Whether it was picking saffron or chopping wood to make a proper wood-fired paella - a group of Taylor’s culinary arts students did it all as part of an authentic culinary arts experience tour to Spain.
Explaining why he organised this culinary tour to Spain, Chef Khairul explains, “There is only so much I can teach our culinary students in the classroom and in our teaching labs – so I want them to get out there to experience it”. Chef Khairul is a lecturer in the School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts at Taylor’s University and he is a passionate hands-on culinary arts educator. “Last semester our trip was to Milan in Italy, and this semester I wanted to concentrate on a cuisine and country that is not so well known in Asia - but one that is also a true ‘giant’ in terms of European culinary circles”. Spain exports more wine that either Italy or France, and at one point elBulli was the single most famous restaurant on the planet. The theme set for this 10-day trip was “Taste of Spain” and it just focused on northeast and southern regions of Spain. The trip kicked-off in Barcelona with one of the most modern indoor gastronomic tours in the world, the Jamon Experience.
The students learned through an interactive tour the process of production, origins and types of one of the most famous hams in the world, Jamon Iberico. The tour included 4D audiovisual tour, hands on carving techniques and tastings of 12 hams taught by professional carvers paired with cava, beer or wine. The students also visited one of the world’s most famous and oldest (450 years) producers of sparkling wine, Codorniu Cava. Here the students were able to see their underground cellars which are the largest in the world - covering over 25klm of tunnels spread over four levels.
Next stop was the Valencia Region, where the students were able to explore the culturally rich town of Valencia. Here they had the opportunity to also visit one of the most famous architectural structures in the world “Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias” (City of the Arts and Sciences) considered one of the 12 wonders of Spain. As Chef Khairul commented “The main purpose of visiting Valencia was to experience and participate in a real wood fire Paella making class. Paella which is a saffron rice based dish similar to risotto. It is considered Spain’s national dish and it is easily available throughout Spain. But we believe that to truly experience and understand a particular dish, you must visit the origins of that particular dish”. The cooking class was delivered by the region’s award winning Paella chef, “Pablo”. He and his family have won the coveted best Paella in Spain competition for the past 10-years. They hosted the Taylor’s culinary arts students at their beachside villa where the students got hands-on experience making a classic giant Paella Valenciana.
From harvesting the fresh vegetables in the garden, to prepping the meats to even chopping the orange wood for the fire, “the students had a really authentic experience engaging in an educational cooking-class with one of Spain’s best Paella chefs” said Chef Khairul. One of the students, Nur Diana Farisya adding, “I learned that not all Paella’s are the same. Here it’s a way of life as it brings the community together by instilling a sense of togetherness amongst friends and family. I had the chance to see, make and taste a truly authentic version of the famous Paella Valenciana. I gained so many insights into how different the REAL paella was compared to what is available to us in Malaysia”.
The culinary trip then headed inland to central Spain to Castilla La Mancha region which is known to be the Saffron capital of the world. The saffron of La Mancha is considered to be one of the best in the world, and is often referred to as “red gold” because of its value. The saffron flower is considered to be the most expensive spice in the world – and just 1 gram of dried saffron to the public requires picking 150 flowers (locally referred to as “saffron roses”) and would typically cost at least US$16-25 to buy. As one of the students Kim Leun Chen said “It was interesting to learn and experience the process of how some of the finest ingredients in the world are produced and how it reaches our tables. In the case of saffron were we had the extremely rare opportunity of harvesting the flower all the way to packaging an even learning the worldwide export supply chain”. Summing up the trip, another of the students, Jacqueline Phang Pei Yu said, “We are always seek to learn something new on a culinary trip - from finding out about the ingredients and to gaining new knowledge about style of cooking. I got all of that during this Spanish trip” adding that, “we also experienced the cultural side of Spain from exploring famously beautiful Spanish architecture in Barcelona & Valencia, having late night Tapas with the locals to even experiencing Flamenco, a traditional Andalusian dance”. To read about other Taylor’s University study tours to locations such as Italy click here, or to Australia click here. To find out more about the School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts at Taylor’s University click here.