José Andrés on the Road Slideshow
July 26, 2013
Andrés begins his pilgrimage in Astorga, about 185 miles northwest of Madrid in the province of León. "One day the cecina of Léon will be as famous as Ibérico ham," he tweets. "Especially that of José Gordon." (Cecina de León is sort of like ham made from beef, in this case the hind legs, salted, smoked, and air-cured. Gordon is the chef–owner of Bodega Asador El Capricho in the town of Jimenez de Jamuz, about 20 miles from Astorga, a restaurant famous for its beef dishes.) Andrés earns the first stamp in his passport at the Hotel Casa de Tepa in Astorga. He also encounters excellent bread at a shop called Cuatro Caminos, and notes that today is the 10th anniversary of his cutting-edge minibar restaurant back home in Washington, D.C.
At El Mesón el Acebo, Andrés enjoys a meal of botillo de Bierzo. The establishment is a restaurant and an inn for pilgrims in Ponferrada; botillo is a local specialty of spiced meats packed into a pig's intestine and lightly smoked — Spanish haggis, if you will — cooked with chickpeas, cabbage, and potatoes.
The day also brings him a taste of good Bierzo wine, Dominio de Tares Bem bi Bre, made from old-vine mencia grapes; the branch of a cherry tree, hung with ripe fruit, given to him by a farmer along the way; a swim in the Rio Meruelo; and a plate of "Best Green Peppers in the world! Padrón peppers, worth it to travel only to eat them! at Casa Ramón in Molinaseca!"
Forget walking: Today, Andrés runs 16 miles in his Nikes. Then he sticks his feet in cold river water; passes a sculptural monument to the botillo; encounters El Roble del Peregrino, the Pilgrim's Oak, "As many branches as possibilities we have in life;" and has an "amazing meal" at Casa Ramón.
En route to Pedrafita O Cebreiro, where the Way of St. James enters Galicia, Andrés starts the day with some breakfast confections, "chestnut bizocho and madeleines." Passing through the heart of the Bierzo wine country, he stops at the Bodegas Descendientes de Palacios winery, and notes "Nunca había llegado antes a una bodega como Peregrino!" — Never before have I come to a winery as a pilgrim! At Palacios, he has a Swiss chard and pork empanada (the Galician empanada is like a large, flat, double-crusted tart with a glazed top, served in slices, not the familiar turnover of South America and other parts of Spain) and samples the winery's La Faraona 2012, a dazzlingly pricey mencia that retails for upward of $600 a bottle. Also on Andrés's wine list today, Sketch, from winemaker Raul Perez, "an albariño made by Raúl Pérez, 100% Albariño that is kept under the sea...." (in fact, Perez ages the wine submerged in the Aurosa estuary). That night "amazing dinner" at La Pedrera in Villafranca del Bierzo.
Andrés finds a Tom Petty verse written on a wall, "Life is like a road you travel on...." In the town of La Laguna, restaurant unspecified, he has "the Food of the pilgrims! tuna empanada." Also a potato omelette, a soup of chard and white beans, "farm chicken with chestnuts," and more peppers (pimientos de Padrón). He drinks "another great Bierzo wine," this one from Bodegas Adriá, and a Pardoxin Dulce, a sweet godello, from Prada a Tope. "Love This Sweet Wine!" he enthuses. Then he smokes a Cohiba, noting "WITH a Good Cigar St. James way = easy."
"What greater pleasure," Andrés asks (in Spanish) "than to drink 2001 Las Lamas with Ricardo Pérez Palacios in Villafranca del Bierzo?" He enjoys wild strawberries, and posts a photo captioned "Dispensing machine in rural Galicia!" It's of seven small cartons, on a glass table, of what appear to be red currants, with a little slotted box for payment.
Passing a chicken perched on a piece of plastic pipe on the side of the road, Andrés tweets "I'm hungry!" He finds "Great breads! Great tasting!" — and posts a photo of five delicious-looking rustic loaves in different shapes on what may be a bakery counter. He has "Great beer!" (Estrella Galicia) and eats a plate of fried eel and chips.
Andrés gets off to a philosophical start, posting a moody picture of a tree silhouetted against a blue-gray sky and asking, "Who we want to be: a tree alone in the world or a forest to help it?" Then back to the palate: "PEOPLE OF The World!" he tweets. "Drink Albariño Galician Wine This week to celebrate my #CaminoDeSantiago." He eats another potato omelette (tortilla de patatas) alongside still more pimientos de Padrón at A Nosa Terra in Palas do Rei. "There is not a better partnership anywhere!" he exclaims.
Outside Palas do Rei, Andrés has an "Amazing meal at Parada das Bestas, awesome rural hotel, and great people!" He visits a crowded fish shop, and anticipates his arrival, two hours hence, in Melide "Pulpo [octopus] capital of the world!". Somewhere he encounters a big, beautiful hunk of beef from a Galician cow ("Look at the color…Was exquisite…deep flavor, grass and flowers." He passes a 120-year-old watermill, then finds himself "at Casa Somoza [Casa de Los Somoza, a rural inn in Melide] eating some great Galician Mussels and Godello grape from Valdeorras!" Also somehow fits in "Amazing tortilla!" at Casa Domingo (another rural inn) and an octopus dinner at Pulperia Ezequiel in Melide, finishing with melindres de Melide (honey cakes) in white wine.
Breakfast is a tuna empanada at Mesón Ribadiso, an albergue in the town of the same name. A bowl of lentil soup is also involved at some point, as are eggs with chorizo and an albariño of the house.
With only 30 kilometers (about 18 miles) to go — on, appropriately enough, the Feast of St. James — Andrés enjoys a cheese omelette (French-style, not the frittata-like Spanish kind) in Arzúa. Then word comes of a tragic train derailment, killing more than 75 people, about two miles from the station at Santiago de Compostela. This sobering news obviously dampens spirits along the Way of St. James as elsewhere. "Today in Raining in Galicia," tweets Andrés. "Not even 'Heaven' can contain the tears."
Andrés arrives in Santiago de Compostela, at the end of his journey. He posts a close-up shot of "Best Tortilla Española" of his walk, at the aforementioned Casa Domingo; apparently he posts it because he's still dreaming of it, not because he has backtracked, since two hours later he puts up a Vine video of beautiful looking grilled fish over glowing embers at Tira do Cordel, a parrillada, or grill restaurant, on the beach at Finisterre, 35 miles of so west of Santiago. (We can presume that he made this journey by car.) His arrival at the Cathedral of St. James should be cause for celebration, but the spectre of the train tragedy persists, and Andrés tweets (in Spanish), "Joy contained. Infinite Sadness."