I’ve traveled the world with my band, Bush, but my most memorable journeys were the annual treks my family took to the Costa Brava in Spain, starting when I was about 8. We’d leave at 4 a.m. and drive down to Folkestone and the White Cliffs of Dover. It was always dark, and we’d park our car on the ferry and sail across the Channel to France. From there, we’d drive about 1,000 miles over two days. My dad would stop and get baguettes, cheese, and salami, and we’d park on the side of the road near some field in Provence. I’d take a bite of a saucisson and a sip of Orangina, which felt very sophisticated to someone from a middle-class town in England without fancy restaurants or food culture. Now, of course, London has some of the best restaurants in the world, but in the ’80s there was kind of a gray spell.
The Costa Brava was a bit off the beaten path, not a well-known destination like Saint-Tropez, and the same families would go every year. When you first arrived, you’d be awkward and pale, and there’d be someone there who was already settled in and knew the ropes. We’d stay in this hotel in Begur called Aigua Blava, which offered a package holiday. My parents would go off with their friends, and all the kids would eat in the hotel and sign our room number on the bill. We could order anything off the menu, but we weren’t allowed to eat in the grill room, where they made steak Diane tableside. (That cost extra, and seemed so decadent.)
There was a beach restaurant across from the hotel where they had a whole wall of chickens on a rotisserie. They were seasoned with salt and pepper, and that crunchy skin—it was the most intoxicating taste. There was another town called Tamariu. You’d have to borrow someone’s boat—not a big, fancy, Leo DiCaprio–style yacht but, like, a 10-footer—to get there. We’d have gambas a la plancha and pan con tomate, toast with a bit of salt and olive oil, rubbed with garlic and topped with tomato. I just recreated that dish for my kids the other night.
Whenever I cook, I’m aiming for the flavor profile of those meals in Spain. I think about food almost the same way I reflect on a lyric, thinking, Is it as good as a Tom Waits or David Bowie lyric? When I make food, I’m like, Does it touch the emotional highs of those Spanish dishes from my youth?
After my parents divorced, when I was 11, my dad started taking my sisters and me, and the trips turned kind of bittersweet. Everyone knew that he’d just been through hell, but we didn’t disappear; we just came as less. It was a point of pride for me—watching my dad hold his head up high during those difficult times. It taught me not to shrink from life’s challenges. It’s very English to say, “Chin up,” even when the world is falling away. Now, as an adult, I realize how challenging it must have been.
I distinctly remember one night in particular, when I was 13 or 14. At the hotel, there was this wonderful bar called Chez Henry that turned into a disco at night. It was full of the most beautiful Spanish girls with these mesmerizing green eyes and olive skin and brown hair. They were doing these rockabilly dances, and they were freaking amazing at it. Of course, I was too young to get in, and I remember walking down that long gravel path from the bar back to the main hotel after being told to leave. I was so embarrassed but also quite philosophical at that point, and I said to myself, “Don’t worry, your time will come. You’re going to get into the club.”
Lately, I’ve been fantasizing about where to take my sons on our next vacation, where we wake up and there’s nothing to do except think about where we’re going to eat and swim and relax. They might be a bit bougie for the package holidays—I may have ruined them in that way—but my kids are brilliant, just way improved versions of me, and their standards about food are just as extreme.
Bush, Gavin Rossdale’s multiplatinum-selling band, releases Loaded: The Greatest Hits 1994–2023 on November 10. The album features a new Rossdale-penned song, “Nowhere to Go but Everywhere.”