Altar bread ravioli. Aromatic herb ravioli

Sometimes we serve our customers dishes that require more chewing than usual to get them thinking about how our diet has evolved through the ages. A dentist who was studying evolutionary changes in the human diet observed how these changes led to physiological changes in the human body. Having to chew less means the facial muscles become underused and weakened, eventually leading to changes in the bone structure of the face. What we look like depends on our health and our changing diet.

On this instance, what we asked our customers to chew over and over again like chewing gum was a ravioli pocket made of altar bread and filled with chicken broth and herbs. As it wasn’t easy to separate the casing from the filling, they had no choice but to chew it and swallow it in one go. There were two alternatives: eat it or leave it.

See dish

Vegetable veils. Velvet apple

Time accumulates memories and knowledge so that we are connected to our origin and guide us in the future we want to draw.
20 years is the time Mugaritz has been living in his own ecosystem, 20 years building his own language.
Mugaritz has been sedimenting during these 20 years of experience layers of knowledge and reflection that now, in our XX anniversary, we want to share with our friends.

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There is a certain beauty in decay.

One of the tests we ran in 2013 on the fermentation of foods was with apples. First we peeled the apples and boiled them in syrup. Then we covered the surface with the rhizopus oryzae fungus. In 48 hours, a thin white ‘veil’ had developed all over the apples, giving them a velvety appearance. The veil was a kind of mould that is common in fermented foods. Finally, we put a couple of drops of neat vodka on the velvet surface which gave the dish an ethereal feel.

Natural apple “velvet”

Garoa, my sweet childhood

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I wake up again in the same place, but this time the dream is different. I fell that my vains are burning rivers that swayed me by along the forest’s abbys, a enchanted forest. It is cold here and I can fell the humidity of the moss beneath my feets. And I wake up again. I start running through my memory’s laberint and I return to my sweet childhood.

Everything is burning around me, but the memories are invulnerable to the fire. And I dance on the ashes.

I, tree

- - Sin categoría

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First Mugaritz’s menu (1998)

I, tree,

who shares the ground and wet roots of the sea

with two silent stony lookouts with a double glance

I must tell you that,

under my varying sky, the supplier of green and bluish lives

beings, made from near and far winds, are moving

sending to all the borders of my old gestures;

smells and tastes of friendly products, sounds of an ax

with a soul of linen and cotton

watered with strokes of oil and wine

among the ferns’ whispers and tears from my body

for my pleasure and all of yours’, roamers

of these centuries and of that steep muga.

(Text by: J. Matximbarrena)

 

 

Science and gastronomy, necessary transdisciplinarity

- - Sin categoría

Kombucha from Mugaritz on Vimeo.

We often talk about interdisciplinarity, this vocation were distinct areas of knowledge come in contact to share problems, concepts and methods in order to contrast points of view. But above all, to enable contexts wherein one may learn from the other. However, if we go a little further, we will find transdisciplinarity, an alternative scheme which allows more than the aforementioned exchange, integrating visions in an inherent framework of collaboration. A common language, vision and means of working is shared.

For many years we have insisted upon promoting dialogue between science and gastronomy. Always bearing in mind how important it is for chefs to adopt the scientific method and to benefit from the knowledge generated from research. In addition, it has become increasingly clear that the kitchen provides a unique environment for experimentation and learning. Although building bridges between these two worlds is not without difficulty, we should continue in our endeavors.

This interaction brings about as many challenges as opportunities. This was the subject of analysis of the 31st edition EFFOST, the annual conference staged by the European Federation of Food Science and Technology  which this year was held in Sitges in which our team, AZTI and the BCC took part along many experts from all over the world.

We reflect upon the collaboration between science and gastronomy from different perspectives. As explained by Ramon Perisé (Mugaritz) and Diego Prado (BCC) in the research collaborations about kombucha, uncommon and interesting live matter which can be used to study relevant chemical phenomena for scientists. For the chefs, however, kombucha may become an edible element with an increased organoleptic value and multiple culinary applications. Aligning these perspectives is the first step. The next step may be transdisciplinarity. This is was the subject of the roundtable moderated by the chef Dani Lasa.

Kombucha.
Strawberries and cream. PHOTO: José Luis López de Zubiría.

In this conversation, the american scientist Larissa Zhou (a collaborator of Modernist Cuisine) invite us to think of science as a tale or stories. She suggested using gastronomy as a tool to communicate that story, considering people tend to regard their everyday eating costumes as something pleasant. “Neither the scientific methodology nor the traditional format of a recipe guarantees that people will cook better. Nor will it guarantee that they will understand better what is happening. Building new mean of communication is part of the commitment we must give”, she said.

According to Erik Fooladi (Volda University, Collegem Norway), science can survive without gastronomy and viceversa. However, only if they work together they will achieve relevant progress in the way we eat and the way think about processes of our normal functioning.

