What I Do: Inigo Gondra of The Croquetterie

Inigo Gondra traveled the world during a decades-long career in human resources, but his true passion has always been the cuisine of his native Bilbao, Spain. After six years developing recipes, he finally made the leap to a full-time catering business, The Croquetterie

Today, he captains a booth at the Tower Grove Farmers' Market, selling hundreds of croquettes, delicate Spanish fritters bound together with bechamel, and tending vast pans of paella. Here, he shares his love of Basque culture, the croquette he’ll only make by request and why he’ll never open a restaurant.

Being Basque, in our DNA, we have food. We love food contests. I had food contests with my friends from when I was 18 years old until I was maybe 24. Every summer, in every single small village there was a food contest [for cooking] a Spanish omelet or a paella. … We always spent our nights cooking in the basement of a friend. The boys cooked for our girlfriends at the time.”  

Basques, we love eating, we love quality, we love prime ingredients. When you go there, fish will be just on the grill with olive oil and salt. You don’t need anything else because if the fish is good, you don’t need a sauce to overwhelm the tenderness of hake, which is the fish we love in Spain. … These people, they are already thinking of their Christmas menus in July.”

In Spain, it’s very popular – the squid ink croquette with squid inside and the squid ink, so the inside is totally black. In the Basque country, you will find these very often, but here I can only do it for gourmet people who know what they want.”

I remember always my mother, who wanted to eat cauliflower, she always cooked it with bechamel because if not, we wouldn’t eat it. So I called [this croquette] I Am Not Boring. … With this one, people will be attracted. They will ask, ‘What is I Am Not Boring croquette?’ and then you can start a conversation.”

I bought this year two big [paella pans] that feed 110 people. I have used them just once so far, at the Midsummer Bites [Dream] festival in Tower Grove. I cannot use them every Saturday because they are too big, but I will for sure use those ones in Festival of Nations this year.”

Even for people who have been in the business, the best [restaurant] idea is not always successful. … When Shake Shack opened, there were queues of an hour. If I need to compete with a hamburger, I’m totally lost.”

I have only tested with friends sweet croquettes, like strawberry and chocolate. This is not the best time of the year to sell it because they’ll be melted, but … probably at [Tower Grove’s September Harvest Festival] I will launch them for the first time. The chocolate croquettes are amazing – the breadcrumb is done with cookies.”

I love sailing. I had a Hobie Cat – a catamaran – with my best friend, Ricardo, in Barcelona, and I spent the whole weekend sailing, but here it is difficult to do it. Of course, you cannot do it in the river, and some lakes, yes, but it’s not the same thing.”

Catherine Klene is managing editor, digital at Sauce Magazine.