If you want to make an omelette you need to break eggs…recipe for the Spanish Tortilla and a big fat hello from the Costa del Sol

The importance of the sun for health and wellbeing

I should know that I am a sun worshipper given that I have been living on the beach for the past few years.  But I am not someone to go sunbathing, it is more the blinding light, the atmosphere, the frequent dips in the ocean, the salt on her/my skin, the sounds, the energy, the potential for grounding at the beach.

I had gotten into the habit of taking a nap on the beach every day, sunning my perineum, going to meditate in the mornings, and of course, what a pleasant run it is, though strenuous, to run along the hammered send at the waters edge.  One doesn’t realise that as much as we might find something like that pleasant, that our bodies can become addicted to it.  Since I have decamped from the beach to colder European climes, several things have been happening to my body.

For one, I am getting less sun.  This has profound effects on our mental and physical health.  Our mood.  For the first time in 6 years I have gotten sick.  Miraculously, still no COVID.  Getting sick is a reflection of gut health—perhaps weakened from eating so much cake.  And I read something interesting in the Telegraph, one of the UK’s leading newspapers.  The article noted that our children are not getting sufficiently exposed to illnesses because of the extreme levels of hand-washing, use of anti-microbial sprays and wipes, and mask wearing.  We all know that getting sick growing up is what builds our immune system, and carries us through adulthood.  As a result, I find I would rather get COVID than get vaccinated.  Though given my aversion to going to the doctor, I would be unlikely to do the necessary to get the paperwork done.

Feeling this general malaise, and knowing the benefits of sun on the perineum, found me taking advantage of the beautiful weather for a spot down on the beach in a string bikini.  Amazingly, okay it was a work day, there were not many people on the beach—and nobody swimming.  But I can report that nobody seems to care that a “man” was wearing a string bikini.  I think it looks good on me anyway…and while some might disagree, I would have to say that is more likely a function of their own social baggage—even if I do agree that it would like even better without a bulge.  In due time…And that little bit of sunshine, sandwiched between professional obligations, put a pep in my step and a smile on my face that carried me through two days of a conference-room existence.


What am I doing here?  Well, I seem to get involved a lot in family-owned businesses that reach a point of succession, some kind of inflection point.  It doesn’t seem to matter what industry the business is in—which is quite useful because as I have discovered I pretty know very little about a lot of things—good at a cocktail party, but rough in a strategy session.  And my private equity paymasters think I have “good bedside manner” with owners.  Owners take a polite view of my ignorance and show me what they have created, and perhaps knowing so little means they talk to me like a child, which is actually really quite useful.  It forces them to be articulate, I think they become much more open and revealing, and it also makes me feel good—and that feel-good feeling becomes a kind of bonhomie and intimacy in the deal.  The owner finds me unthreatening because of this.  Their comfort in turn becomes a willingness to sell.  

Why here on the Costa del Sol?  A call was made on a rumour that the founder of a successful mid-sized business was thinking about selling.  When a willingness to talk was established, I quickly rearranged my diary and hopped on a plane at an unholy hour, and found myself deplaning into radiant sunshine.

The warm weather was an immediate tonic.  But nothing is like the sun.  And in a short cycle of days I found myself both shaking off my cold, but also rediscovering my desire, my need, to exercise every day, and a more body-conscious diet.  The effect of which has brought me back into equilibrium.


How cultures are different extends to how and when business is discussed.  After warm introductions, I was shown around the building.  A full tour of everything, every department, the proud presentations of individual department heads showing off before the boss and this be-suited visitor was followed by a “snack” which was quite a luncheon spread.  Though it is a relatively small business, a rather elegantly appointed dining room and kitchen are a reflection of the business culture.  

Lunch served

We sat down to a lovely meal of poached white asparagus drizzled with olive oil.  There was a tomato and tuna fish salad with sweet pickled long hot peppers, cured anchovies, and olives.  Plates of hand sliced jamon de bellota—this is acorn-fed Spanish ham, quite possibly the most delicious ham in the world.  There was a magnificent Spanish tortilla, a soft-as-a-pillow yet satisfying blend of eggs and potatoes, made slightly sweet from the onions cooked into it.  A delicious, corned pork loin (the Spanish love their pork) sprinkled with smoked paprika and served with a sauce in the style of vitello tonnato served as the main.  And for desert, beautifully sliced wedges of aged Manchego cheese served with honey and toasted, blanched almonds.  And as I munched on these things, I felt the Tortilla as a metaphor for my life…hence this post.

The Meaning of Life

During our lunch, as typical in Spain, but also in Latin cultures more generally, we didn’t discuss business at all.  We talked about family, vacations, what our respective children were up to, the meaning of teenaged angst, being a parent.  We even talked about bullfighting and Spanish culture—it is the season.  We talked extensively about teaching children the value of work, and how each of them had learned, how they have been teaching their own children, and I shared my own experience.

After lunch was finished, one of our hosts asked if I would like a coffee, and I took this as a cue to rise and help clear the table.  And while the one non-owner protested and said he would do it, and none of the owners rose to help, I did it anyway, saying, “it is my pleasure.”  [As a side note, neither of my colleagues, both junior to me, rose to assist, so I cleared their plates for them].  

[As a separate side note, as a CEO of a branch-network business, I had a habit of visiting the bathrooms of our branches to inspect for cleanliness.  I found one branches toilets so filthy I went straight out, bought cleaning supplies and rubber gloves, and before any meetings, I scrubbed the toilets, sinks, and bathroom floors until they were spotless.  After, on a company-wide call, the branch manager of that branch said to the entire company what I had done, and how sobering it was.  I noted that the details we take care of say the most about what kind of company we are, what kind of society we are.  After that, I never found a dirty toilet in any of our branches].

