An oasis of Spanish food and culture has come to a downtown Albany historic townhouse, thanks to a Siena faculty member and her spouse.
Marcela Garcés, Ph.D., associate professor of Spanish, and her husband, political scientist Yuri Morejón, recently opened La Centralita, a culinary studio on the ground floor of their Dove Street home. It offers scheduled gastronomic events such as tastings of olive oils, wines, cheeses and pintxos – larger bar snacks, a more elaborate version of tapas – reflecting the diverse cuisines of Spain, as well as cooking classes and participatory chef’s table meals. Want to host some friends for fun evening out? You can also reserve your own private event for 4-10 guests.
A native of Bilbao, Morejón moved to the United States in 2013 upon marrying Garcés. He cooked dishes from the Basque Country in Northern Spain to stay emotionally connected to his homeland and to express himself creatively. His love of food and filmmaking eventually resulted in the documentary The Txoko Experience, which he produced with Garcés in 2017. The film explores the txokos (CHO-kos), or gastronomic societies, found in the Basque Country, as well as Michelin-starred restaurants and other culinary highlights.
Their immersive work in research and teaching inspired a dream to open their own txoko-inspired space in the Capital Region. They looked for just the right neighborhood and building – one in a walkable neighborhood where turning fellow residents into friends is part of the charm. La Centralita operates out of the garden level of their three-floor 19th century townhouse just a few steps from the state Capitol.
As part of their language and cultural studies, Garcés teaches her students about Spain’s rich cooking and dining traditions, and has brought classes abroad to experience them firsthand. Delicious food and wine are only part of the experience – a txoko celebrates the concept of “slow food”: fine ingredients, loving care in preparation, and enjoyable conversation with friends and family.
That pedagogical approach is part of the experience at La Centralita. In addition to excellent food and wine, guests can learn about the rich gastronomy of Spain, and develop curiosity about a cuisine that doesn’t often find itself in the spotlight in upstate New York.
“We’ll keep the groups of guests small, so a visit will be an immersive and intimate experience,” Garcés explained. “Every month we will feature several different events, to offer different learning and dining opportunities.”
Morejón and Garcés – both of whom come from “families that cooked a lot” – handle all the food prep, and are already planning to host guest chefs in the future.
“Trying new cuisines expands your horizons by learning about new tastes and ways of life,” said Garcés. “There is a reason the Mediterranean lifestyle is one of the healthiest ways to eat worldwide. Enjoying excellent ingredients, sharing a meal with friends, and taking a walk afterwards feeds the body and soul.”
The name La Centralita has a fun backstory: Morejón’s grandfather worked for Spain’s national telephone company for decades, and the Spanish word for switchboard is…centralita. Retro phones and other phone paraphernalia form part of the studio’s logo and décor.
La Centralita also sells via their website and studio gourmet provisions imported from Spain, such as olive oil, dark chocolates and tinned fish. They plan to keep expanding the offerings.
Some Siena community members have been among the first to visit the studio.
“Marcela and Yuri have created a gorgeous and warm space in their lovely Center Square home,” said Shannon Draucker, Ph.D., assistant professor of English. “My husband and I enjoyed a delicious brunch at La Centralita in December. Our favorite dishes included the Spanish tortilla de patatas and the lovely array of Spanish meats, cheeses, and fish. La Centralita is a wonderful addition to the neighborhood and the greater Capital Region.”
Vera Eccarius-Kelly, Ph.D., professor of comparative politics, and her husband relished their picoteo night.
“We enjoyed a wide variety of delicious Basque pintxos, along with red Rioja Alavesa wine and a white txakoli,” she said. “The authentic atmosphere in the purposefully designed space reminded me of past culinary experiences in Bilbao. Marcela and her husband Yuri are creative and extremely knowledgeable cultural hosts and shared their enthusiasm for the Basque kitchen. We cannot wait to go again!”