Superfoods are a trend of our times and Barcelona, being a European hub, is on it. Teresa Carles, the savvy vegetarian Catalan chef behind the eponymous restaurant which she started in Barcelona in 1979, speaks to Alice Tozer about the success of her latest venture Flax & Kale, superfood and green juices.
LUXOS: It seems that, with the marketing of Flax & Kale you are trying to stay faithful to your Catalan roots whilst also meeting the expectations of tourists who might come from other cities where superfoods are more readily available. Is this the idea behind the brand?
Teresa Carles: Well, there is no such strategy. In fact my traditional cooking can best be appreciated at our first restaurant, Teresa Carles. On the other hand, Flax & Kale goes a step further, using products and cooking techniques that are entirely unrelated to Catalan cuisine, but are instead the fruit of the highest level of research and innovation within health foods. We are all about providing the highest quality products, in pleasant surroundings and at affordable prices. This is our way of coaxing restaurant goers in and getting them to come back, whether they are locals or tourists.
A dish at Flax & Kale
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Flax & Kale is ‘flexitarian’?
Flax & Kale defines itself as a ‘healthy flexitarian’ restaurant. ‘Flexitarian’ denotes a flexible vegetarian diet or way of cooking. In other words, one based on food with vegetable origins but also incorporating some animal-based products, and always knowing where these foods come from and that they are excellent quality. What’s more, in our case, the cooking techniques used are also healthy (wok, griddle-fried, steamed, raw etc.) in order to draw optimal benefit from the nutrients that the foods supply.
Cold-pressed juices by Teresa's Juicery
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Could you describe the different characteristics of your various Barcelona venues?
In 2011 we opened the vegetarian restaurant Teresa Carles, which was based on the food my husband and I had been making at Paradís de Lleida since 1979. My children took on the marketing and management side. In 2014, we opened the doors of Flax & Kale, with an 80% vegetarian offering and a 20% oily fish offering. Superfoods also feature heavily. The very same day that Flax & Kale opened, we launched our own-brand cold-pressed juices under the name Teresa’s Juicery. For now, the juicer is inside Flax & Kale. Then, in summer last year we opened Teresa’s Stairway to Health, our foray into the world of healthy fast food. It’s a mix between juice bar and healthy eatery, with Teresa’s Juicery juices and flexitarian food.
Internal garden at Flax & Kale
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About green juices... the fast-food culture is different in Spain. People tend to appreciate more sitting down with a cup of coffee instead of running through the streets with it. Do you think this is changing all, and that the shift will also favour the take-away green juice culture in Spain, which has been so long coming?
It’s true that the take-away culture isn’t very well established in Spain. Take, as an example, Teresa’s Stairway to Health which was conceived with a view to focusing on take-away but now we are having to make up waiting lists because everyone wants to sit down! Even so, are seeing ever increasing quantities of Teresa’s Juicery juices fly off the shelves. Social media photos confirm this. In our case, our customers tend to lead active lifestyles and are therefore more into take-away. What’s more, by being near Plaza Cataluña, many tourists tend to pass by the shops.
Interior at Flax & Kale
It seems that you shifted your focus from vegetarian food to superfoods. Is this the case? What inspired you to open Flax & Kale, after so many years with Teresa Carles? Have you been surprised by its great success?
Flax & Kale has come about at a pivotal moment in the evolution of healthy eating. After heaving created the Teresa Carles brand in Barcelona and after 33 years (as it was at the time) of developing vegetarian cuisine, we observed how the business was going from strength to strength and we started wondering about our future focus. We wanted to grow the Teresa Carles brand but we weren't in any rush. So we decided to look at the direction which healthy eating was taking. We did a lot of travelling to this end and we saw a few repeated tendencies: kale, superfoods, the early stages of cold pressing... We decided to combine all these sources of inspiration and work on the Flax & Kale project. We have been surprised only by the degree to which Flax & Kale has grown in its inaugural year, but I suppose its success is the fruit of all our hard work and excitement.
A recipe at Flax & Kale
The interior design at Flax & Kale is stunning. Is it to your own personal taste?
We have been working with the interior designer Francesc Pons for over six years now (he is a friend of my son, Jordi). We work with fine materials, and think about women and big open spaces with industrial touches and chic details. This results in homely, pleasant interiors with a lot of green (for instance Flax & Kale’s Edible Garden). I feel comfortable in the space but it wasn’t designed purely with me in mind.
Now, we are in the spring/summer season which is so beautiful in Barcelona, if you had to choose a place in Barcelona where you’d like to grab a green juice and go for a walk, where would it be?
The sea. Walking by the beach is always relaxing and invigorating.
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What’s your favourite dish and/or juice among those which you sell at each of your venues, and why?
My favourite juice is the Virus Killer, because it contains several wild herbs that take me back to my birth town, Algerri (some we even pick there). It’s also a unique blend that’s difficult to replicate. As for the dishes, I really love all the salads as a whole. Green leaves are definitely one of the healthiest foods given to us by nature.
Teresa Carles and one of her culinary creations
Do you always eat healthily, or can you be found tucking in to a few croquetas, or a bowl of bravas on occasion? Do you have a favourite unhealthy tapas and restaurant in mind where, were you not to dine at one of your own venues, you would enjoy spending time?
My day-to-day diet is vegetarian because it’s my favourite food, and the food that makes me feel the best. But I’m not overly strict; sometimes when we go out to eat with the family we will venture outside of the vegetarian world. We really enjoy going to the tapas restaurant La Flauta (Calle D´aribau, 23, 08011 Barcelona) and also to Ciudad Condal (Rambla de Catalunya, 18, 08007 Barcelona). We usually order esqueixada [a traditional Catalan salad made from shredded salt cod, tomatoes, onions and seasonings] or ensaladilla rusa [Russian salad –based on potatoes, olives, eggs and mayonnaise]. However I personally prefer this dish with soya mayonnaise.