Cooks & Soldiers celebrates Tamborrada with pintxos, drumming, and costumes

General manager Nicolas Quinones shares the history behind this Basque celebration
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Photo by Heidi Geldhauser

On January 19, Cooks & Soldiers will turn its Westside digs into a mini San Sebastian, Spain, in celebration of La Tamborrada, an annual Basque festival that includes parades, drums, dancing, and costumes. The restaurant will halt regular service that evening, instead inviting guests to enjoy food stations and Tamborrada rituals for $45 per person (or $70 per person including drinks). Tickets are available online.

We spoke with Nicolas Quinones, Cooks & Soldiers general manager and former co-owner of Woodfire Grill, about what to expect.

Tell us about La Tamborrada. It’s a festival in San Sebastian held every January 20 from midnight to midnight. The entire city celebrates. It’s a drinking, drumming celebration where everyone dresses up as a cook or a soldier. You have gastronomic societies where the groups parade together.

What exactly is a gastronomic society? Most men [there] are part of a gastronomic society designed to advance the art of cooking and eating. They’re private clubs with members who get together to cook, eat, and drink frequently.

[During La Tamborrada], there are parades with drumming and singing the March of San Sebastian. Everyone celebrates their unity as a city. There’s a lot more homogeneity and uniformity in European cities. Here, we’re more autonomous and independent-minded. With a festival like this, it really comes to light because everyone does the same thing.

Why does Cooks & Soldiers choose to celebrate this holiday? The restaurant is named Cooks & Soldiers after the festival. It embodies something that is very Basque, very San Sebastian, it’s an easy name to say. It’s catchy and has intrigue and is referential to our major influence. Last year was the first time we [celebrated the holiday] at the restaurant.

A cook at Tamborrada 2016
A cook at Tamborrada 2016

What should attendees expect for entertainment? The restaurant will be decorated with flags. Several servers will be dressed in cooks costumes and others dressed in soldiers costumes. We’ll be handing out drumsticks and drums, and the servers will drum. A friend from San Sebastian will teach us the primary march, and we’ll teach it to guests throughout the evening. We’ll project a live feed of the parades in San Sebastian. It starts at midnight in San Sebastian, which is 6 p.m. here, so we are doing it in real time. 

What food and drinks will be served? Pinxtos [Spanish snacks] like chistorra [sausage] in a blanket, traditional toasts, bikini [white American grilled cheese, Jamón Ibérico, and black truffle on white bread], and meats and cheeses. We’ll have big cuts of meat like chuleton [bone-in ribeye], and we’ll roast a whole pig. We’ll have paella, too.

Drinks are available at the bar, or [there is a] $25 for a wristband for beer, cider, Basque white wine, red wine, gin and tonics, kalimotxo (Coke and boxed wine) [and more].

Around 9 p.m., we’ll pass around churros and toasted brandy.

A soldier at Tamborrada 2016
A soldier at Tamborrada 2016

Photo by Ruby Jordan

Anything else we should know? We’ll be passing out Basque-style bandanas and souvenir tasting glasses to take home if you buy the drink package. Last year had a couple guests dress up. Maybe this year we’ll have more. It’s a great time.

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