Our group clustered around Chef Xavier Arrey in the busy market, intent on learning as much as possible about the fresh local ingredients available in the Catalonia region of Spain. Through our headsets, he spoke to each of us in the language we understood – to me in Spanish, to another in Catalan, a third in Italian, and a fourth in French – switching so effortlessly between languages that he made my head spin. At one vendor he picked up a fresh fig and peeled it open, revealing the delicate rosy fruit within, explaining that it would make a delicious appetizer when paired with slices of homemade goat cheese. From the butcher he selected blood sausage to be fried up with Faisol beans, then stepped across the aisle and picked up a plastic container of roasted red peppers and onions. He tore off the lid, closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. “Fantastic,” he pronounced. Shoving the container beneath each of our noses in turn he commanded, “Breathe!”
Chef Arrey took one woman by the hand and led her to a kiosk where spices were heaped in glass bowls. We sniffed redolent paprika and cumin and sampled exotic dried fruits while he selected the perfect spices for the cooking class that would follow. I felt heat rise to my cheeks as Chef draped his arm around my shoulders and led us to the seafood stall, where he waxed poetic over tripe then plopped a crayfish in his palm, explaining that the freshest have clear eyes. After selecting jumbo shrimp and Red Mullet, he turned his attention to the Bonito, selecting a large one from the case. “Ah, bellisimo!” he cried, raising the fish to his lips and planting a kiss on its mouth.
Whether greeting students with double kisses on cheeks or smooching fish, Chef Xavi is clearly a passionate man and I was not immune to his charms. Like a love-struck puppy, I followed him to the second floor kitchen that overlooks the market, where I eagerly filleted fish, chopped octopus, and sliced figs and cheese, despite the fact that I am no cook. Chef flitted among us, assigning tasks, correcting techniques, praising our efforts. His infectious grin and an occasional pat on my arm was enough to keep me begging for the next task. When the appetizers were completed, we turned our attention to the main dishes. Sauteed vegetables sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds sauteed in one pan, while fresh asparagus with soya, lime zest, and lime juice simmered in another. Chunks of octopus were added to a pan of golden fried potatoes and drizzled with a red pepper-infused olive oil. At a second stovetop, three of our group labored over vegetable paella, prepared with locally-grown artisan rice.
As all the dishes neared completion it occurred to me that none of the recipes had been overly complicated. I am not the world’s worst cook, but I struggle; everything I make tends to be either overcooked or over-spiced. That afternoon I realized two secrets to being a good cook: first, do all the prep work ahead of time so that your attention is not diverted during the actual cooking of the food and second, keep it simple. Too many flavors spoil the dish.
Can’t view the above slideshow of my cooking class in Girona, Spain? Click here.
Miraculously, everything came together at precisely the same moment. We toasted our chef and eagerly dug into the feast. I gobbled down one entire plate of the fig appetizers and then set my sights on the vegetables and paella. Shopping and cooking had taken four hours, but the eating part was done in twenty minutes. Xavi stood on the sidelines, beaming as we demolished his morning’s work and lavishly praised his creations.
I would gladly have stayed the rest of the day; I even offered to wash the dishes but of course, I was not allowed. There was nothing more to do but say my goodbyes. Chef Xavi took my face in both his hands and thanked me profusely for coming. I looked into his sparkling black eyes and melted. As I floated down the stairs I realized we had prepared and eaten everything purchased that morning with the exception of the big silver bonito. Somehow, that was fitting. I will always remember Xavier Arrey as the chef who kisses fish. If only I could be a fish for a day.
My market tour and cooking class was hosted by Costa Brava Pirineu de Girona (Costa Brava Girona Tourism Board) and presented by Chef Xavier Arrey and General Manager Jordi Mias Morell of Hotel Carlemany in Girona. However, the receipt and acceptance of complimentary items or services will never influence the content, topics, or posts in this blog. I write the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If you are planning a trip to the Catalonia Region of Spain and would like to attend a cooking class, contact Costa Brava Pirineu de Girona, Av. Sant Francesc, 19, 4t, Girona, 17001, Spain, Phone: 972 208 401 (country code +34), Website contact form.
