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Feb 21 2019

Spanish Chefs and Sustainability: A Definitive Yes, and There’s No Turning Back

The recent edition of international culinary conference Madrid Fusión focused in large part on the concept of sustainability. To this end, Spanish chefs demonstrated that they are more than prepared to face the direction in which their profession is inevitably going.

 Sustainability and Spanish chefs.  Photo: Madrid Fusión

Sustainability is not just a challenge with regard to any human activity. It has also become an obligatory concept for society to keep in mind when developing or engaging in any type of project, and refers to sustainability that goes beyond a mere focus on protecting the environment. It is important to combine this point with others, like fighting poverty and inequality, achieving more leadership roles for women, always seeking maximum energy efficiency, favoring the preservation of rural populations, combating food waste, and recovering animal and plant species at risk of extinction, etc. In this article, we are going to look at some of the recent proposals from Spanish chefs in their professional crusade for sustainability:

1. Ángel León and marine biodiversity

Everyone in the culinary world knows Ángel León as the Chef del Mar (Chef of the Sea). The reason for this is clearly his passion for protecting the sea and its species — a passion that is exemplified by the fact that he turns them into the protagonists of his cuisine at Aponiente (three Michelin stars). We are already familiar with his projects focusing on using marine plankton as an ingredient, as well as his culinary use of once-discarded fish species. Now, the chef has decided to recover virtually-unknown species of seaweed and use them as key ingredients. Thanks to research conducted by Ángel and confirmed by the Universidad de Cádiz into the suitability of these species for human consumption, the chef has dared to explore the world of seaweeds, including species like sea tomatoes, sea celery and sea gooseberries, among others. It is clear that the ocean still has so much to offer.

Sustainability and Spanish chefs. Ángel León. Photo: Madrid Fusión

2. Joan Roca and recycling at El Celler de Can Roca

There are two extremely interesting new projects relating to the constant search for equilibrium and sustainability that is carried out daily by the team at El Celler de Can Roca (three Michelin stars). One of these has to do with reusing the plastic bags that are used for cooking sous vide. Joan Roca and his team realized that they were throwing a lot of them away, and they decided to find a new use for these bags that went beyond merely putting them in the recycling bin.

This is how the collaboration project got underway with Cáritas charity, in the form of a workshop targeting people at risk of social exclusion that teaches them to make beautiful aprons out of these plastic bags. The aprons are then sold to customers of El Celler de Can Roca as a memento of their meal at one of the world’s best restaurants. The profits from the sale of these items are used to fund Cáritas España projects.  

Sustainability and Spanish chefs. Joan Roca. Photo: Madrid Fusión

But the sustainable outlook of El Celler de Can Roca doesn’t stop there. The team was also conscious of the large number of Styrofoam boxes (frequently used to deliver fresh fish and seafood) that was accumulating in the restaurant’s kitchens. This material can be reused, something that the team demonstrated by getting in touch with the designer Andreu Carulla. He converted these boxes into attractive stools, which have already been praised at the world’s most prestigious international design, decor and interior design fairs.

3. Eneko Atxa, the defender of local purveyors

Eneko Atxa’s dedication to sustainability is by now a well-known fact. His flagship restaurant Azurmendi (three Michelin stars), near Bilbao, is an example in this regard. Now this chef wants to bring this commitment to sustainability to a more global audience. Together with his partner Xabi Uribe, he has created an international platform called Best Farmers, to highlight the best food purveyors from the rural sphere. According to Eneko Atxa, “our hope is that each of these purveyors will be able to connect with potential clients and other producers. It is a small, ‘big data,’ and in its first year we are already going to have 300 registered producers from all over the world.”

4. Giving food a second chance

This was the title of the culinary workshop led by chef Pepa Muñoz (Qüenco de Pepa, Madrid), during which she demonstrates interesting ways to use leftovers to make new dishes. One of her examples was cocido madrileño, a dish that usually yields plenty of leftovers, which can then be used to make vegetable purees, chicken croquetas, stewed beef cannelloni, and more. 

The Madrid Fusión conference also left time for presenting sustainable projects like those of Finca de Uga, in Lanzarote, a 100% sustainable farm; the work that is being done at Cañabota restaurant in Seville to take full advantage of every part of fish in the kitchen; the defense of biodiversity in the province of Zamora that is being carried out by Lera restaurant; and the contest for the Sustainable and Natural Cooking of Kid, Suckling Lamb and Lamb Meat, organized by Interovic.

5. Spain is on board with the European “Too Good To Go” movement

Spain has been banded together with a group of European countries (Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Holland, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium and France) for half a year now, as part of the “Too Good To Go” movement. This initiative seeks to prevent the food waste that occurs on a daily basis in restaurants, bars and grocery stores. Restaurants can sell the products that they know are not going to be ordered by their customers on any given day to individual users through an app, at very affordable prices.



Text: Rodrigo García/@ICEX

Photos: @Madrid Fusión.

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