Dag Flachet is a good friend of ours, and along with some partners, he runs an empanada joint called Las Empas, here in Gràcia, Barcelona.
Mind you, this is not your standard restaurant; these empanadas are made by the customers. I don’t mean you show up and make your own bespoke empanada, I mean customers compete using a Facebook application to design and promote an empanada of their own creation. The one with the most votes gets the opportunity to make a test batch, and if all goes well, get an empanada on the menu.
“What’s the incentive?” you may ask. Once your creation is on the menu, for every 20 that are sold, you get a free empanada when you go by the restaurant. It’s a clever business model that links social media with food in an engaging (and competitive) way, and rewards creativity with deliciousness.
Needless to say, it was enough to motivate me, so I’ll walk you through how the process went.
A couple of years ago, Gillian and I had an amazing meal at some restaurant in Hawaii that used a red-wine reduction sauce. We thought, “Why are there no beer reduction sauces?” and set to work making one. What we ended up with was a seared beef tenderloin with blue cheese and porter beer reduction, which turned out surprisingly well (consequently, it was later featured on craftbeer.com). I thought this might make a good empanada, so I gave it a shot.
Using the Las Empas Empanada Creator on Facebook is super easy and intuitive. Pick the type of dough (out of five options), pick the filling (too many to count), add the spices (also too many to count). Simple. If something essential is missing (for instance, porter beer reduction sauce), let them know, and they’ll add it to the application.
Once you’ve created and named (a good name is essential) your empanada, it’s time for shameless self-promotion. Share it on Facebook and encourage your friends to vote for your empanada. Likes on Facebook contribute to your overall score, and votes are tallied so you can see your progress on the leaderboard.
After a month of, as mentioned before, shameless self-promotion to friends and family who may never get to try my empanada based on geographic distance, I ended up at the top! Seriously, thank you all of you who voted.
The next step was to met with Dag in the test kitchen and do a test run. This day started by writing all the ingredients of the empanada on his giant chalkboard wall. Being a designer who loves typography, I maybe went a little overboard.
I’ve never made empanadas before, but the prep of the filling was similar to what I’d done when making the original recipe. Dag had handy little patties of empanada dough and we made about 15-20, using a fork to close them up.
A few minutes in the oven and the empanadas were ready for a formal presentation in front of the Las Empas sign. You should note that Dag is seated and is still taller than I am when standing.
The empanadas came out with gooey, cheesy, beer reductiony steak filling and were really good. With zero prior knowledge and this being my first attempt at empanadas ever, I’m extremely pleased with the results. Of course, now I see there are a few things I would optimize the next time around. Mainly, cooking the meat less time before it goes into the dough (it gets cooked again in the oven) a using LOT more beer sauce. Obviously.
These things are to be expected, and overall I had a ton of fun making empanadas and drinking beer all afternoon (we had to make sure we had the right beer for the sauce, of course). Many thanks to Dag and the rest of the Las Empas team for humoring me, as well as Blaga Popova for documenting the event. Looking forward to the next round of testing and seeing Empa Porterhouse Blue on the menu soon!