The chef Jozef Youssef (The Kitchen Theory), pointed out the need to view gastronomy as a context in which the knowledge generated through research can be contrasted in a real everyday environment. “Applying what scientists understand from their studies in the everyday conditions of a restaurant requires a significant effort, specially because the results are not always the expected ones given that one can not control both material and psychological variables. But this is the challenge what we are attracted to as chefs.” remarked the founder of The Kitchen Theory.

If we agree upon one thing, it is how stimulating it can be not only to convey the creativity and emotion of chefs with the curiosity and methods of scientists, but also to get to the point where all share the same appetite, and consequently, take the same path to satisfy it.

On the edge of entropy.

- - Sin categoría

El asesino de la vanguardia. from Mugaritz on Vimeo.

Where is the line between order and disorder? And between comfort and discomfort? Why should we respect a prestablished order? Why don’t we open the door to chaos?

In this universe, en uncontrollable impulse often leads to disorder and instability. These forces which upset our balance are the origin of what we are today. But when chaos irrupts we inevitably try to put an order to it.

Mugaritz finds itself at the crossroad between order and disorder. The path between both concepts, skirting entropy, leads us to find what we didn’t even know we were looking for. While experimenting with the unexplored chance brought us a fruit which wanted to become a bird- Kiwi mushroom and peppers – or a beignet of saffron in honor of Michel Bras. His coulant reflect the chef’s struggle to tame the chaos of chocolate when subjected to different temperatures.

“If order is the pleasure of reason, disorder is the delight of imagination” said the French poet Paul Cladel. This is why, when we ally with chaos we imagine a new order. If we remove the elements which tipically order an experience such as cutlery or the categories of a menu we are presented with a blank canvas. Together with our dinners we hope to create a space where we feel free to engage with the dish with all our senses. We turn disorder into a stage where another future can be rehearsed.

Value does not always come with a price.

- - Sin categoría

Patience is often the key to success. One must have a vision to present an innovation to society in the exact moment when it can be assimilated and evolved. One should have the perspective to wait and Pass on to future generations stories told in just a sip.

Pancho Romano was someone who had this vision and patience to wait and whose identity we may never know. Tio Pancho Romano has taken his place among us since a few months ago.

We have achieved the impossible with him, we have travelled back to a time before the existence of soleras, a time when the barrels where fortified to protect the wine during transatlantic voyages, a time when the bota (the traditional wine skin) bored the name of the family, a time when nothing was as seen, a time that fed stories instead of food and in which a bite did not fed the mind rather than the stomach.

This is an example of how reliques should be in the right hands, first by bodegas rivero and after by Gonzalez Byass, in 1871 when it has already been an old wine for quite sometime. Next year, when  Mugaritz marks its 20th anniversary Tio Pancho  will be 290 old. But eternity has an end, because the atmosphere steals 4% of the barrel each year for itself. If it was a dry wine Tio Pancho Romano would be a thing of the past, but as it is sweet this sherry is an ancient story living in the present.

“Since 290 years ago this bota has been handed down from generation to generation, who have lovingly cared for it always with an eye on the future. It’s an authentic pleasure to be able to count upon this.” explains Guillermo Cruz, head sommelier at Mugaritz.

A liquid and solid which neither of which are quite so. All of the value and priceless.

 

Emotional synergies

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Sherry flor.

Olive brioche and Sherry flor. PHOTO: José Luis López de Zubiría.

Moments of inspiration when the bards bathe in sherry in Verdi’s 1893 opera. Great deeds of sherry hidden deep within bodegas. Battles of a team determined to find the perfect harmony between liquid and solid. Since last year, the R+D team and sommeliers have been working to replicate the environmental confitions of the cellers of Jerez in our home in the mountains of the Basque Country. We have had one unique objective: to create the conditions to grow the sherry flor, the layer of yeast which forms on the surface of those sherry wines, typical of Jerez. Then it can be appreciated as both food and drink.

It was serendipity which led the team to this point. While looking for a sherry for another creation, a conversation in a cellar brought about the challenge: “unite the Mediterranean and cantabrean seas” by means of gastronomy. The way to achieve this could be no other than replicating the sherry flor which is what makes these wines unique.

This journey which was the first for the creative team with the sommeliers gave wave to a line of research and creativity. From then on Mugaritz has continued the research in order to find the most extreme harmony by exploring them from the beginning of the creative process.

The R+D team which has been working on new creations based on fermentations since 2012, took the reins of the project. The flor is a layer of microscopic yeast and when it rises to the surface of the wine after fermentation it appears in the form of flower. We tried again and again but the flor always died after three days. The trials devoured barrels and barrels of wine sent to us from Gonzalez Byass after Antonio Flores, wine maker, challenged us to unite both seas.

