Green Chefs from Spain
Spanish gastronomy fans are familiar with some iconic and traditional dishes from Spain that are cooked mainly with vegetables: gazpacho, menestra (vegetable medley), pisto Manchego, salmorejo cold soup and tumbet from the Balearic Islands, to name just a few. Nevertheless, prestigious Spanish avant-garde cuisine has focused its attention and research on other kind of products. Have vegetables been traditionally considered humble ingredients? Do Spanish chefs take them for granted? Maybe, but somehow it seems like something is changing in the creative minds of young Spanish chefs. It’s time to recognize the value of fresh (and often also organic) vegetables in cutting-edge cuisine in Spain. Meet the ultimate green chefs from Spain
Rodrigo de la Calle: Natural Harmony
Who would have imagined an avant-garde sample menu prepared only with vegetables, wild mushroom, legumes, and fruits (no fish, no meat) could exist in a five-star Madrid hotel? Probably no one but Spanish chef Rodrigo de la Calle, a chef who always searches for harmony in his dishes: balance, flavor and identity in every single ingredient. “I am very proud of my working philosophy in the kitchen. I firmly defend a healthy haute cuisine”. One of his nutritional keys is combining vegetables and legumes with animal protein: “We cook extra light meat and fish stocks, in order to use them as accompaniments for vegetables. It means a 180 degree turn in terms of cooking”. Your favorite ingredients? “I love cooking with seaweed, mushrooms, artichokes, leeks, rice, citrus fruits, extra virgin olive oil…even cauliflower!”.
Joan Roca, rediscovering his surrounding area
This Catalan chef, along with his brothers Josep and Jordi and their family restaurant El Celler de Can Roca, are world-famous thanks to the list of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World. Together with elBulli, this venue in Girona is the only Spanish restaurant to have reached the top of this ranking. Joan Roca took part in the Madridfusión international gastronomy summit last January, where he announced a new research project that is being carried out by El Celler de Can Roca’s team. It consists of looking for wild vegetables, flowers, stems, seeds, and species of herbs that grow in Girona’s surroundings, documenting them and studying how to use these products in the kitchen. “My grandmother cooked with some herbs but my mother doesn’t remember their names. It’s a pity how we lose culinary heritage”. One key idea from Joan Roca: “Nature must inspire us, because our kitchen should feature landscapes inside our pans and pots”.
Josean Alija, The Guggenheim’s Wizard
The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is the main tourist attraction in this Basque city. Just inside the museum is Nerua Restaurant, where young chef Josean Alija develops a cuisine where local ingredients and cutting-edge techniques are perfectly blended to offer a unique gastronomic experience. We can dive deep inside his personal point of view by reading his book Muina: a journey through his vision of haute cuisine, infused with healthy botanicals, Basque cultural roots, aromas and the essence of his surroundings. Talking about his purveyors, he always mentions, “an old man who brings me a rare vegetable, a type of chard grown only in a few garden markets in a little village near Bilbao, Derio”.
Javier Olleros, Galicia’s Veg Ambassador
Fish, seafood and vegetables are keywords for Javier’s kitchen at El Culler de Pau restaurant (on the Galician coast in O Grove). His passion for vegetables is shared with one of his suppliers, Santiago Pérez, a former airplane pilot who left his successful career to change his life project: he now tries to find and grow vegetable treasures for vegetable-loving chefs on his farm La Finca de los Cuervos. Olleros and Pérez have taken the challenge to create new signature dishes with unknown (or increasingly rare) vegetables. Examples include a Galician variety of tear peas, baby aubergines or the so-called land baby octopus (a sort of cabbage, slightly sweet like broccoli, slightly sour like a turnip green).
Miguel Ángel de la Cruz, a chef in love with pine nuts
Valladolid is a province located in the region of Castile-León, in the middle of the Castilian plateau. There we find Matapozuelos, a little town with a Michelin-starred restaurant (La Botica), managed by the young and talented chef Miguel Ángel de la Cruz. Cruz has devoted his time to analyzing the soil near his restaurant, its plants and its most unexpected fruits. And he has found two gems: pine nuts and wild aromatic herbs. He has also mastered the art of cooking with pine cones, extracting their appealing juices and flavor. Back to roots, back to nature.
More names to follow…
Spanish chefs Andoni Luis Aduriz (Basque Country), Koldo Rodero (Navarre) and Fernando del Cerro (Madrid) represent a passion for herbs and the whole world of vegetables in Spanish avant-garde cuisine, but there are other young chefs that have decided to work hard looking for new “green” culinary experiences using fresh vegetables. Sergio Bastard (La Casona del Judío restaurant in Cantabria) likes to imagine dishes where seaweed and fresh vegetables come together; Mario Sandoval (Coque restaurant in Madrid) grows vegetables in his garden and brings their seeds to a research lab in Madrid in order to trace the origins of their DNA; last but not least, Eneko Atxa (Azurmendi, Basque Country) selects some ingredients from his own organic greenhouse and has entitled one of his tasting menus “Eating from the soil” What does he mean? "Our dream is to create a restaurant where people can feel nature, not only in the dishes, but also as an overall experience”.
Who would have imagined an avant-garde sample menu prepared only with vegetables, wild mushroom, legumes, and fruits (no fish, no meat) could exist in a five-star Madrid hotel? Probably no one but Spanish chef Rodrigo de la Calle, a chef who always searches for harmony in his dishes: balance, flavor and identity in every single ingredient