Courier Staff Writer
A renowned Spanish chef has absorbed southeast Iowa’s culture over the past couple of weeks while infusing Spain into lessons in the Indian Hills culinary arts department.
Fátima Pérez Andrés, owner of Restaurante Fátima in Valladolid, Spain (capital of the region Castilla y León), made her first trip to Iowa a couple weeks ago.
“[Iowa is] a land rich in intentions with a lot of potential for growth,” she said through translation by IHCC Chef Gordon Rader. “The friendliness of the people is beyond compare, but the world of gastronomy has a long way to go.”
Pérez Andrés especially noticed the high concentration of fast-food restaurants in America, which sometimes seem to outnumber local or homegrown restaurants with their flashing signs and cheap deals.
But that’s one of the reasons the culinary arts department brings in chefs from around the world, Rader said, to see the polar differences in gastronomic trends.
“I’ve learned a lot, observing and realizing that food is a reflection of life,” Pérez Andrés said.
These relationships with international chefs open new doors for Rader’s students.
“It’s so important to have her here,” he said. “We’re starting her out slow this time because we’ll be bringing her back again. Our relationship with Spain is very important in terms of internships and new ideas.”
Pérez Andrés is one of Spain’s top mycologists, Rader said, which is the study of mushrooms.
And she has a lot to study. Castilla y León contains around 12,000 different varieties of mushrooms, though not all of them are edible.
For the past two weeks, Pérez Andrés has participated in conferences and lectures on mushrooms and the different types of cultivation and gathering. She has also judged the students’ cooking competitions and gives them advice on how to tweak their recipes.
She has also noticed similarities between southeast Iowa and her region of Spain in the land and farming practices, “though Spain doesn’t limit itself to corn,” Rader said.
“I’m very happy to have been able to come,” she said. “The best part of Iowa is the people ... and the pork.”
Rader said these visits from international chefs also impress upon the students the importance of learning a second language, since Pérez Andrés does not speak English. Some of the culinary arts students do speak Spanish, as does Rader, and have been able to translate her advice during her time here.
After spending her morning Thursday with the culinary arts students, Pérez Andrés then traveled to Fairfield for the afternoon and was scheduled to fly back to Spain today.
During the past two weeks, she also spent some time at Iowa State University, with several Iowa chefs and was able to observe and build relationships with the Amish community in southeast Iowa.
Pérez Andrés said coming to America took her back in time to reading “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and other Mark Twain stories as a child.
“Those stories came alive,” she said. “I didn’t think I would come this far to remember something from so long ago.”