Treasured: Alex Raij
Interview and Photos by Melanie Dunea / CPi / My Last Supper
Chef Alex Raij: "I have three treasured items..."
"This is my grandmother's copy of Dona Petrona, which is kind of like the Betty Crocker or Fannie Farmer of Argentina; and the Basque mural that hangs at my restaurant Txikito."
"My son was born prematurely and it was a scary situation, so after he was born, my husband said, "Now you have a boy and a girl, and this ring has a ruby and some kind of blue stone, so it's pink and blue." I didn't like it when I first got it because it's kind of funny and imperfect, but I didn't tell my husband because I did like that he gave it to me. I've started to like it better now because my daughter is obsessed with it. I wear it all the time, probably because at first I didn't love it. Sometimes in this profession you are always saving stuff. You never get to wear nice clothes or wear good jewelry, so you put it away and then all of a sudden it's out of style or you've put on weight! It's kind of nice to have something to wear that you're not super worried about."
"When my grandmother passed away I got her copy of Dona Petrona. I'm sure it has had more than 90 editions, but this one was my grandmother's and she wrapped it in this pink paper. Now we used that pink as inspiration to bag our lacy shrimp and crackers. The book is wonderful. It's all letterpress from 1950; she marked recipes like the Spanish omelet on page 98. Who needs a recipe to make an omelet? My grandmother was actually a really good cook so I think that's really funny."
"My grandmother and I used to make empanadas together, but I would love to look through the book with her because there are pictures of the desserts and also these weird mayonnaise salads that look like dessert. I suspect when I was finally introduced to Spanish food, this book is why it was very familiar to me. Now I keep it on a bookshelf and never touch it, which is probably a bad thing because I think it has gotten even more dried out. I probably haven't looked at it in 10 years."
"The mural was a gift from our friend, the artist Mikel Urmeneta. It's full of folksy Basque motifs: there's San Sebastián Day, where half the population dresses up like chefs and the other half dresses like Napoleonic soldiers, and a lauburu, a four-headed cross that is a primitive Basque symbol where its red and green colors represent the colors of the Basque flag. An inscription on the side reads, 'When you leave your country, your branches become your roots.'"