Long Distance: Marti Buckley Kilpatrick

LSU grad dives into the local cuisine in northern Spain

HERE: LSU student, 2002-2006
THERE: Food blogger (travelcookeat.com), writer and baker at The Loaf, San Sebastián, Spain

What brought you to San Sebastián?
I had the opportunity to study abroad in Spain through LSU, and I was fortunately placed in northern Spain. It was love at first sight, and after a few false starts, I finally figured out how to get back there permanently. We’ve been living in San Sebastián now for four years.

What do you do there?
I do so much! The only consistent thing has been work as a freelance journalist for titles such as AFAR and Lucky Peach. I also teach cooking classes, have managed a program connecting young cooks worldwide with Basque chefs, have done marketing and design work for food companies, and more. I just began working as a baker at the town’s newest, hippest bakery, The Loaf, where I manage the sweets program. In my free time, I founded a society that organizes events and parties around one of Spain’s most famous drinks, vermouth (vermutsociety.com).

How are you with the local language(s)?
Spanish I have down. I think I’m as good as I’ll ever get, and occasionally have people think I am a local. Basque, however, is another story. This language has no relation to Spanish and, although my daughter speaks it, and I took a class, it remains a bit of a mystery.

What do you miss most about Baton Rouge?
Probably two things: the amazing environment that is the LSU campus, for one. It’s the perfect example of an American college experience. Also, downtown Baton Rouge, before it was built back up, with its abandoned buildings and the Mississippi River sneaking along the side. No, let’s make it three and say strawberry pancakes from Louie’s.

What is essential for you to do when you come back to visit?
Cruise around the lakes, make a stop at Chelsea’s Café, slide down the Indian Mounds and ring up my old college friends.

First thing you do with visitors who have never been to San Sebastián?
Hands down, take them for pintxos. These small bites are the heart and soul of the dining scene in San Sebastián, and I have so many favorites, from braised beef cheeks to blood sausage.

Best thing you’ve eaten there in the last month?
A big steak, called txuleta in the local language, from Bar Nestor. They only serve tomatoes, steak and peppers, and the bar is about four-by-eight feet. The other option is the bread from the bakery I work at, The Loaf. It’s real bread, from starter, and it’s just perfect.

Most surprising thing about San Sebastián?
I couldn’t believe when I found out how small it is. With about 180,000 people, it’s hardly a big city, but it has a world-famous dining scene and so much culture. It’s truly amazing that you can see theater any night of the week, go surfing and eat at the hands of the world’s most famous chefs in one tiny town.

You started a food cart, The Cookie, there last summer featuring American-style ice cream sandwiches. It garnered a lot of attention from the locals. Any plans to bring that back?
Though it sounds silly, perhaps, it was so gratifying to bring ice cream sandwiches to the Basque people. They loved it. And street food was unheard of until I got the pop-up bike going. Before I knew it, I was a sort of a figurehead for that movement. I am continuing it at the bakery I currently work at and hope to expand in the future.

Anything about your upbringing in the South that you’ve tried to make sure your daughter understands or experiences?
[She’s been here] since two and a half. I make sure she gets the food; we have an African store under our apartment, and it’s incredible how much they have that I always associated with Southern food. We also keep the “y’all” going. I wouldn’t know what else to say!