Image courtesy of Restaurante Dani García
Spanish cuisine has always had that special something. Its very simple, yet distinctive and masterful approach to cooking and ingredients has set it apart from other cuisines. It is exactly this mysterious ingredient that we try to better understand with the help of Spain's top chefs. Chefs such as Ferran Adriá, Joan Roca, Martín Berasategui and Juan Mari Arzak have entirely revolutionised Spanish cuisine over the last decade. However there was no need for a culinary revolution to attract a crowd...
Catalan bell peppers. Image courtesy of Tim Pierce/flickr
Spain extends over 504,030 square kilometers of the Iberian peninsula and has a varied landscape that includes mountains, verdant valleys and of course the sea. "Spanish cuisine is one rich in products and diversity," explained chef Ramón Freixa. “These are the perfect ingredients for an exquisite cuisine.”
Its diversity of terrain and climate play a major role in its produce, and hence, its recipes. Chef Joan Roca said that "landscapes are key elements in our cuisine: seasonal changes and the emotions linked to its ephemeral products." The French describe these links to the region and its produce as terroir, which comes from the French word for ‘land’, terrain. Though the term was initially applied to wines, it has become widely used in the culinary world as of late as chefs express their appreciation of their environment and all that it offers.
Catalan Pan con Tomate. Image courtesy of Oh-Barcelona.com by Jen SFO-BCN/flickr
Chef Dani García went on to explain that the country’s culinary culture is “very different from north to south and from east to west, yet all over the country, people are deeply rooted to their culture and traditions and to their surroundings and its products.” He told LUXOS that “the essential element in my kitchen [Calima] is Andalusia, its flavours, its fragrance and its produce.” Chef Juan Mari Arzak said that "the market determines what nature offers us, and also challenges us so that we don’t fall into routine."
However terroir does not just attach importance to regional products, it encompasses the whole culture surrounding a particular area. Arzak emphasises this connection to Spain in his cooking by stating, “my main teacher was my mother. She taught me that affection is the most important thing – affection towards produce and people. She said that it was very important to look after the fishers and farmers because we would be absolutely nothing without them.”
Migas con Naranja. Image courtesy of Jonathan Pincas/flickr
And in this thought there is a general consensus among Spanish chefs. According to García, “Spanish cuisine is famous around the world because tradition and culture are respected and encouraged." Where Freixa reminded LUXOS that the three fundamental tools with which he works are “products, technique and passion.”
Habas con jamón. Image courtesy of Jennifer Woodard Maderazo/flickr
Roca, who learned to cook traditional Catalan dishes from his mother and grandmother, said that the women of his life also taught him "how to cook with respect and generosity." Though science and technology play an important role at his restaurant, he said that these tools are used "to preserve the essence of those flavours and aromas that return to my mind's eye I recall what I learnt from my mother."
In true family style, his brothers are also involved in the restaurant's success. Josep Roca supervises wines and spirits, while immaginative desserts are created by the skillful Jordi Roca.
Paella. Image courtesy of kerinin/flickr
García commented that a chef’s role in a country’s culinary culture “depends on the chef’s approach. There are some who cook while remaining close to their deep roots in Spanish culture and products, while others work with greater freedom. However it all adds up to make Spanish culinary culture ever more important.” Freixa reinforced this idea by stating that “we chefs [as chefs] are ambassadors of Spain’s food culture."
We are impressed by the respect and admiration current Spanish chefs have for the dishes and techniques of previous generations. It is only with their invaulable counsel and culinary base that the most cutting-edge, avantgarde cuisine has come to life on the Iberian peninsula. This base is, and will continue to be, the most important ingredient in Spanish alta cocina and in whatever gastronomic revolution comes next.
Seafood in Malaga. Image courtesy of Andrew Nash/flickr