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I, tree

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

Brainy Tongue: the kitchen through the mind

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Brainy Tongue is a project based on ties; a dialogue between neuroscience and gastronomy. It is where doubts and concerns that arise in the kitchen are poured into and compared to those which equally emerge in the scientific world. It is an initiative that emerges from curiosity and from the desire to understand things.


Savory tale 1.  from Mugaritz on Vimeo.

In this progression forward which we refer to as the avant-garde, doubt has been a constant drive. We are intrigued by the invisible logic that underlies processes with which cooks normally manage through experience. Another drive, which is not the least, has been questioning things from different angles. It has brought us closer to other disciplines, dragging a core of interactions so broad as life itself. We do not stay in the kitchen, we escape to other places, always seeking to bring something back, shuffling concepts or notions from other specialties to our field. It therefore explains the fascination we have maintained with literature, philosophy, art, film, music, botany, nutrition… as well as science.

Although the bond between science and cuisine has been weaved together continuously throughout history, it was only some 25 years ago that it began to narrow itself down. The first specialised international conference: “Physical and Molecular gastronomy” was held in 1992 in Sicily. Thereafter, we saw a physicist like Peter Barham actively collaborate with Heston Blumenthal, the scientist, Hervé This work with Pierre Gagnaire or the Italian scientist Davide Cassi exchange ideas with Ettore Bocchia. It does not stop to surprise us the work of researchers like Harold McGee, who, since the publication of On Science and Cooking (1984), has been a lifesaver for those who are overflowed in questions.

For many it has been fascinating to see how the approach towards the world of neuroscience soon paved the way for what we now know as “neurogastronomy”. With this, we have absorbed the keys to influence the emotions of our diner, and take advantage of information on how our sensory or neural system operates. Neuroscientists such as Antonio Damasio showed us that words do not substitute food even though they of crucial importance in the expectation and mood of the diner. This was reflected in our communication: the names of the dishes, the words used by our colleagues in the front of house and reservations department. We should take care of language.

The kitchen has a lot to learn from science, and what is most beautiful is that science may win thanks to the kitchen. Perhaps this was most interesting; seeing scientists increasingly appealed by the kitchen to confirm phenomenas, share paradoxes and again, seek answers to questions recently shared.

The journey that moves the path of opportunities leads us to a new ‘seed’, the Brainy Tongue project. It is a collaborative commitment and a dialogue between scientists and chefs who seek to bring light to the field of sensoriality and delve into the mysteries governing perception.

Kiss my Kiss

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A brief history of a social prototype that uses candies to work on the kiss


Kiss my Kiss from Mugaritz on Vimeo.

These are the indisputable facts which is accounted for in the video we presented: approximately two hundred people from all walks of gender, age, class and ideology met on July 16, 2015 at Móstoles’ May 2 Art Center (CA2M) to kiss each other while eating sweets.

What happened there could be taken as one of the countless events (lipdubs, flash mobs, hangouts, happenings, etc.), also called “the society of the show” that mark days and nights. They are events held for the greater glory of a facile and mindless hedonism, contributing nothing to those who experience it except for a false exhibitionism that replicates as an endless loop in social networks: a meager ” I was there”.

Kiss my kiss pursued to break that narcissistic and self-satisfied logic, that absurd celebration of oneself, by putting into play the kiss. The kiss makes us come out of ourselves and become one with the other, unapologetically proclaiming something that goes against common sense.  Among other things, it violates the fundamentals of desire: “the kiss for those who make it work”. An anti-climactic message, anaphrodisiac in appearance, that led to its logical conclusion through achieving to melt effort and pleasure, work and evasion.

The purpose of Kiss my Kiss was to make the kiss more difficult in order to improve it. This abandons the culturally predictable and weary path of the happy ending kiss with which Hollywood has managed to imprint in our cerebral cortex. It mobilised for itself different resources including human, technical, poetry, music, food, libidinal, artistic, etc…

If we rewind through the history of Kiss my Kiss, we could see a couple of chefs from Mugaritz’ creative team, a poet and sociologist (I am aware that the statement anticipates a joke, probably a bad one), gathered around a kitchen counter, surrounded by notes, trinkets, laptops and empty coffee cups. The four were joined together by an enthusiasm that is between childish and deliciously idiotic for the power and promise of sweets. Several Mugaritz team members would later join the group in order to solve the logistics of a dream: how to kiss with your mouth full.

In other words: how to make the kiss, the most disruptive, interesting, pleasant and reflective experience. Dimensions that should not have to neutralize one over the other – “intrusion” between mouths and between tongues. Candies whose job was to speculate with flavours, shapes, colours, smells and textures, so that the kiss provokes an outburst of feelings and thoughts, pleasures and displeasures, and disagreements.

