By Donna Cornelius
A new book about an enigmatic, food-centric region in Spain already is stirring up a stateside buzz.
“Basque Country: A Culinary Journey Through a Food Lover’s Paradise” made Food and Wine magazine’s recent list of the best cookbooks debuting this fall. Highly regarded chefs Frank Stitt and José Andrés are praising the book, with Andrés writing: “This is truly insider access, an authentic look at the traditions of one of the most incredible culinary regions of the world.”
The author of the book, however, isn’t a Basque Country native – or even Spanish. Writer and chef Marti Buckley grew up in Homewood.
“My dad was in the first class at Homewood High School, and I graduated from there in 2002,” Buckley said. “My mom and dad still live in Homewood, and so does my grandmother.”
Buckley went to LSU and studied abroad in Pamplona, a Basque city.
“Pamplona is about an hour from San Sebastián, where I live now,” she said. “That was my introduction to the Basque culture, people and food – so it was a pretty important experience. Trying food in Spain was an eye-opener. When I came back, I started cooking from scratch.”
After college, Buckley returned to Birmingham.
“I worked at Southern Living, had my daughter and worked at Bottega for about two years,” she said. “Then I had the opportunity to move back to Spain. I went for a year – and that was in 2010.”
Buckley called her time in Spain “a crazy eight years.” She was a baker for an artisan bakery on the beach in San Sebastián and joined the staff of Mimo, a food and travel company that specializes in cooking courses, gourmet retail shops and culinary tourism.
She writes a blog called travelcookeat.com, and her articles have appeared in media outlets such as Travel and Leisure, National Geographic Traveler, Afar and The Telegraph. She talks about food and lifestyle trends on Gastrofera, a Basque radio program.
Best Foodie Region in the World?
Basque Country is home to more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than any region in the world. It’s known for its pintxos (tapas), iconic dishes such as bacalao (salt cod), and its celebrated eating clubs. The region’s rich food traditions and culture left Buckley with a question: Why wasn’t there more information about it? That’s when the idea of writing a book first occurred to her.
“I realized I didn’t know enough about the culture, so I shelved the idea of a book for a while,” she said. “But then I got to go deep into the heart of the country. I came back and worked on a book proposal.”
The writing process took several years.
“I had a whole group of people helping me, including chefs I’d call at all hours with questions,” Buckley said. “Basque Country has seven different provinces, and I had a different contact in each place.”
The labor-intensive project paid off with a book that she said allowed her to combine her interest in food, travel and culture.
“I started off with about 200 recipes I thought were important and then narrowed them down,” she said. “One of my main goals was the global view of Basque Country, but I wanted the book to be user-friendly, too. I tried to provide my favorite ingredients and to offer substitution suggestions when possible.”
The Birmingham restaurant where Buckley once worked is hosting a cocktail event and book signing for her on Sept. 11. On the menu for the event at Bottega are Spanish omelet, shrimp kebab with pepper vinaigrette, Spanish ham with goat cheese and sundried tomatoes, croquettes, squid in its own ink, and a mini serving of walnut cream. Drinks include vermouth, a Basque Country white wine called Txakoli, and Rioja Gabaxo, a Spanish red wine.
In his endorsement of “Basque Country,” Frank Stitt wrote that “Marti Buckley makes you fall in love with the unique, real, and rustic flavors and textures of Basque Country, where the pursuit of something great to eat is given cult-like status.
“I will cook from and return to this book time and time again.”
For more information about the Bottega event, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 939-1000. Buckley also advised checking her blog for other possible Birmingham-area events.
“Basque Country: A Culinary Journey Through a Food Lover’s Paradise” is $35 and available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million. Follow Buckley through her blog at travelcookeat.com or on Instagram @martibuckley.