I am breathing art, seeing art, hearing art and ofcourse tasting art. In Barcelona, this city of culture, knowledge,creativity and innovation Spanish genius has been nurtured over centuries…be it Gaudi or Dali or Picasso. Culinary heros like Ferran Adria have blazed global trails and now many more are making an international impact. Infact the first ever culinary book was written in Barcelona in the 12th century. Barcelona with it’s architectural masterpiece buildings with floral motifs, stained glass windows, wrought iron balconies and neo gothic details really is like an open air museum.
In the heart of it all, is the oldest Majestic which opened it’s doors in 1918. It is timeless, elegant and luxurious and always has been even when it’s nightly rate was just oven ten cents. Today the third generation of the founding Soldevila-Casals family continues to ensure that this “art hotel” not only houses a collection of priceless art but many great artists like Picasso and Miro have lived here too.
Did you know that Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, a small nation pursuing independence within a united Europe? And though it has assimilated cosmopolitan cultures, over a 1000 years, it continues to hold it’’s own roots, culture, language and cuisine in high regard.
I am fascinated by this complex yet amazingly simple cuisine and the high state of gastronomy in Catalonia. Daylight bathes the timeless elegance of the Majestic located in the throbbing heart of Barcelona. It is here that Michelin starred chef Nando jubani weaves his magic. Along with the masterpieces which regale the diners, it is here too that I request to taste the most Catalan of all dishes…the simple (and now in season) “Calcotada”.Please take a look at the photograph and you’ll see what I mean. There is an art to eating this specialty which takes a little practice: tip the head back and open your mouth wide, then hold the long white stalk high above and then bring it between your teeth and enjoy it…it’s the ancient ritual of Calcotada, the great green onion feast, which attracts thousands of devotees ever year and has acquired an essential place in the economy of the entire region. It is said that Xat de Benaiges was the first to grill the green onion over a flaming fire over a hundred years ago. The green onions (harvested November till January) are grilled in advance . I request Chef David Romero to make this ancient specialty and voila! What a fantastic job he does. As done for more than a century, the dynamic Santiago Martin, the knowledgable Montse Subirana and I peel away the smoke-blackened skin and dip the green onions in the”salbitaxada” sauce, a piquant sauce of tomatoes, almonds, peppers, vinegar and oil and the simplicity and freshness of the flavors not only seduces but also energises me.
Sauce for the calcots …green onions
2 tbsp blanched almonds, 2 bitso peppers, (substitute with red chilli peppers)6 cloves of garlic, 2 ripe tomatoes, skinned and iced, 1 tbsp chopped parsley, 1 tbsp red wine vinegar, half cup olive oil, salt and pepper. Method…Heat a dry skilled and toast almonds, crush them coarsely in a morter pestle. Chop garlic and peppers (after deseeding) coarsely, mix with almonds. Add tomatoes, parsley, vinegar and then pour in olive oil gradually. Whisk into a thick paste. Tip: you can use a mixi if you are short of time.
It is only in Catalonia that even the war which they lost (in 1714) is celebrated by Michelin starred chef Jordi val in his restaurant “300 el born” where typical Catalan dishes are cooked to their hearty recipes interpreted by jordi in his own brilliant way.
THE BEST OF THE BEST
I landed in Catalonia only day before and have already been regaled by the most amazing restaurants…At the hot, happening, new bar Brutal Can Cisa in the old city, not only are amazing Catalan Tapas served but also only “natural wines”.
I taste it all…from the three Michelin starred Carme Rustadilla’s masterpieces in texture and flavor to the homestyle Catalan flavors of the Garrega family kitchen. The 62 year young Carme weaves magic in her seafront restaurant. Each dish is a work of art and artistry and our three hour long meal is a memorable parade of 23 courses. At “Tickets” the Adria brothers, vibrant and fun tapas bar with a twist (and what a twist) wizardry and skill results in quivering spheres which look like olives and implode with olive flavor, tempura pistachio, artichoke ravioli, the worlds first gourmet beer (with hints of fennel and liqourice) which pairs brilliantly with he food…all created by the famous El Bulli brothers Adria. At their Peruvian-Japanese fusion “Pakta” I am blown away by the ceviches and sushi withPeruvian overtones and Bodega 1900 is a nostalgic return to the good old days. Tomorrow early morning I leave for Girona to eat in the “Worlds best restaura nt” crowned by the London based “Worlds 50 best restaurant academy”..it is called “El Celler can de Roca” and it is a part of Catalonia. Viva Catalonia!
Move over France. Spain is here. Spanish genius spills over with vibrant intensity, be it art, architecture and especially food. Picasso, Dali, Gaudi and even the Gods of gastronomy (Ferran Adria, Roca brothers, Juan Marie and Elena Arzak) reign supreme.
