By Anne Petersen
On May 28, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation’s Education Department hosted Professor Iker Arranz and Chef Aingeru Etxebarria for a memorable evening of Basque food and culture at El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park.
Professor Arranz of University of Nevada, Reno, is a visiting faculty member at UCSB, and taught a popular course in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese during spring quarter titled “Culinary Arts and Basque Culture.” As the community outreach component to the course, Professor Arranz and UCSB Extension brought part of the class outside the lecture hall, and out to a local audience at the Presidio Chapel.
Following an introduction by Melissa Chatfield, director of education at SBTHP, Professor Arranz charted the history of Basque gastronomy and culture. He theorized about the definition of cultural identity. Rather than being made up of a series of discreet, identifiable components like language, dance, poetry, etc., each one intrinsically Basque, Arranz argued that cultural theorists are working with the idea that cultural identity is made of a diverse collection of traditions and traits. Each one might borrow or blend with traits from other cultural identities, but when brought together, they form something identifiable as Basque culture.
This notion of blended cultural markers, he argued, can be experienced in tangible form in the fine, Michelin-star-rated cuisine produced by the best contemporary Basque chefs. He finished with a series of mouth-watering photos of cuisine from Basque restaurants, in which he argued, discreet ingredients cannot be identified due the transformation undergone in the preparation of the dish, but together, they produce a dish that is intrinsically Basque.
After the lecture, the audience adjourned to the Presidio orchard to test this theory themselves with several delectable small plates by Chef Aingeru Etxebarria of Esceual de Cocina. Chef Etxebarria traveled to Santa Barbara specifically for this program, and we are pleased to have hosted him during his visit.
We also thank the Spanish Consul General in Los Angeles, Francisco Javier Vallaure de Acha, for making the trip to Santa Barbara especially for the evening, and for addressing our community audience. For more on this special program, and Basque culture and food in general, please click here and here for great articles by Rosie Sullivan.
Anne Petersen is the Associate Director for Historical Resources at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation.