obvious… the kitchen of Pinotxo is unbelievably tiny. It’s a submarine’s galley. It’s a tunnel, a small tube of culinary wonder. It’s dinky! It’s not like they just use the place for a final prep and a pass through the microwave… everything… and I mean everything…. 1000 meals a week… comes out of a space that is about the dimensions of a medium sized walk-in closet in Pedralbes.
Jordi asked me what I wanted to learn how to cook. I explained that I was here to help, to do menial labor… to be a galley slave. He acknowledged my commitment and then said we needed to whup up the first round of their famous garbanzos with morcilla. But first we needed the morcilla. Jordi asked me to run to a specific parada and bring back the required blood sausage.
Wow my first task. I felt like I was sixteen again and anxious about not messing up at my first job. Right! OK! Morcilla! Yes sir! You want morcilla? You will have morcilla. I flew out of the kitchen and followed Jordi’s directions to the letter. “To the left, two aisles over and one aisle down. The little cansaladeria on the end. Tell her you are from Pinotxo.” Within seconds I arrived at the little cansaladeria on the end. It was shut up as tight as can of anchovies de Cantabria. Joder…
Should I show initiative and do the eager beaver, knucklehead thing and find the morcillasomeplace else? “Hey look coach they didn’t have the morcilla but a got you a zucchiniinstead!” Nah I reported back sausageless.
“It’s not a problem”… I was beginning to get the feeling that not much is a problem to Jordi… I mean serving 1000 demanding diners a week from a chicken coop sized metal box filled with flames, 6 to 8 dancing butts connected to 6 to 8 distinct and complex personalities 6 days a week 11 months out of the year probably keeps things like temporarily missing morcilla in perspective.
Jordi moves me on to cap i pota (head and foot). First thing you need to know about cap i pota is it’s only cap and no pota. So what exactly is cap… Brains? no. Cheek? no. Tongue. no…. cap is… wait for it… pig face. Yes… that’s right. Cara de Porky Pig. I don’t know why the world erupts into utter fascination with the occasional facial transplant… at theboqueria there’s a couple of paradas with stacks of pig faces. Happy ones. Sad ones. Grumpy ones. Laughing ones. Luckily the one I was dealing with had been cut into unrecognizable chunks which I stirred around and around in a big pot.
While I was dealing with porky Jordi had snuck out and returned with the morcilla. Either the shop had just opened or I had been waiting in front of Esther and Montse’s Bacalao n’More and didn’t know it. In any event Jordi gently issued the instructions for thegarbanzos and I dove right in to my new chore. I took a couple morcillas, slit and removed their casings and then cut them into big chunks. Then I squirted some olive oil in a pan and added the morcilla and commenced to busting it up a wooden spoon. After awhile I added a whack of caramelized onions that someone had thoughtfully prepared before. When everything was nice and cooked through I emptied a tupperware containers worth of nice fat garbanzos into the pan, gave them gentle stir and placed the empty tupperware container on the metal counter next to the stove. Jordi came over to compliment me on kitchen prowess and to scrape the melted tupper off the grill cover.
A this point the real crew showed up and as their 6 to 8 butts began to fill up the walk-in closet I thought it might be a good time to end my first day. As hearty hand clasps were exchanged and backs were slapped I made a promise to come back for lunch to taste the fruits of our labor.
I returned that afternoon and ordered the garbanzos and steeled up my courage for the cap i pota. Jordi brought the garbanzos which were and always are delicious. As he took the empty plate he delivered the sad news that the cap i pota had been sold out. With an imperceptible smile he suggested callos (tripe) as a substitute. I looked him in the eye and said… “Bring it jefe. Bring it.”