In the end, we have no other option rather than reproducing the environmental conditions of the cellar in Jerez here in to so that the flor could survive. When finally we managed to grow it successfully we created a wine gelatin to feed it so that it will continue to expand thanks to glicerine and sugar, its natural nutrients. This yeast which protects the wine from the oxygen sneaks into the casks, which lends that unique flavour which we associate with sherry. We wanted to take a step further. We wanted it to transcend the glass and find a new stage on the plate.

The flor is converted into butter which we serve with a brioche of black olive from Andalucia. Fine wine, closes the circle: sherry flor in solid and in liquid. This is the result of the synergy of two teams whose passion has brought them to explore the limits.

Stories without a sweet ending

- - Sin categoría

Is every sweet a dessert? What is the role of sugar? Is dessert necessarily the end of a menu?

Sweetness and sugar have been our obsession since we started The Candy Project, which made us think a lot about this flavor. This year we have aimed to involve our guests in our reflections to share with them our questions about the myths around sweetness and the function of desserts.

History lends us the context to rethink

Cane sugar was first introduced to the Mediterranean culture by the Persians, who brought it from India. The Arabs spread it around the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages, and it was cultivated in the lands which they had conquered particularly in Sicily and Spain.

Christians, who had tasted this exotic product of the orient during the crusades, started to use it in the West. However, it was still a rare and expensive product which was only sparingly added to dishes or which doctors prescribed in order to treat various maladies. Sugar, which was then regarded as a spice, wasn’t exclusively preserved of the final dishes of a meal; it was omnipresent and could be found in soups, meat and fish dishes.

Dessert as we understand it today, is an idea which emerged over the course of the XVII century, when sugar began to appear in the last courses of the menu. Although it was an ever present on the menu it was mainly featured towards the  end. As a result, the dessert became an innovation for the era which caused skepticism among people. This can be true of all changes.

Black fermented rice cake with koshu.

Our aim is not to banish dessert, but to rethink it

During the past few years in Mugaritz we have been reflecting on sweetness, its role in a gastronomic experience and the way it impacts on our perception. In Brainy Tongue (2016) Irene Miguel de Aliaga, a researcher from the Imperial College of London, showed us how our digestive receptors react to the different flavors and how these stimulate our bodies.

At this congress, we learned that if in a meal we do not stimulate sweetness, we will consequently feel the need for that flavor. That is why at the end of a meal we will always expect something sweet. So, what would happen if we balance all flavors from start to end throughout the experience?

The decision of dropping the desserts in 2017 represents the last step of a long process which started in 2001. The first stage of this process was to remove the differentiation between aperitifs, meats and fish and also to eliminate these titles from the menu. This ‘slight’ change totally changed our philosophy to create a menu. With no classifications and limitations, we were free to create.

Dessert was one of last chains tying us to this tradition in Mugaritz, and now we have thrown it off.

Pleasure and health

- - Cocina, Sinergias

Gastronomy is a way of life. What and how we eat has a massive impact on our well- being. There are two essential concepts to understand this formula: nutrition and dietetics.

The first, refers to the process of acquiring the necessary nutrients to ensure the best performance of body and mind. However, the term dietetics goes a step further. Etymologically speaking it means “lifestyle”. Originally it did not only focus on the mere nutritional aspects, but rather on the balance of such important aspects as exercise, or even pleasure.  No matter how healthy a meal is, if this does not stimulate our senses or require some kind of interaction, we will in all likelihood become bored or even not enjoy it.

Therefore, one could say eating is not only about nourishment. Luckily, there is something else; a source of pleasure, joy identity, culture and even happiness. That is why the we eat directly influences our well- being, as geneticist Charles Zucker (Columbia University) and neuroscientist Leslie Voshall (Rockefeller University) explained during the symposium Brainy Tongue (see our post about Brainy Tongue here).

Health and pleasure on a dish

A thousand leaves…

We are specially interested in exploring the elements which drive our desires and appetite. And also in understanding what happens in the depths of our stomach. We don’t try to improve quality of life from a purely nutritional angle. Given that different research projects have demonstrated that our digestive system is connected to our brain. Frequently when we experience cravings it is just a signal sent from the stomach to the brain when it notices a lack of certain food groups. When the stomach feels something, it orders and our brain demands that we eat. Our stomach contains more than a hundred thousand neurons which allow us to self- regulate and which work in tandem with our gud flora.

This is why each product needs to be treated in the correct way to simultaneously express its nutritional and gastronomic proprieties, and at the same time to let it appeal and seduce. It is important to not only consider the proteins, carbohydrates and fats of the ingredients, but also the way in which we cook, and subsequently the way we present and offer the dish to the diner.

At the end of the day, caring about the pleasure of our diners is to care about their health in the long term.

Read this post in Spanish here.