Aran Goyoaga is a stylist, writer, and chef born in Spain’s Basque Country but presently based in Seattle, Washington. Through her food writing, incepted from a cooking journal, Cannelle et Vanille, she has cultivated a space for a point of view centered around the emotion of food: what we bring to the table, what we share, how a meal can shape, connect, and let the senses merge.
In early winter, she traveled to Paris, and was documented as a traveler in motion by photographer Andrea Gentl. Fascinated by the version of ourselves we become on the road, Aran was captured in the spots that bookmark how she seeks solace, inspiration, and connection outside her normal environment.
Below, a conversation on a Basque upbringing; embracing vulnerability; and the art of the slow, wandering meal.
Can you share a bit more about your upbringing and childhood?
I was born and raised outside of Bilbao in the Basque Country in Northern Spain. My grandparents on my mother’s side were pastry chefs (they opened a shop in 1949, which is still in the family) and so I grew up surrounded by people who cooked professionally. My father was “an engineer by day and painter by night,” as he liked to refer to himself. I grew up with an appreciation for art and cooking although neither were taken very seriously or considered to be careers that could provide a good income. I studied business and economics in university, which was crucial to teach me what I didn’t want to do in life. I also developed a secret eating disorder in those university years that have marked much of how I approach my work and life these days. I left Bilbao in 1998 and I’ve been in the US ever since.
I think one of the biggest lessons about Basque cooking tradition is simplicity and a strong appreciation for raw ingredients. It is really about not masking anything and focusing on the simplicity of nature. From my grandparents I also learned the idea of gathering. We always had long tables full of people for lunch and dinner. Their pastry shop was a revolving door of people from all walks of life: priests, political radicals, children, elders, extended family members…my grandparents welcomed everyone.
I think my eating disorder and having left my roots really left me in limbo for many years. I stripped myself of identity so I could know who I am inside and what my purpose is while I am here. I have realized that the vulnerability I have felt the last few years by sharing a bit more of my true story of anxiety and depression have connected me to people and myself in ways I didn’t think were possible. And it’s interesting that I did this through cooking and sharing food, which for many years had such an emotional weight attached to it. It’s through the act of cooking for others and sharing a table that we can make time to connect a deeper levels. We can access levels of empathy and intimacy that are hard to feel in other ways. Also let’s not forget that food has tremendous healing energy. It can ground us and make us stronger or totally mess us up both physically and emotionally.
When are you living most closely, or most true, to yourself?
When I am being kind to myself, when I take time to ground myself in the morning, when I breathe deeply, when I say the truth I feel inside even though I hate confrontation and I am most of the time afraid of hurting people.
I couldn’t live without lingering at the end of a meal, which in Spain we even have a proper name for - sobremesa. That idea is very important in the way I was raised. In this sobremesa time, I find connection with others, but I also need a lot of reflective and alone time and I always find that in nature. Maybe because I am an Aquarius and I feel very much in my head, being around trees grounds me like nothing else. I love touching their branches and observing their roots. Presently I live in Washington surrounded by old trees and water. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
As someone who helps direct the experience surrounding food, what advice can you give to those looking to create space for greater connection and conviviality in their lives?
Invite people to your home more often! Don’t worry about having a perfect home or perfect table. Cook simply, cook things that will energize you and the ones you love, play good music, light lots of candles, have children around the table, talk about politics even if it will ignite discussion that not everyone will be comfortable with, and give space for a little indulgence.
I just came back from a weekend trip to Lummi Island where we experienced an incredible winter storm where the roads were flooded, we were left without power, and the ferry stopped running. It reminded me of how powerful nature can be. I was in awe.
What have been some recent sources of inspiration or personal connection?
I am obsessed with Father John Misty’s lyrics. His latest album “Pure Comedy” asks so many questions I have been asking myself. The way he reflects on the current world system and humanity has really inspired me. Music and film are probably my biggest life inspirations.