Hand to Mouth


Full disclosure: I’m good friends with Gerald Hirigoyen, one of the most lovely, talented and hospitable chefs in town. In fact, we took a trip to Spain together about two years ago to this day. The coldest winter Spain had seen—snow on the beach in San Sebastian; the streets of Barcelona virtually empty as everyone tucked into cafes to escape the brutal winds and warm up with cigarettes and decadently soupy hot chocolate.

From Michelin-starred spots like Arzak and Mugaritz to tapas joints like the memorable Cal Pep to thick steaks showered with course salt and omelets at the cideries, Gerald and I ate a lot and discovered we have something in common: We both relish eating with our hands, no matter where we are.

So, when I stopped at Piperade for dinner the other night, I immediately ordered my favorite whole prawns with slivers of garlic, parsley and lemon. It’s a dish to dive into, fingers first. When it arrived, I was taken aback to see the prawns had been denuded—well almost. While the heads and tails were left on, the little bodies had been shelled. The poor prawns appeared as if they’d been caught with their pants down.

I asked Gerald, What happened? He looked forlorn. He told me customers had been sending back the dish to the kitchen to be shelled, so his cooks had started to preempt the inevitable. But it was becoming too laborious—not to mention it was went against the soul of the dish. Leaving the shell on keeps in all the good juices, for one. He told me he was going to have to remove the dish from the menu for once and for all.

So this is a plea: Toss your knife and fork and march into Piperade and demand that the prawns make a comeback, shell and all (sorry Gerald, it has to be done). Food tastes better hand to mouth. Plus, I’ll thank you and hey, life is messy anyhow.

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