La Cuina a Sils

The Culinary Memory of the Catalan Grandmothers of Sils.

By Real Academia de Gastronomía

Silvia Artaza

La Cuina a Sils

La Cuina a Sils is a group consisting almost entirely of women. It was founded in the early 1990s in the town of Sils, around 12 miles from the city of Girona.

The Origins of La Cuina a Sils (1997-08-08)Real Academia de Gastronomía

Back then, they could never have imagined how their work to preserve their culinary heritage would make its way all over the world. They have rubbed shoulders with Ferran Adrià, cooked up Catalan recipes in Rome, and fed government officials … and they have flourished, not just as cooks, but also as women.

La Cuina a Sils (2020-02-14)Real Academia de Gastronomía

The Legacy of the Yayas (Grandmothers)

Rescuing a region's gastronomical memory.

The Origins of La Cuina a Sils (1998-11-01)Real Academia de Gastronomía

At the heart of La Cuina a Sils are the grandmothers, known as yayas. It all came about at a party held to celebrate the town's grandmothers and grandfathers. Something special happened around the table: an encounter between the old women, who held memories, and someone who was inordinately curious about their lives.

The Origins of La Cuina a Sils (1995-12-12)Real Academia de Gastronomía

In the fall of 1992, around that table, they made a commitment to articulate the past so that it would always live on. Record it, research it, recover it, and value it. There was no time to lose.

La Cuina a Sils (2020-02-14)Real Academia de Gastronomía

Xicu Anoro, the Driving Force

At that time, Xicu (pronounced cheek-oo) was the head of culture in the local government of Sils, and also the person at the table with the yayas. Fascinated by all the memories held by these grandmothers, he invited three of them to a meeting, in the hope of capturing those thoughts. Thirty years later, he is still at the helm of the group day in, day out.

La Cuina a Sils (2020-02-14)Real Academia de Gastronomía

Xicu Anoro, La Cuina a Sils
00:00

This project has transformed his life; everything he is, and everything he has. It gave him an escape; a way to fulfill himself after life dealt him a cruel blow. And now he is one of the girls. A friend, a confidante, and a catalyst for the journeys of the women who have accompanied him in this venture.

The La Cuina a Sils group (2001-10-08)Real Academia de Gastronomía

María, Anita, and Isabel

These were the three women who answered Xicu's first call. The following week there were eight, and the week after that ten. Two months later there were nearly 20. They decided then that the group would only accept people over the age of 75, and who were resident in Sils. The second of these requirements is still in place today.

Culinary demonstration by the La Cuina a Sils group. (2007-07-18)Real Academia de Gastronomía

The Early Meetings

Recovering the emotion of the tastes of the past.

La Cuina a Sils (2020-02-14)Real Academia de Gastronomía

They learned a lot at those early meetings, for example that the popular asparagus tortilla was not actually eaten by Catalan peasant farmers. "Why not? Didn't they make tortillas? Or was there no asparagus?” Xicu enquired. They made tortillas, but with potato. And the reason was simple: anyone with chickens would sell the eggs, and they would only have a surplus between December and February, when the eggs were so small people wouldn't buy them. But at that time of year there was no asparagus to harvest.

La Cuina a Sils (2020-02-14)Real Academia de Gastronomía

They also discovered that the so-called bread of souls, or bread of the dead, was a loaf given to the relatives of the peasant farmers who carried the deceased's coffin from their house to the burial site. The bread symbolized the "essential value in a house."

La Cuina a Sils (2020-02-14)Real Academia de Gastronomía

From the First Book to the Recipe Collections

Putting gastronomical heritage down on paper is the best way to protect it.

La Cuina a Sils (2020-02-14)Real Academia de Gastronomía

After almost two years of meetings, they realized that what they had generated was priceless in terms of heritage. They were rediscovering the past, recovering the historical memory of a region through its cuisine. That was when they decided to write a book.

La Cuina a Sils (2020-02-14)Real Academia de Gastronomía

It is not a recipe book, but rather a history book. A retrospective of pure DNA, reflecting local cuisine, customs, and culture. And so, in 1994, La Cuina a Sils was released. This would be the first of 17 titles published throughout their 30-year journey.

The La Cuina a Sils group (2001-10-11)Real Academia de Gastronomía

They knew that they did not want to create a recipe book, but they realized early on that people were looking for a way to be able to cook that memory in their own homes. So it was all hands on deck. At that time, there were already more than 60 women in the group, so they had to organize themselves.

