José Andrés / December 2009
Food Arts presents the December 2009 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to my good friend Gerry Dawes, the unbridled Spanish food and wine enthusiast cum expert whose writing, photography, and countless crisscrossings of the peninsula have done the most to introduce Americans—and especially American food professionals—to my country's culinary life. As a young chef arriving in America from Spain in the early 1990s, I came to see Gerry as an ally. At the time, I found myself struggling to explain Spanish cooking because people either had no idea or they had the wrong idea. It was a battle. But Gerry's writing meant I was not alone in telling Americans about piquillos and escudella and jamón. At a time when most wine and food journalists were writing about France and Italy, Gerry went off in his own direction to become the first to really tell the story of Spain.
Gerry's long love affair with Spain started after he got out of the navy in 1969. He had been stationed at Rota, in southern Spain, and instead of returning home he packed up a sea bag, and, with James Michener's classic Iberia as his guide, set out to discover Spain. What he found at the end of the Franco era was a country that had not yet modernized. But in due time Spain witnessed a tremendous creative flowering that energized many fields, including cooking. Gerry was poised to witness all of this. He met local cooks who continued to cook according to local food traditions, artisans reviving cheeses and wines, trained chefs interpreting regional cuisines, and visionary chefs creating a new culinary conversation.
Gerry also has opened doors with his guided tours of Spain. Over the years he's brought dozens of high profile American chefs to Spain, giving them their first taste of Spanish cooking. And it's worked the other way, too. Gerry has befriended dozens of Spanish chefs, creating a connection that helped bring many of them to the United States. "Spain wouldn't be as known to Americans without the stories Gerry tells and writes," says Ferran Adrià.
But for Gerry, Spain is more than just the Adriàs and (Juan Mari) Arzaks. He has connected with all manner of people working at every level and in every corner of Spain. I'm always amazed at his reach. You can step into a restaurant in the smallest town in Spain, and it turns out they know Gerry somehow. I remember one rainy night in Madrid during the 2003 Madrid Fusión congress. I wanted to go to my favorite place for patatas bravas, the ultimate tapa. But Gerry had another place in mind, and I didn't know about it. But Gerry is always right. Those potatoes at his place were amazing!
La Real Academia Española de Gastronomía awarded Gerry the Premio Nacional de Gastronomia in 2003 in recognition of his outstanding contributions. And now he's being singled out with this Silver Spoon from Food Arts, for whom Gerry writes and serves as a contributing authority. Thanks to Gerry's work we are all richer, we all eat a little better. Enhorabuena y gracias, Gerry!