23 thoughts on “The Chef Who Kisses Fish”
Thank you so much for sharing! We are headed to Ginora in April and would love to take a cooking class (we are struggling to find one online), can you point us in the direction for this one? Thanks!
Hi Barbara! Just discovered your blog today, truly inspiring! Sylvia, Barcelona
Thank you, Sylvia! Glad to have you aboard.
That market looks amazing. I’m a food lover, and would cherish a chance to check out a place like that. there’s nothing like it in my hometown unfortunately.
Great picture and post. Everything looks good. He definitely enjoys his job!
Wow what a guy! He lives, breathes, feels and obviously eats Cuisine! I would love to meet him! I have just been on a spectacular trip through South America and tried my hand at some great Spanish and Cuisine classes in Peru and Argentina. I especially loved the visits to the beautiful local markets, so colorful and vibrant!
What great experience! I’m determined to book some cooking classes next time I go travelling and it seems like such a great way to learn more about the culture of a place. One of my favourite things about travelling is trying new foods, although I’m not sure I’ll be kissing fish anytime soon!
I recently wrote a blog post about the weirdest souvenirs I’ve come across on my travels and a few of them were local foods and drink. What other people consider normal can sometimes seem very strange!
Hi Gavin: As I said in the post, I’m certainly no cook, but even I enjoy the cooking classes because they’re such a window into other cultures. I’m sure you’d enjoy the experience.
It’s always a joy when you can experience that moment of true ice breaking between people. Sounds like the fish kiss did just that! And I’m not surprised at all the feast was gobbled up in 20 min flat!!
Ah, Lauren – our chef was such a charmer, and the fish kiss was the icing on the cake.
The vegetarian Paella sounds interesting.Here we only have seafood paella.I’m excited to taste it.I like the fish.Big and delicious.
Hi Jason: Though I prefer to be pure vegetarian, there are times when I will sample a bit of seafood (in some places in the world, I’d starve otherwise), so I have actually tasted seafood paella. It’s actually better than the vegetarian version, in my opinion.There’s just something about paella that screams for some kind of meat.
Like you I’m rather jealous of that fish! It all looks mouthwatering
The food was incredible, Heather, but the passion and charm of Chef Xavi is what really made the day!
that picture with the fish is hilarious!
I know, Jen! I was so lucky to capture the precise moment when he kissed in in a photo!
Sounds mouthwatering. I love the idea of including the buying of the fish in the market as part of the whole cooking experience.
Hi Mark: It was very cool to follow Chef Arrey around the market, especially when he taught us about all the artisan products that are grown in Catalonia. This area of the world is a gem for vegetarians and organic buffs; I can’t figure out why they don’t promote this aspect more.
I am amazed about Chef Xavier Arrey, he knows so many languages and as per your post He switched between different languages within moments for having better communication with you all–This made me think for a while. By the way , his kissing to Fish shows his passion for the delicious delicacy of Fish!
Hi Susan: I speak English and Spanish, and have a smattering of words (the “traveler’s vocabulary) in other countries where I travel regularly, but I am constantly in awe of Europeans, who seem to come out of the womb multi-lingual.
I just discovered your blog tonight. After reading your “About Me” page, I already knew I was hooked. Your story is an incredible source of inspiration for me. I just began a challenge for myself to do 100 different things out of my routine and comfort zone over the course of the next year. What you’re doing takes that to a whole new level. I look forward to reading some of your previous posts and will look forward to your upcoming posts. I’m so glad you’re sharing this adventure with the rest of the world. Amazing.
Hi Erin in Canada! Thanks so much for your comment. It did take a bit of courage and a huge leap of faith to leave everything behind and set off on this new journey, but it was the best thing I ever did. I think it would be a much better world if we all did things we loved, rather than chasing money. o many other things are much more important. Welcome aboard and hope you enjoy the journey with me!