La Cuina a Sils (2020-02-14)Real Academia de Gastronomía

They divided into groups, and among themselves decided which dishes to include, without specifying who each chosen recipe corresponded to. From that moment on, their library continued to grow: Les Nostres Receptes de Cuina (Our Cookery Recipes, 1997), Primer Quadern de Cuina (First Cookery Notebook, 1999), Segon Quadern de Cuina (Second Cookery Notebook, 2000), Recull de Receptes de Vedella (Collection of Beef Recipes, 2001)…

La Cuina a Sils (2020-02-14)Real Academia de Gastronomía

Les Cuineres de Sils (The Cooks of Sils) in 2002 was a huge success, and represented an important shift; it was no longer about the memories of the yayas, but the work of those known today as the cooks of Sils. In 2016, they published a book of dishes made from leftovers, and then in 2017, their most renowned release: La Cuina dels Flavonoides (Cooking with Flavonoids). The book included recipes for the head, the heart, and erectile dysfunction.

La Cuina a Sils (2020-02-14)Real Academia de Gastronomía

From Cookery Demonstrations to Cooking at the Ritz

The now-famous yayas rubbing shoulders with Ferran Adrià himself

La Cuina a Sils (2020-02-14)Real Academia de Gastronomía

They organized a neighborhood dinner to take some photographs for the first book, and served one of the stews they wanted to include in the collection. It was so successful the tradition has continued, and the dinner has been held every second Saturday in July since 1994.

La Cuina a Sils (2020-02-14)Real Academia de Gastronomía

Every cook that attends prepares a traditional recipe of their choice—enough to feed six people—and every guest brings two tortillas or a cake. The casseroles are all different, and are served at random so nobody knows what they will be eating until the last minute.

La Cuina a Sils (2020-02-14)Real Academia de Gastronomía

They began to believe in themselves as good cooks, and so decided to go one step further, organizing their own cookery demonstrations so that their traditional recipes could reach more restaurateurs, gastronomes, and others interested in food. Starting in 1998, they held five consecutive annual demonstrations. It was the definitive proof they needed that the recovered recipes, and what they cooked in their own homes, was something they could export around the world.

La Cuina a Sils at The Ritz (2002-10-29)Real Academia de Gastronomía

In October 2002, under the subtitle The Prestige of the Tradition, the first gastronomical conferences were held at the Ritz (the present-day Palace) in Barcelona. These events continued, and were used to showcase the group's cookery beyond their region. From there to Madrid, where they would regularly cook in the Hotel Villa de la Reina.

La Cuina a Sils at the Barça and Gastronomy Supporters' Group (Penya Gastronòmica Barça) presentation (2014-11-18)Real Academia de Gastronomía

They have participated the Firatast food festival in Girona, the Universal Forum of Cultures in Barcelona, the Catalan Pottery Market Fair in Quart, the Cava festival in Blanes, and the gastronomical rice conferences in Pals … just to name a few. And beyond. They prepared the inauguration dinner for Casa Artusi, Italy's most important gastronomical center for traditional cookery, in Forlimpopoli. They participated in the Slow Food event in Turin, where the thousand best cooks in the world came together, and where they had the opportunity to spend time with renowned chefs Ferran Adrià and Carme Ruscalleda.

La Cuina a Sils (2020-02-14)Real Academia de Gastronomía

La Cuina a Sils, Then and Now

A love for cookery has united a group of women who are keeping a legacy alive.

La Cuina a Sils (2020-02-14)Real Academia de Gastronomía

What began as a series of meetings, hoping to recover and record the memory of the grandmothers of Sils, ended up becoming something much bigger and more important. This group has promoted traditional cuisine, supported people and products, and has taken their culinary culture further than they could ever have imagined back in 1992. They have cried, laughed, flourished, and shared unique experiences. All thanks to cookery.

Text: Silvia Artaza
Image: David de Luis

This exhibition is part of the Spanish gastronomy project, España: Cocina Abierta (Spain: Open Kitchen), coordinated by Google Arts & Culture and Spain's Royal Academy of Gastronomy (Real Academia de la Gastronomía). The section on culinary legacy was coordinated by María Llamas, director of the Alambique cookery store and school.

Credits: Story

Text: Silvia Artaza
Image: David de Luis

This exhibition is part of the Spanish gastronomy project, España: Cocina Abierta (Spain: Open Kitchen), coordinated by Google Arts & Culture and Spain's Royal Academy of Gastronomy (Real Academia de la Gastronomía). The section on culinary legacy was coordinated by María Llamas, director of the Alambique cookery store and school.

Acknowledgements

Lourdes Plana Bellido, president of the Royal Academy of Gastronomy; Elena Rodríguez, director of the Royal Academy of Gastronomy and Carmen Simón, academic of the Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

www.realacademiadegastronomia.com
www.alambique.com


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