Clara María Gonzalez de Amezúa de Llamas
Gerry Dawes / October 2006
Food Arts presents the October 2006 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Clara María Gonzalez de Amezúa de Llamas, spiritual and spirited godmother to Spain's reverberant late 20th century culinary marching band. Her stylish aristocratic bearing notwithstanding, this slim, energetic (she's the mother of eight), 70-something madrileña with Basque roots knows how to roll up her sleeves and cook. Her enthusiasm for Spanish cuisine and willingness to share her knowledge with foreigners have been of immeasurable importance as Spanish cuisine climbed to the culinary pinnacle it perches upon today.
In the early 1970s, Clara María, a member of Spain's Academy of Gastronomy, visited a New York City cookware shop "at a time when it was hard to find a decent whisk or wooden spoon in Madrid." Among other things, she bought measuring cups and spoons, which fascinated her, since Spanish cooks then weighed their ingredients. This epiphany led in 1978 to her opening—with three other women partners—El Alambique, the now-famous kitchen store and cooking school near the Royal Palace which soon became a magnet for Spaniards interested in learning not only about their own cooking but foreign cuisines from a stellar lineup of visiting chefs lured from afar. At the same time Clara María invited regional Spanish chefs to bring their local cuisines to the capital and avant-garde chefs to demonstrate the emerging cocina nueva española, which has since morphed into the world's most innovative cooking movement. In so doing she helped create a community of chefs who would carry their country's banner to international prominence.
Clara María also began inviting foreign food writers to El Alambique to experience Spanish gastronomy firsthand and over the past 30 years has earned a reputation as a warm and generous font of information and contacts. Equally at home in court and chef table circles, she is also a hostess with few peers, inviting visitors to spirited culinary tertulias (literary salons) at her gracious, fine art–embellished home—usually in the company of other Spanish gastronomic experts, journalists, and family members such as her daughter, Gabriela Llamas, who now teaches at El Alambique. In her two kitchens—a modern professional one and a traditional Spanish one with an iron stove and wood-burning hearth with a grill—Clara María cooks elegant but unstuffy meals featuring Spanish regional dishes. Her outdoor luncheons, served by a white-gloved butler on her patio and lawn, are legendary.
In the 1990s Clara María was indispensable in helping to organize two milestone conferences in Spain, both of which had a major impact on the world gastronomic press' perception of Spanish cuisine. Awarded the Spanish National Gastronomy Prize for her decades long efforts to promote Spanish cuisine, Clara María still travels the world speaking at conferences (next month at CIA Greystone in Napa Valley) and continues to organize culinary tours around Spain. Somehow, she found time to write three books and is researching Spanish Sephardic cuisine for an anticipated fourth.