As we all tucked into our coffees, I changed the topic to the one at hand asking, “why on earth do you want to sell such a wonderful company?”  And what followed was an emotional outpouring.  Six months, a life-long friend and colleague, the CFO of the company said he felt a little unwell and that it was a different kind of unwell than he had felt before.  He went to the doctor, who told him, he had terminal cancer, and that technically he should already be dead.  He went to his bosses, the siblings sitting across from me, and told them how important their friendship had been to his entire life, that they had known each other since they were children, had gone to school together, raised their children together, and that they had been wonderful employers, but that his time was up, and that he needed to stop working and try to spend his last time with his family.  Four days later he died while swimming at the beach.  

As the CEO recounted this story, he cried.  He said to me, “I don’t know my own children.  My eldest son is almost adult, and I don’t know anything about him.”  

One of my colleagues said, “don’t be so hard on yourself, you’ve taken the family on some amazing vacations.”

“Yes, but children don’t care that the hotel is 5*, what they care about is that you read them a story at night, that you came to watch them play sport or be in a play, that you were present for them.  Yes, I’m rich, I have beautiful cars, a beautiful home, we can go anywhere, do anything, but no matter how much money you have, you can’t buy time.”

He was saying that the meaning of life is love, and love is lived through presence, being there at significant moments for the people that matter to you in your life.  I said as much.

Our meeting was meant to end at that point—after all, this was just an introduction.  But something else happened.  Instead, we went into full detail about the business performance, his expectations, his strategy, his people, where investment was needed, what kind of growth was possible, what the family’s ongoing involvement would be, could be, other ways that the family business might collaborate with us, other opportunities that might exist, introductions he could make, etc.  In other words, the makings of a deal.  It’s the tears wot did it.

Egg and Potato, in Science and Art, a true marriage.

Eggs are one of the most gracious creations ever known.  In the kitchen, they stand for me as the ultimate firewall against personal veganism.  I love eggs: their flavour, texture, versatility, and all the magical things they can do for you in the kitchen.  Let’s take a closer look.

An egg white is 90% water and 10% protein.  The proteins are known as globular proteins.  These proteins are quite long, curly, and foldy, which makes them clump together.  When you whip water, the bubbles all pop and go away, because water is just so attracted to itself that it can’t help but pop the bubbles and reunite.  But when you whip an egg, that 10% of proteins untangles and gets stretched out, and those proteins are like velvet ropes at the party gate, and they keep those water molecules from being anti-social and force them to keep mingling.  Proteins are long chains of amino acids, and some of them are hydro-phobic—as in they like to keep water away…and once you push away water molecules from each other far enough, the bonds get so weak that they forget about each other, kind of like the social butterflies that they are…and the many different kinds of proteins present in egg whites form a kind of lattice that holds all of this together, which is what an egg white foam is.

An egg yolk also has protein, but is mainly about the fat.  They can be whipped into a thick creamy texture too, but the science behind is more similar to what happens when you whip fat (cream) than when you whip protein.  This means you are creating a foam that is stabilised by the fat in the yolk rather than the protein, but again it is the interplay between hydrophobic fat and water…and how air is brought into the mix through whipping as a buffer between the two—another reason why whipping makes things expand.

When we beat or whisk eggs, we are elongating the proteins.  This makes them fluffier when incorporated into a dish.  This is in part due to trapped air but is also just as much about untangling proteins.  When you make an omelette, if you stir it a bit just after you add it to the pan you will get a lighter texture, than if you only gently move it to ensure the liquid all gets cooked.  This is important when making a Tortilla, as we like it to be well-beaten eggs to contribute to the soft texture of the finished product.

The speed with which you cook an egg also affects its texture.  Cook it slow and it will be soft and tender.  Cook it fast and it will be hard and rubbery.  That is an important lesson for the potentially impatient cook making a Tortilla.  Rushing is not good.

Recipe for Spanish Tortilla

This classic of Spanish cuisine is a simple dish which is excellent when done right, but also unforgiving if not put together in the proper way.  And that is an excellent metaphor for this post, and for life.  Enjoy.

We use waxy potatoes or salad potatoes for they hold their shape when cooked, whereas starchy or roasting potatoes will fluff and break apart.

  • 1 kg of waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into thin slices, about 2-3 mm
  • 500 kg of yellow, “Spanish”, onions, chopped fine
  • 500 ml of healthy cooking oil
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil without burning or smoking it, but still quite hot, on medium-high heat, and add the sliced potatoes.  When these are almost golden, remove them to a strainer to drain of oil.  The oil needn’t be discarded but can be used again.  Meanwhile, sauté the minced onions in a small quantity of oil over medium heat, stirring often, and cooking until caramelised.  You can add an occasional splash of water to keep them from burning.

Whisk or lightly beat the eggs until fluffy.  Add the cooked onion and mix.  Once the potatoes are slightly cooled gently stir them into the egg mix.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and then let the mix sit for 15 minutes.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a non-stick frying pan over low to medium-low heat (cooking it too fast and it will be rubbery and will cook unevenly).  Gently pour in the egg-potato-onion batter, and cook the tortilla for about 8-10 minutes, cooking until the centre is set.  Lower the heat if the tortilla appears to be cooking too quickly where it is in contact with the pan, and not fast enough in the middle.  Once the tortilla has set, invert very quickly onto a plate and then slide back in to cook the other side, another 8-10 minutes.  The idea is to have a slightly caramelized, slightly golden tinge to both sides.

Invert the tortilla onto a serving plate.  It is typically served at room temperature.  If you are serving it warm, wait for at least 10 minutes before serving it or cutting it.  You can cut it into wedges or more traditionally into “squares” by cutting it with several perpendicular cuts.  Serve it forth.  Makes enough for 6-8 people as an appetizer.

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