Beyond science – a marvelous journey of REFLOW cooking “research”
In the first half of October this year, we had a two-week REFLOW training course and workshop, which was in Vic, Spain, hosted by the BETA center, UVic. The BETA center is short for the Technological Centre in Biodiversity, Ecology and Environmental and Food Technology, which is affiliated with the Universitat de Vic-Universitat Central de Catalunya (UVic-UCC), giving a definitive boost to the research activity in the field of environmental technologies. Our colleagues there were excellent and organized everything perfectly for us. Therefore we had a very fruitful and wonderful stay there.
The conference venue of our REFLOW training course and workshop at the BETA, UVic.
The city of Vic is a very historical and peaceful town in Catalonia, which is the capital of the Catalan comarca of Osona in the province of Barcelona. I heard from our colleagues that the original Roman name of Vic was Ausa , as evidenced by the Roman and Iberian coins that they have there. And in Visigothic times it was called Ausona. After the destruction of the city by the Saracens, the reconstruction was done by one of the suburbs of Ausona (Vicus Ausonensis), which then gave its name to the new city.
In Vic we had a lot of interesting scientific lectures presented by our colleagues in the BETA. However, besides those lectures, our Uvic colleagues also organized a cooking workshop in Barcelona (the city), which was a very good chance for our ESRs, not only to enjoy the brilliant Spanish food, but also to improve our cooperation and teamwork abilities within the REFLOW network.
The cooking workshop was at Cookiteca in Barcelona on Tuesday afternoon, 12th of October. The Cookiteca is a cooking experience place insisting on the importance of a healthy and balanced diet and encouraging people’s teamwork and technical skills in the kitchen. As for gastronomy professionals, they believe that good food education is essential for the correct physical and mental development of people. The workshop consisted of 15 minutes of theory explanations including the food pyramid, different cooking techniques, rules and protocols, and around 2 hours of our own activities with the guidance of the main chef. When we arrived at the workshop, we saw a very large kitchen with many benches for us to cook. It was a very clean and cozy place, and the chef also emphasized that he always tried to keep the kitchen clean. I totally agree with that code of conduct as it is similar to our research area – we will always keep our lab bench clean otherwise contaminants will influence the accuracy of results.
On that day we cooked several different dishes, including Seafood Paella, Vegetable Paella, Pa Amb Tomàquet (Catalan Tomato Rubbed Bread), Tortilla de patatas (Spanish potato omelet), and Catalan custard cream. I did not cook any Spanish food before so that experience was really fancy for me.
At the beginning, we started to cook seafood Paella and vegetable Paella with the instructions from the chef.
Firstly we cleaned and prepared all of the seafood, including removing the beard and scrubbing all of the mussels, removing the legs from the shrimp, cutting the cuttlefish into 2-3 cm pieces, reserving the cuttlefish liver, and frying the shrimps. After preparing all the seafood, we salted them with olive oil. This way the oil would take the taste of the shrimps and then we started with the onions. We cut the onion into little squares and put them on the fried oil with medium fire, and then cut the peppers into squares and added to the onion after 10 minutes. Meanwhile, we cut the artichokes and the beans and added them to the pan too. When the onions turned soft and transparent, we added chopped tomatoes. It was cooked together with the onion for about 5 minutes. And then the chef gave us a special sauce called “sofrito” in Spanish and that was the base sauce of the Paella. During the frying, we carefully added more oil as it would make the Paella have a lovely flavor. After that step, we added the cuttlefish and cooked it for 10 more minutes in the” sofrito” sauce. And then, we added 1 or 2 tablespoons of the cuttlefish liver and the Spanish paprika and cooked for 2 more minutes. Meanwhile, we put the rice into the sauce and stirred it constantly so it would not burn and stick to the bottom of the pan, about 2 minutes total. After that, we added the broth covering the rice and stirred to distribute the rice in the pan. When it began to boil, we lowered the heat to medium-high, and left it to cook for about 18-20 minutes. After 5-6 minutes of boiling, we added the mussels and claims into the rice to cook them. Finally, when the rice was well cooked and the broth had been reduced, we turned off the heat, added the shrimps, and covered it with a cloth, leaving it to rest for about 2-5 minutes. The vegetable Paella was cooked similar to the Seafood, the only difference was to replace all the seafood with vegetables.
The seafood Paella and Vegetable Paella we cooked.
When we were cooking the Seafood Paella and Vegetable Paella, we were simultaneously cooking the Tortilla de patatas. At first, we cut the peeled potatoes into little squares, peeled and chopped the onions into little pieces, and put potatoes and onions into a bowl and mixed them together, then we salted the mixture. In a large, heavy, non-stick frying pan, we heated the olive oil on medium-high heat and dropped a single piece of potato into the oil to ensure it was hot enough to fry. After that, we carefully started cooking the onion in one pan and the potato in another. When the onions were nearly cooked, we transferred them together with the potatoes and waited until all were well cooked. While the mixture was draining, we cracked the eggs into a large mixing bowl, whisked them with a fork, poured them into the potato-onion mixture, and mixed them together with a large spoon.
We were working together on cooking.
Meanwhile, we poured 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil into a small, non-stick frying pan and heated it on medium heat. When it was hot, we stirred the potato-onion mixture once more and poured it into the pan, and spread it out evenly. After that, we made the egg to cook around the edges, and carefully lifted up one side of the omelet to check if the egg was slightly “browned”. The inside of the mixture should not be completely cooked and the egg would still be runny. When the mixture had been browned on the bottom, we turned it over to cook the other side. When it was ready, we carefully took the frying pan to a sink and placed a large dinner plate upside down over the frying pan. With one hand on the frying panhandle and the other on top of the plate to hold it steady, we quickly turned the frying pan over and the omelet was “fallen” onto the plate. Then we placed the frying pan back on the range and put just enough oil to cover the bottom and sides of the pan – approximately 1.5 teaspoons. After warming the pan for 30 seconds, we slid the omelet into the frying pan, using a spatula to catch any egg mixture that ran out. Following this we used the spatula to shape the sides of the omelet, and left the omelet to cook for 3-4 minutes. Finally, we turned the heat off and left the tortilla to sit in the pan for 2 minutes before serving. As I didn’t take part in cooking the Pa Amb Tomàquet and Catalan custard cream, I didn’t know how to cook them, but I had to say when we sat down and ate together, they tasted awesome as well.
Overall, the cooking workshop was a brilliant experience for me. It was like our “research”, following the “Materials and Methods” (cooking protocols) to finish the “experiment” (cooking), the great food was our “results”, and we sat together to enjoy the food we cooked was our “discussion” part. And of course, cooking was also the same as research, we had a lot of collaborations with our colleagues (all the ESRs). And our conclusion was from the cooking workshop our teamwork abilities improved and we were all eager to have another collaborative work very soon.
A great experience for all of us! 🙂