A year ago, we brought you an extraordinary article from the website Fine Dining Lovers, a website which, as can easily be seen in the name, is dedicated to the world of cuisine and which has an enormous global reach, with a huge number of readers in the US, Canada, and India.  In a Kaja Sajovic article on Basque cuisine and Basque chefs, we said that this article needed to be remembered, as it is one of the best at explaining what they do and why they do it.  Their gastronomy, their cuisine, Basque cuisine, is the one of our homeland, the one that was born here.

This week, this same website has just published another article, this time by Rafael Tonon, which has reached similar heights at the top of our ranking.  He explains how Basque cuisine is being positioned as a key element in the creation of the image of our nation.  He tells us how some people and institutions are trying to turn our country into “The Culinary Nation“.

It takes but a quick glance to reveal how many articles we’ve collected under the “Basque gastronomy” and to understand that one of our strengths as a country on the international stage is our cuisine.

It’s clear that we Basques are good at a few things, from machine tools to making surfboards.  We’re even good at reinventing ourselves, rising from the ashes of the pits of the post-industrial depression that threatened to finish us off.  We’ve been reborn, we’ve rebuilt, and we’ve repositioned ourselves into becoming one of the most advanced Euro-regions.

But every community needs something that defines it, elements that make it stand out, where it can be a role model.

As the article recalls, for a long time, we’ve been known in the world for terrorism, violence, and car bombs.  It’s an image that some centers of power have even encouraged, fanning the flames with glee.

But something changed in the mid-1990s.  The image that some had of our country began to change.  When you went out into the world and told people where you were from, you didn’t only find yourself being asked questions about terrorism.  The questions began to be about the Guggenheim Bilbao, or the way the metropolitan area of Bilbao began to transform, or the wineries in Alava, or that cozy resort town called San Sebastian that was overflowing with Michelin stars.  Indeed, the focus of interest had begun to change, and that was thanks exclusively to the Basques themselves.  We were building our own “national image”, in step with the Basques north of the Pyrenees and with Hemingway’s Pamplona.  A positive image of our own making.

But, like any community, we must find an element that allows us to stand out, that we can make our own, that can define us and speak for us, that projects our image.  It has to be powerful, attractive, evocative.  It has to transmit the most positive values possible.

And that’s what this article we’re bringing you today discusses: the effort of a group of visionaries to make that image of our best cuisine, which is so popular among the elite, to be tied to the Basques.  The article tells us of those bold people who want us Basques to be the bearers of “The Culinary Nation” brand.

For years now, thousands and thousands of visitors have flocked to our country with the main goal of discovering our cuisine, an honest-to-goodness ever-greater pilgrimage that could be cut off only by covid-19.   And if we can preserve our essence and everything that made us attractive, if we can avoid the pitfalls of becoming a theme park where visitors can find nothing of who we are, if we don’t disappoint, that pilgrimage will come back and grow even stronger.

We’re sure that some will think we could never take the “title” from France.  But it might already be happening.  And really, it’s something we’ve already done.  We’ve managed to “steal” the Guggenheim brand from New York.  Thirty years ago, the word “Guggenheim” brought up images of the Big Apple.  Now, people think of Bilbao.

We have everything we need: a culture and a cuisine that are extraordinarily popular; haute cuisine that can compete on the world stage; high-quality home-grown products; local producers who take great care in production; culinary training centers that are becoming world leaders, and will: the last point has been proven with the Basque Culinary Center and the Basque Culinary World Prize.

We must be bold and decisive.  We must be because otherwise, someone will pass us by.  And if that happens, we can kiss The Culinary Nation goodbye.  But we must insist: that Culinary Nation goes from the Adour to the Ebro, and from Pozalagua to the Mount of the Three Kings.

We can try for it.  And we may not get it as hard as we may try.  But we we cannot, and must not, do is not try.  We got it in the bag!

Fine Dining Lovers – 30/11/2020 – USA

The Basque Country: the Building of a Culinary Nation

In 2007, Eusko Ikaskuntza, a centre for the study of Basque culture, published the result of a census aiming to understand the cultural values that best represented the Basque Country. During 2005 and 2006, researchers asked inhabitants of the autonomous community in northern Spain which characteristics best defined local identity. The language (Euskera), of course, stood out in first place in the responses collected. But what surprised the researchers was the fact that gastronomy was one of the most cited aspects in the 22 discussion groups they organised.

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