7:30am::: wake up. rush to bus station to catch the eight o'clock to Bilbao.
10am::: meet in the lobby of Gran Hotel Bilbao with the heads of the Concurso de Pintxos de Bilbao, the premier pinxto competition in Bilbao. Bars from across the city compete for the txapela, or beret, which is given to the winners.
11am::: take my seat at Mesa A, with four fellow judges. One is a cook turned dietician, another the head of a culinary school nearby, another a wine expert/blogger, and another an unofficial expert on the local pintxos. And me. We are presented with five bottles of wine: txakoli, white, rosado, and two reds, to pour at our choosing with each of the 8 pintxos we had to judge that day.
12pm::: One third of the way through the judging. We are presented with each pintxo, not knowing from which restaurant it came and only given the title and a brief description. Then a sample version of each pintxo is whisked away to the photographer. Conversation around the table is lively...we are, after all, each very passionate about all things food. But upon the arrival of a dish, the only sound is silverware hitting plate.
12:15pm::: One of my favorite pintxos comes out. It's fresh boquerones, or anchovies, wrapped around an orange slice and a tomato confit, doused in olive oil with a bit of frisee. Fresh and unpretentious, but you can tell care was put into each step.
1:30pm::: After scoring the dishes on presentation, quality and balance of ingredients, and overall satisfaction, we tally our scores to find the top two pintxos. These two will enter the final. At our table, there are two clear winners, both of which I was absolutely in love with. After judging, we get up and look at the other pintxos that the three other tables had to judge. Some of them are simple, some classic, some modern, and some whimsical, like the one below, a take on Basque deportes rurales.
3pm::: After coffee with an expat banker friend stationed in Bilbao, I head back to querida Donostia. For personal reasons, I couldn't make it to the award ceremony that night, but the first place winner was a pintxo from the famed bar Gure Toki in the old part of Bilbao.
Sopa de Idiazabal con huevo, queso y hongos Idiazabal cheese soup with egg and wild mushrooms.
You can try it at Gure Toki, located on Plaza Nueva, 12 in the old part of Bilbao. Check out pictures of the other winners and contestants at the Pintxo Competition site.
Thanks to everybody who made this possible! I'm honored to have been asked to participate, and I will not soon forget that amazing octupus with crunchy apple and papada ibérica....