Karlos Arguiñano in My Kitchen

When it comes time to prepare lunch for myself on a busy week day, I often fall back on the same recipes – curried lentils, leftover curried lentils or some form of omelet. Although I have many cookbooks I love, I tend to end up in a rut. So I’ve set myself a goal – I’d like to begin to push my cooking boundaries – to mix up my routine and make variety the norm, not just on the plate, but in my imagination as well.

I owe this declaration to Basque chef Karlos Arguiñano. I have been watching his popular and entertaining televised cooking show Karlos Arguiñano en tu cocina (in your kitchen) for months now, and each show is like a mini revelation. “Mmmm, looks delicious,” is typically my first thought, followed by, “Hey, I could do that.” But until now, I had yet to prepare one of his recipes.

Note: This rest of this post is intended to introduce Arguiñano to those of you who are unfamiliar with his work, as I was until I moved to Spain.

Arguiñano is one of Spain’s most beloved chefs thanks in no small part to his program. He has been cooking professionally for over 40 years and teaching Spain how to cook on TV for over 20 years. His followers range from young to old, including stay-at-home moms looking for new recipes, working parents with little time to cook and young adults living on their own for the first time.

In his program, he is genuine, informal and approachable. He can be downright goofy, often rattling off bad jokes (sometimes of questionable taste) followed by a hearty laugh, and I can’t help but laugh along, even as I groan. He also tends to break out in song, as one might in the shower assuming no one could hear. It can really feel like Karlos Arguiñano is in my kitchen. I only wish I could ask him to turn off the background music, which sounds a bit like a soundtrack for a clown show and can get rather grating.

In spite of the joking around, Arguiñano is serious about food and his mission. His philosophy is clear: Cooking and enjoying good food at home is key to a healthy and happy society. And eating well is within everyone’s reach, both in terms of skill level and budget.

The recipes on Arguiñano’s program include traditional Spanish dishes, many of them Basque (tradition will never go out of style here), as well as dishes of his own creation, displaying his depth of culinary knowledge. All recipes involve uncomplicated preparation based on fresh ingredients readily available in Spanish markets.

Praised by famous peers

Spain’s most celebrated chefs have expressed admiration for Arguiñano’s work. “He is the best chef in history,” proclaimed Juan Mari Arzak at San Sebastián Gastronomika 2010. “No one else in the world has taught the art of cooking so well at all levels.”

At the same event, Ferran Adrià declared, “Karlos is the umbilical cord. He is a great chef and a great communicator on a social level. Without his labor, the world of haute cuisine would not have made it into homes [in Spain].” (Read the full article in Spanish here.)

Whether you are a Michelin-starred chef or a novice, it is hard not to like Arguiñano.

A typical episode

On a recent 45-minute program, Arguiñano’s impromptu conversation touched on world politics, the environment, buying local, cooking with the family and nutritional tips and healthy eating.

“Trust your purveyors,” he advised, your butcher, fishmonger and vegetable merchant. “Buy what they say is fresh and good now.” He urged viewers of all ages to use fewer plastic bags, proclaiming carritos, canvas shopping carts on wheels typically associated with Spanish grandmothers, as “intelligent and modern.”

In each episode, Arguiñano explains each step along the way, the how and the why; “simple” and “easy” are the most common words in his instructions. He is methodical and precise in his actions and rigorously tidy. Each used dish goes directly into the sink, and each scrap quickly disappears into the nifty trash bin built into the counter. He shares professional chef “tricks,” taking mystery out of the cooking process.

Arguiñano clearly delights in the preparation of each dish, and in the results. He almost always has a smile on his face and often announces with glee, “¡Que bueno está! This is going to make your loved ones happy.”

Time to cook

After months of encouragement and inspiration from Arguiñano’s show, I decided it was time to head into the kitchen to try out some of the recipes that had made my mouth water as I watched. Cooking with Arguiñano would be a great way to expand my culinary horizons and to climb out of my weekday rut.

Additional Links: If you understand Spanish, check out the many Arguiñano cooking show videos available on YouTube. And this 2007 interview with late-night talk show host Andreu Buenafuente.

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