I’m here in Spain, at most cutting edge frontier of gastronomy. Here global superstars and Spanish wizards have flown in for the most prestigious Madridfusion, the annual, three day foodcongress in the stylish, art and food mecca, Madrid. Its really impossible to distil the flavor of Spain in this short space, so I offer to you a smattering of tastes…
THE FUTURE IS HERE
Unveiling the future, at this three Madridfusion are many a genius. Andoni Luis along with British Scientists announces and demonstrates how we will be able to transmit smell through the internet. Joan Roca explains how he injects leaves to make cocktails…and the list goes on. The future trends of gastronomy, the best of the best,
are revealed by global superstars who have flown in from all parts of the world. I hear their views, learn their cooking secrets and chat with them…be it Jose Andres (Bazaar, Minibar) of Los Angeles, the legendary Michel Bras and Pascal Barbot from France, Mehmet Gurs from Istanbul and many more. The suave Joan Roca of the Worlds best restaurant (El Celler can Roca, Girona…where I had a lifechanging dinner a few days ago) is here.Its the Capel family (Esmeralda, Anna and Carlos) who founded and spearheaded this gastronomique Madridfusion.
THE FATHER OF SPANISH CUISINE
Please take a look at the photograph I shot in the midst of this hectic, pathbreaking Madridfusion. I was lucky enough to meet the father of Modern Basque cuisine, Juan marie and his daughter Elena (crowned “the worlds best woman chef” ). A couple of days before I had journeyed to the charming coastal town of San Sebastian to their restaurant “Arzak”.
It sure is a memorable experience to dine in Arzak, home of the Arzak family since 1897 is constructed by Juan Mari’s grandparents. His brilliant daughter Elena (crowned as the “Worlds best woman chef”) is the fourth generation of culinary geniuses.
As the leisurely 12 course, wine-paired meal unfolds it becomes quite evident why Arzak was the first Spanish restaurant to earn three Michelin stars in 1989. Science and technique, art and drama merge to coax flavors and textures out of the Superb Basque produce. Space constrains me to describe only three dishes. Though each and every one was magnificent.
It all starts off with A crushed can of tonic…mango zuchini in a tonic water sauce…clever yet simple flavors.
A dramatic large green dome of seaweed and crispy rice reveals.tenderfirm monkfish in a traditional green sauce of parsley and gsrlic. I nibble on the crspy seawed and rice dome.yum. It’s the finale of the “Hardware shop” (ferreteria) that I get addicted to….Screws of intense chocolate bolts of aubergine and chocolate. Keys of silver and chocolate unlocking sheer delight. Chocoholics delight.
INDIA IS SHINING
Here in Madridfusion, India is shining. The Roca brothers of The worlds best restaurant, created a dish inspired by India: the legendary Michel Bras goes on stage to announce that he gets his inspiration from India. Michelin-starred Sergi Arola has set up his signature restaurant in Mumbai. Delhi is next on his agenda. Our very own dynamic chef Himanshu Taneja from the JW Marriott is making his presence felt.
SPAIN IN MY PLATE?
After eating my way through Spain for ten days, I find that it is impossible to distil Spain in one recipe. However this simple but flavorful garlic and olive oil recipe (known in Spain as) ajaceite or alioli is basic to Spanish cuisine and surely worth trying at home.
This creamy garlic mixture is especially popular with the Catalans, and the name comes
from the Catalan words all(garlic) and oli (oil). alioli (pronounced all-
ee-ohlee) consists only of these two ingredients, plus a pinch of salt, and nothing else.
3 large cloves of garlic coarsely chopped
¼ – ½ tsp salt
½ -1 cup/125-250 ml olive oil
Lemon juice to taste
Pound the garlic and salt to an even consistency, using a mortar and pestle. Then add the olive
oil drop by drop at first, increasing to a thin stream and stirring constantly until a thick
paste is formed. Add lemon juice to taste.
3 large cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
½ tsp salt
l-12 egg yolks
1 cup/250 ml olive oil
Lemon juice n taste
Cut up the garlic and pound it with salt to an even paste, using a mortar and pestle. Stir in the
egg yolk. Then add the olive oil drop by drop at first, increasing to a thin stream and working it
in by stirring constantly. Flavor with lemon juice to taste and serve cold. A balloon or hand
whisk may be used to stir in the oil if preferred.
P.S. The test of the cook’s skill is to be able to turn the mortar upside down with the finished alioli inside, without any of it falling out. Sparkle your food, serve Alioli with fish,meat, vegetables, rice…take your pick
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