How I Found Love and Calamari in Barcelona

Loving a boyfriend and a hidden hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Girona, Spain.

He said I sounded Mexican. Thank you? Not sure if that was a compliment or not. Actually, I took it as a compliment. Just means I knew enough Spanish to converse with him in the first place. Why I’ve internalized this moment from the very first date with my now-boyfriend, back then-Tinder rendezvous companion, I’ll never know.

We met back in Barcelona while I was on holiday. He told me he was an architect but had a deep, deep passion for food. I fancied myself a foodie. But him, he literally breathed it night and day. As if burrata coursed through his veins.

From Architect to Chef

He began as a complete noob in the kitchen, barely knowing how to hold a knife without shying literally a millimeter away from shaving off his own fingernails. Quite frankly, it was some scary shit. But he told me he had since explored, experimented, and come a long way. He started to establish a personality all his own in the kitchen. So much so, that he convinced himself to make a career out cooking. During our time together, we agreed that it was time to leave his ambitions of being an architect and actually pursue being a full time chef.

I found this drive to be super attractive. Not only did he have the guts to pursue his dream, but if his dream brought him in any direction closer to food, lord have mercy, I took it as a sign from to the gods to turn this man into my significant other.

And so it was. From that day forward the long-distance relationship began. He’d make trips to New York and me to Spain. He enrolled in culinary school and began formalizing his endeavors round-the-clock. From taking a side job in a vegan joint, to catering on the side, to being hired as a personal chef through word of mouth. He really took the whole cooking thing and ran with it.

Bigger still, he was able to expand his network and come to know other amazing chefs along the way. One in particular invited us to her small village north of Barcelona where she demanded we taste her cooking. She was over-the-top adamant, but truthfully, she didn’t need to do much convincing. The next time I was across the pond, we rented a 2005 Honda Civic and hit the Spanish highway to the medieval village of Girona for a flower festival.

Girona Flower Festival, Temps-de-Flors

Girona Flower Festival, Temps-de-Flors (Photo: www.ottsworld.com)

The drive: winding roads for as far as the eye can see. Beautiful scenery. All the gorgeous stereotypes are true about the Spanish countryside. But I was more excited to check out this woman’s restaurant.

We weaved our way in what seemed like a labyrinth of houses until we settled in a non-descript row of homes. No signage. No nothing. How would anyone would have known about this place?

Girona riverside

Girona riverside (Photo: wikipedia)

I could swear her family must have lived in this joint at some point. As we stepped inside and wiped the sweat off our brow, we chose the seat farthest away from the sunlight huddled near an unused fireplace. Summer was no joke here in this beach town. The establishment left much to be desired.

But then came the food.

We were first served simple slices of rustic bread, a tomato, and a bottle of herb-infused olive oil. I turned to my boyfriend with a confused ‘wtf-am-i-supposed-to-do’ kinda look. He schooled me by rubbing the tomato juices on the bread and drizzling it with the oil. So simple. But… so out of this world. This really set the tone for the entire meal. Simple. Rustic. Fresh.

From the fresh tomato salad, to the gigantic garlic shrimp, to the local grilled shrimp and calamari, nothing was over-the-top but the absolute best meal anyone could ask. Sure, no Michelin star or anything here, but really it wasn’t needed. Through each course, she came to our table and explained the meal as well as asked if we liked it. Was there anything we felt like in particular? Something with fish? I can whip something up for you. Something to cool you down? Got just the stuff. This level of care and attention is really what propelled the meal over the top for me. And in all honestly, made this meal one of the most memorable ones I had throughout all my travels in Spain.

Garlic shrimp (Photo: www.tripadvisor.co.za)

Not the actual shrimp.

From the heart.

Residents came far and wide for her family’s cooking. Not because they were celebrity chefs or anything. Rather, I think it was more because the food came from the heart. It was that she embodied the flavor of Girona, and people liked the idea of being able to eat at a friend’s house whenever they wanted.

I learned a valuable lesson about food that day, that I also incorporate into the cooking I do today. Since the end of our Spanish travels, my boyfriend ended up joining me here in New York to continue his culinary career. That being said, on occasion he comes home completely knackered leaving me to be the one to feed us. Admittedly, I am no chef. But I remind myself, if I cook with love as I’ve come to learn, then everything has to turn to delicious. Right?

Where to Go

Restaurant El Perelló
 Calle Perelló, 136, 17180 Perelló
 Province of Girona, Spain

You can find my boyfriend at ABC Kitchen in NYC, where he’s currently a line cook #MakingDreamsComeTrue.