Chef Andreu Genestra: Earthy and Radical in Mallorca
Far from the hubbub of daily life, slightly inland but a stone's throw from the coast, Mallorcan chef Andreu Genestra provides creative cuisine with a local twist at the country hotel Predi Son Jaumell. Seeking perfection in work and the product, his goal is to showcase Balearic cuisine which is still largely unknown.
Andreu Genestra appears to split into more than one person during his marathon working day. You are just as likely to find him checking the tomato plants in his kitchen garden or feeding the Guinea fowl, as sorting out the fish that has just come in (beautiful snappers and John Dory from San Pedro), or supervising the work in the dessert section, tasting them all as he goes along.
And you will find him at meal times, plating cuttlefish in tiger nut escabeche; carving ham by hand in the bistro's pergola (nobody touches his Joselito ham), or putting the final touches to the red prawns flambéed in Mallorcan brandy (Suau) in front of a customer, a dish accompanied with cream of white asparagus soup and green grape and fennel stew, an dish for the cusp of summer.
Chef, orchestra and 4x4. He is not above sharing lunchtime sandwiches with the gang. He will most probably end up at midnight, snacking on cheese and chatting amiably with a diner he knows.
In praise of the local pantry
The countryside and the time of year (summer) invite sitting out at night after dinner with no interference. We are on the peaceful gourmet terrace of the country hotel Predi Son Jaumell looking out to the medieval castle of Capdepera, just behind the property's vineyards and olive trees.
The ocean is a stone's throw away and wild goats tend to appear at the most inopportune moments, drawn by the delicacies of the vegetable plot. Andreu Genestra opened his restaurant of the same name here in the spring of 2012 and was awarded a Michelin star in 2015, when he was just 31 years of age.
He explains that over the last years he has “radicalized Mallorcan cuisine” and reaches further into the local larder each season. He proudly names several ingredients from the island that he uses in his cooking: cured almonds, loquats in brine, sliced dried baby radishes, salted guinea fowl egg yolks, mixed seaweed ground with herbs and spices… And platanillo and other halophiles (salt plants) collected daily from what the so-called ‘sea garden’, a rocky shore extending from Cala Gat to the lighthouse on Capdepera point. The island's most north-easterly shore
Just as all these plants live in extreme conditions and require salt to survive, Andreu Genestra's cooking is also extreme and he uses a lot of spices. If the end is to “offer the best of Mallorca”, the means are the local produce and "cuina de la terra" (cooking of the land), his motto, dressed with mestizo touches harvested from his many travels.
He uses succulent jonquillo (local whitebait) to prepare a ceviche with native and foreign ingredients mixing in anything from dried apricots, white pepper and sea fennel to red onion, fried corn or jalapeño peppers. His black suckling pig with lard confit, is dressed with smoked carob sauce containing chickpeas, polenta, summer truffles and a broth made from huitlacoche, a fungus that grows on corn planted on the property. Here we can see the hand of the kitchen manager, Mexican-born David Moreno, seconded by Felip Moreno. David Serrano is the maître D and Joan Arboix, with vast experience in Barcelona, the head sommelier.
As a child growing up in Mallorca in the 1990s, Andreu was aware of the great reputation enjoyed by the head chef of a hotel, a figure widely admired on the island. He adopted this figure as his professional (and human) model, working without complaint, earning his living and enjoying himself immensely in the hedonistic beach environment.
Despite his parents' misgivings, he was determined to become a chef. At the age of 15 he was already working as a dish washer in a hotel, a career that he would pursue at the Escola d’Hoteleria de les Illes Balears, before venturing over to the peninsula. He sneaked into the kitchen of the Condes de Barcelona hotel through the back door to ask the chef for work face to face instead of sending a his CV to human resources. And he got what he wanted. This kind of behavior had always been the norm on the Mallorcan coast and surprised no one.
Seven years passed before Andreu would get his first job as head chef at a beach hotel, on the mythical Formentor coast, where he was able to realize one of his dreams: to give a Mallorcan taste to a legendary and cosmopolitan establishment mentioned by Agatha Christie in her ingenious novel, Problem at Pollensa Bay. In this celebrated establishment he adapted all that he had learned on the peninsula to the island's idiosyncrasies.
He was influenced by great houses such as Neichel and Espaisucre, (Barcelona), two of the high points of his career and by the imagination of Marc Fosh, (Hotel Read’s, Santa Maria del Camí) and the creative whirlwind that was el Bulli in 2008 and 2009. In 2014, Genestra opened in Palma with Aromata, a name reminiscent of spices. Neichel, one of the most loved masters, said wisely in an interview that he embraced technology only when it combined “with knowledge and history”. And this is the challenge that the Mallorcan chef, knowledgeable of the culinary art and tradition of the island, with a local memory and a strong track record, appears to have accepted. Andreu Genestra takes advantage of the winters to work all over the world: London, Paris, Stockholm, Miami, Moscow… He has also worked in Kuwait, India and Brazil. Now he is turning his eyes (and nose) to Mallorca, the small and timeless region of his birth.
Article originally published in the Club de Gourmets Magazine.
He explains that over the last years he has “radicalized Mallorcan cuisine” and reaches further into the local larder each season. He proudly names several ingredients from the island that he uses in his cooking: cured almonds, loquats in brine, sliced dried baby radishes, salted guinea fowl egg yolks...