This is the backstage, the hidden part of what happened that afternoon as part of the Picnic Sessions organized by the CA2M. Like any backstage, ours was also a space, inhospitable and secretive, where we can assure that our work effortlessly intermingled pleasure and pleasure of work. The video subtly shows, like a backdrop that looks more like a woven network to catch the subconscious, the plot of concepts and ways that support what happened there. The substrate that allowed those expressions of joy, puzzlement and communion to surface in the first place was thanks to an audience that honoured us, something we wanted to show in this video. Enjoy it responsibly.

Iñaki Martinez de Albeniz.

PhD in Socilogy by UPV.

Eating with your hands

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The custom is a cultural issue

Every culture imposes their own customs; unwritten norms that we follow to adapt to society. In ours for example, the use of cutlery still prevails as a tool to eat. We acquaint ourselves to use them in order to poke, carve, pick up, scrape, slurp… Over time, we built a whole order and a correspondence according to the characteristics of what we consume. In other boundaries, they are disregarded and replaced by solely multi-functional toothpicks. In some countries even, we eat only with our hands.

Hands are the first tools we use to give shape to the world that surrounds us. With hands, we are able to give form to nature and begin a process of technological innovation; creating utensils with which, among other things, we will cook with. Using them is thus a natural regression to our most primitive state and about finding ourselves; without any gimmicks.

Eating with hands is also about sharing. There exists a complicity between the people we sit with at a table and those who participate an experience with us. Using our hands expresses confidence between diners. Eating this way is what is usually done when eating in the street. In popular meals, we free ourselves from the use of cutlery and we have fun eating tacos, hot dogs, pintxos or sandwiches only with our hands. In several cultures as well, they are more than a mere social significance. For example, Hindus believe they enter into a communion with nature, a fusion that stems through their touch of food.

Lemon filled with oyster with your hands

Lemon oyster

With the eyes

The first sense that helps us perceive the world is sight. For this reason, the first thing that attracts us to a dish is what first comes to the eye: its colours, its geometric disposition, its visual textures…Sight helps us value food before trying it; it acts as a filter. By eliminating cutlery, we let another sense, touch, participate in the process before using our mouth. Touching food is a way to perceive textures, creating expectation before eating it; feeling the crunchiness break between your fingers, the juiciness of a recently baked bread, the turgidity of a ripe grape or the delicateness of a croquette. Pleasure is heightened when we add new sensorial perspectives the moment we taste.

In 1930, Marinetti was already fighting the conventional use of cutlery. In his manifest of futuristic cuisine, the Italian innovator advocated for the abolition of the knife and fork in favour of a “prelabial tactile pleasure”.

Chilled crab threads in emulsion with your hands

Chilled crab threads

Creativity and touch

At Mugaritz, this season is eaten with the hands. Dishes such as Chilled crab threads and Lemon Oyster invite us to feel new sensations and step out of our comfort zone.

With all these reflexions in mind, this season we decided that in Mugaritz eating with the hands answers the challenge we propose: making the greatest possible number of dishes without the need of cutlery. The creative work meant that we had to change the perspective we were working with originally. To understand all possible forms of eating with our hands, we had to deepen ourselves in different textures and how it would feel to touch them. How do egg yolks feel to the touch when one strokes a smooth surface compared to one that is rough? How are temperatures perceived on the hand? How many ways can we serve the same product so that it may be grabbed by our fingers? All these questions arose and we tried to answer them through the creation of our dishes. In the end, we were inspired by being able to provide the diner a possibility to enjoy this philosophy up to even licking their own fingers.

The cheese table: the fermented and the rotten

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Culture is cultivation, but it is not an isolated act; it is, by definition, part of a cyclical ongoing process, passed from generation to generation.

Sandor Ellix Katz ,“ The art of fermentation”

Penicilium-roquefortis-reduccido-en

The willingness to cultivate is to preserve life; but there is no life without death. This is a large cycle, a cycle in which extremes converge.

In this limitation, the king of mushrooms is present; invisible, intangible, and omni-present; decomposing and transforming the substance that feeds life.

Mushrooms and human beings are very alike [1]. They have lived together since the beginning of time. Men have given mushrooms the fruit of their labour: milk, fruit juice, refined flour…perpetuating and converting them into cheesemakers, wine-producers, bakers…into micro-cultivators.

Mushrooms have given men fermented ingredients, which have been passed on from generation to generation. They have maintaining taught and learned flavours and aromas; ultimately converting them into transmitters of culture.

Life and death, beauty and decay, the fermented and the rotten…have always been part of one cycle where extremes converge and blend with each other in a limitation lived by mushrooms.

Penicilium-candidum-en

The installation of the ‘Cheese table’ of Mugaritz will be part of URBANZIENTZIA – CIENCIA URBANA, a science day of the OLATU TALKA event organised by Teknahi. This initiative, which will be part of other activities in DONOSTIA- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2016, will take place on May 21st in Iztueta, between Gros and Egia.

 

logos-todos(1)-(4)


[1] Maurizio Montalti, “Continous Bodies, Cycles of decomposition triggering a simbiotic partnership between humans and fungi”