José Pizarro pops up at the Hay Festival

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“We’ll be cooking traditional Welsh ingredients with a Spanish touch at the Hay Festival,”José Pizarro was saying as he poured me a glass of Ensamblaje PQ from the Ribera del Guadiana region in his native Extremadura. “With the help and support of the Spanish Tourist Office, we are going to set up a pop-up bar at the entrance to the festival, called Tapas España.

We were at his Bermondsey restaurant Pizarro, just down the road from José, the tapas bar that has been packed since the day it opened two years ago.

Pizarro spends a lot of time in Wales and can’t wait to put his spin on the local produce. “There are a lot of similarities between Wales and northern Spain, particularly Galicia and Asturias. I’ll definitely be cooking cockles and laverbread, two of the most well-known Welsh foods, but with Spanish flavourings.”

As I am from Swansea in South Wales, and have eaten both those things all my life, I’m really looking forward to tasting Pizarro’s versions  – laverbread is seaweed that we traditionally eat for breakfast with bacon. I’ve eaten a lot of cockles and seaweed in Galicia too, so I know this is going to be a good match – Pizarro’s cooking is going to be a great addition to Hay.

“I’m going to cook Welsh lamb of course, but using Spanish recipes, as lamb is very popular in Spain, and will do the same with the local sea bass. I’m going to take chorizo sausages and cook them in cider, like they do in Asturias, but I’ll be using Welsh cider,” he explained as we shared some ibérico pork meatballs, mackerel escabeche and chicken livers cooked in fino sherry.

The Hay Festival takes place this year from May 23rd to June 2nd, and as usual will feature writers and creative people of all persuasions from all over the world. The 2013 programme includes Carl Bernstein, Quentin Blake, Miranda Hart, Hans Blix, Caitlin Moran, Joan Bakewell, Will Self, Thomas Keneally and Philip Glass, so it promises to be as lively and stimulating as ever.

Hay already has Spanish connections as the festival is also held in Segovia in September every year. Local food is very much part of proceedings, and leading writers are invited to try their hand at cutting roast suckling pig, the big speciality of Segovia, with the side of an earthenware plate, which shows how tender the meat is.

“What I really want to bring to Hay is the Spanish feeling that we have created here in the restaurant and at the José bar. It’s the most difficult thing, to get that buzz. At José, we have 1,600 customers a week now. People just go there to enjoy themselves because it feels like being in Spain.”

I asked if people usually drink Rioja, or whether they are more adventurous. “Our customers are very keen to try wines from other regions, such as Rueda, Rias Baixas, Bierzo, Jumilla or Mallorca, and sherry is amazing popular too. Would you like a glass?”

A bottle of oloroso appeared. “At José, 15% or 20% of people drink sherry. And it’s not just older people either; it’s all ages. They try all different kinds. The staff are very knowledgeable, so they advise people how to match different sherries with the food. It is so versatile.”

The nutty, warming oloroso was just the thing for a cold March day in London. Let’s hope that at Hay, in late May, the sun will be out and everyone will be asking for a nice chilled glass of bone dry Fino or Manzanilla.

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