Bulls, Basques and World Class Omelettes
Where else but France do they turn the humble omelette into an art form, judge it at a fiercely contested gourmet event and cheer-on trained chefs fighting to become World Pepper Omelette Champions.
This egg-strong cuisine competition was dreamed up by French Basques keen to convince the world that omelettes only have class when the recipe includes Espelette — a highly-prized, locally-grown spicy chilli and eggs from hens fed on the same piquante legume.
Each year since 2004 highly competitive teams of chefs have spent long hours perfecting the best tasting Espelette Pepper Omelette for a World Championship competition that is a fitting opening for the fiery Bayonne Festival.
This winners this year were the HAIZ ‘EGOA BAYONNE team headed by Patrick POYEJUZAN earning a mark of 15.5/20 proudly awarded by the hand-picked professional omelette chefs from among the best Bayonne specialists in Basque cuisine. There was a record 30 competing teams this year mainly from Bayonne but also from further afield – Anglet, Boucau, Bidarray, Hasparren and Saint Vincent de Tyrosse.
The five-day Bayonne Festival event attracts thousands to the French Basque country each summer to witness bull fights, cow processions, parades, music, sports, dancing, red-scarved flashmobs, and decorated floats in a festival said to rank second only to the Carnival in Rio and also reputed to rival Spain’s San Fermin festival in Pamplona not too far down the road.
Every day at noon, Roi Léon, king of the holiday jamboree sounds the alarm kicking off festivities that run from early morning to late at night. The huge crowds of Basques come from all over the region and from migrant Basque communities around the globe, dressed in traditional red and white costumes and looking forward to a week of eating, drinking, dancing and jollification.
At dusk events tend to take on an different hue. Bars and restaurants flourish. The streets teem with groups engaged in the sarabande, a noble dance, or supporting the Peñas or teams from the various clubs and associations that proliferate in Bayonne. It is these Peñas which also sponsor the omelette teams in the World Championships.
The teams that compete most fiercely in the contest come naturally from those areas where the main ingredient is cultivated — the Espelette or the peppers widely used fresh or ground as spice, in Basque cuisine. The Espelette is widely farmed in the cantons of Bayonne Nord ; Anglet Nord ; Bayonne Est ; Bayonne Ouest ; Anglet Sud . Biarritz Est ; Biarritz Ouest ; Saint Jean de Luz ; Hendaye ; Espelette; Ustaritz ; Saint Pierre d’Irube ; Hasparren ; Labastide-Clairence ; Bidache ; Saint Palais ; Iholdy ; Saint Jean Pied de Port ; Saint Etienne de Baigorry ; Mauléon and Tardets.
The rules of the World Championship are exacting, as you can read here. Should you be considering an entry next year you could take a look at this suggested winning recipe used by one of the competing teams.
Of course when planning an Espelette Omelette it is best to ensure you select the most appropriate wine to drink with it and the chefs all have their own suggestions. These range from cabernets (vins de Loire particularly Bourgueil ; Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil ; Chinon) to others predominantly Tannat, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon (Irouléguy, Madiran, Saint Mont, wine Landes) and Tempranillo (Navarra, Rioja).
The Espelette Omelette can be eaten hot in the traditional way or cold in a sandwich, in which case a true Basque chef will add a little onion to the sweet peppers.
Naturally the peppers grown in the region and used in the competition have a long history of terroir and tradition and this is recounted here in much detail.
Unsurprisingly the producers in the region fought loud and long to have their produce awarded an appellation contrôlée or AOC classification a certification that was granted a decade ago as this recent book on the region recounts. Apart from omolettes of course there are dozens of other dishes where Basques insist you ought to use Espelette: tapas, bean soup and whipped cream pepper, cabbage salad with dried fruit, cake, cod, prawns with lime , fried squid , fresh duck foie; apple tatin, chili con carne, baby eel spaghetti with mussels, fruit and jelly jurançon, vanilla macaroons, chocolate raspberry gouache, and so on.
Story: Ken Pottinger
The official Bayonne website Facebook page linked to our report here: