Traditional Basque Cuisine With A Modern Touch

Jul 18, 2017

Isolated geographically between the oceans and mountains, the Basque region between Spain and France has a rich food scene focusing on whole ingredients and flavorful spices.  KUNR’s Holly Hutchings visited a tasting in Sparks as part of Artown.

Chef Sparky at his demo table in downtown Sparks.
Credit Holly Hutchings

Strolling through the farmers market and vendor booths at Victorian Square, it’s easy to see Basque culture shine. Old proverbs line the walkways and people play games like corn cob tossing. You may even hear a traditional Basque war cry from a voice in the crowd.

But if you want to get a true taste of the experience, step into the amphitheater. That’s where you’ll find Celebrity Chef, Sean “Sparky” Walsh performing a cooking demo.

“They feel like a family atmosphere to me. Basically, I'm cooking for a group of 40 of my best friends, and as we're cooking we're just chatting and having a good time, talking about the food.”

Right now, Chef Sparky is making Lamb Shanks and Beans, a familiar dish. The meadows of the Basque region are home to many grazing sheep, making lamb a popular protein in their recipes.

“We’re doing lamb shanks this week. Traditionally they’re done over an open fire for about six hours. Cooking them for six hours isn’t really what we have. But, if we can do it in an hour and a half or two hours in the oven we can get the same final product using modern utensils that we do have.”

For his day job, Chef Sparky is a dietician for the local VA hospital. But Thursday nights, he moonlights at this Artown event, put on by 39 North Downtown. He wants the food to feel familiar and true to the culture but transformed into modern, healthier versions. Not a member of the Basque community by heritage, Chef Sparky still feels at home with the people and the food. And he’s done his homework, scouring family journals to track down recipes, some dating back hundreds of years.

“I'll be honest, I didn't know a lot about Basque culture when we started this. So, I enjoyed digging in the culture and looking into the recipes and coming up with something as traditional as I could make it.”

Chef Sparky says this community is extremely proud of their culinary history. He credits continuity and long lasting food traditions as reasons why the area has been able to stay steadfast and unique, even as the countries around it have changed.