Cooking with common sense, above any rule: Crema Catalana

- - Sin categoría

The sea and the mountain, an ancient love between a shepherd and a mermaid, the trompe l’oeil and the abstract, the contradiction and the boundary…various dualities that converge in this Crema Catalana. A dish which has been converted to a model of the multiple stories a recipe may hold and which is witness to many occasions where eating guides us in our journey through memory.

An extravagant combination per se, that is contradictory with culinary rationalism, stemming from being a fruit of scarcity in the kitchen as well as from agitated ideasl; perhaps hindered by the strength of the Tramontana, which some have said to have the power to drive us to brilliant madness or perhaps, clairvoyance.

In this Crema Catalana, an originally marginalised product is united, where coincidence and scarcity has converted it to an article of luxury, while another rather luxurious product has become marginalised due to culture and abundance.

The sea and the mountain, the contradiction and the limit, the dream and reality…worlds that hold each other by the hand thanks to an eloquent Mexican who interpreted Catalan cuisine in this way, in a land where Euskera is spoken.

Here  you can read this post in Spanish.

Brewing our knowledge: Beer and coastal herbs

- - Sala

This project has its roots from a concern, from an idea and from an eagerness to explore and experiment with a product that, year after year has strengthened in our environment, as much in Mugaritz as an important piece in our daily lives; this product is beer.

In 2013, we began with this idea, but it was several months later, in a workshop held by both Porto-Muinos and Mugaritz in Madrid Fusion, which allowed us to understand how complex it is to elaborate such an authentic product as a craft beer with coastal herbs. Coastal herbs are greens grown on the coast with which we have not only worked with for many years but from which we have benefitted learning in-depth from our friends at Porto-Muinos.

We started to work on the project and we realised that the use of coastal herbs to elaborate a beer permitted us to unite two products which on the one hand, were never paired together before and on the other hand, posed a risk due to the lack of references.

It was during this time, that we became familiar with the elaboration process, the trials, the good and also bad results which helped us discover the taste, the texture and aroma that we wanted our beer to have. Over the period of trials that we carried out here at Mugaritz, we decided to take this project further.

In the Casasola Brewery we met kindred spirits who shared our passion. They opened their doors, allowing us to take our beer to a next level without renouncing the spirit of craft beer. They made us feel at home and provided us with everything we needed to make this dream come true.
It has been an incredible experience to work side by side with Casasola.

What follows is only a small sample of what Mugaritz did at the brewery.

Once the beer was made, we impatiently waited for the second fermentation to finish, to finally taste this anxiously-anticipated beer.

During this time, we chose the name Sustrai means “Roots” in Basque. It is an allusion to our origin and inspiration; to the roots of the oak tree which holds down the ground we work on.

As a result a couple of months later, we obtained our own artisanal beer. There two different types of beer:

sustrai simulacion

Zuria: a wheat-based beer that is fresh, smooth and easy to drink.

Halo-Ale: a beer made with coastal herbs which carries with it a more subtile marine touch. Herbaceous refinements.

Now is the time to share these beers with all of you.

Here you can read this post in Spanish.

Defying intuition. Stones, craftwork and vanguard.

- - Sinergias



Sin-título-1

It has been some years since we started paying special attention to the surfaces on which we plate our food at Mugaritz. Every year we look at new materials with curious eyes, even though we seek excitement in novelty, there are times where surprises may be unearth among treasures from the past.

Stone is rarely used in dishware design. Its very nature makes it difficult to shape it at will. The porosity on its surface is restrictive with many layouts and the arduos work each and every stone requires, means that large or serial productions are out of the question. Working stones to make plates is for either the brave or the mad; but as we well know, the line dividing passion from madness is rather thin. Luckily, some individuals blur this line and make the impossible, possible.

Joseba Lekuona  is a stonemason and an artisan. A master of stone who enjoys defying architectural rules with his creations. Hardness, texture and shape become a means to represent the surrounding landscape as a personalized concept.

The series flysch beltza features black and white striped pebbles. Unique pieces which have been polished by the ocean tides over the course of centuries in the proximities of Mutriku, a small town on the Bay of Bizcay.

Flysch beltza

The Valdorba series use sandstone boulders found scattered along the valleys of Navarra. Only after a careful observation of the environment, Joseba chooses stones of ultra thin grain with ochre and brownish shades. The result is a smooth surface with a warm and inviting texture.

Joseba Lekuona is one of a kind. His model is a hybrid between craftsmanship and innovation which raises his trade to the highest standards of creative processes. A model where one’s conservative intuition is confronted with evidence of impossible deeds becoming possible when pursued with passion.

 

 Here you can read this post in Spanish.

Cooked nougat with savory peppercorn praline.

- - Cocina

turrón cocido (pie de foto en)

For centuries, Asia has been home to sophisticated vegetarian preparations. The culture of seeds (specially soya beans) has permeated every layer of oriental society, and more recently, it has become an appealing trend in western society. Although we have already talked about culturing foods in previous posts, our latest creation for the 2014 menu deserves a special mention.

HAZELNUT TEMPEH

The “Cooked nougat with savory peppercorn praline” is the result of a series of intuitive connections. The starting point was Indonesian Tempeh which has quickly gained in popularity in vegetarian diets because of its high protein content.

We thought that separating the mould Rhizopus oligosporus from the soya beans where it is normally used, was the first step in the process of creating something unique. We inoculate boiled hazelnuts with the mould culture, and the resulting growth of mycelium (a root-like system of fungus) is what binds the hazelnuts together to form big cakes which look like nougat.

A dish which initially promises both hardness and sweetness, suddenly turns into a creamy mouthful where the only disruptive sensation is given by aromatic peppercorns and some salt flakes… once again, less is more.

Here you can read this post in Spanish.

Love/Hate every mouthful

- - Sin categoría

 

Controversial, daring and surprising. These are some of the traits which define one of the most thrilling culinary proposals ever made at Mugaritz: “Ice shreds. Scarlet shrimp perfume.”

It provokes a clash of opinions and sentiments. Love or Hate, Satisfaction or Disappointment. Tension or Pleasure. One must walk the tight rope dividing these feelings before one decides where to fall.

The brilliance of this idea lies in the simplicity of its elements; the technique and execution are quite elementary and the ingredients (just water and shrimp), even mundane. The concept however, is sophisticated and shocking. More cannot be done with less. A velvety texture that reminds one of cotton candy, is softly interrupted by cold as its only contrast. The intensity of concentrated shrimp flavor would be aggressive and overbearing without the ice to bring balance. You might like it, you might hate it… we don’t really care… the bite is so small and ephemeral it will be gone by the time you decide.

It doesn’t matter how you see it, this dish is the sum of intensity and tenderness; like melting snow  kissed by a drop of blood.

 

 

 

Bringing emotions to the table

- - Sala

A table shrouded with a tablecloth and a tilted plate as the only prop. A blank canvas, or better yet, an empty stage which will be fully illuminated only when the show begins. A rather empty space  where wood and glass set the ambience. In this unspoilt arena, everything is yet to happen and our guests will not  be limited to the role of mere spectators. We will make them be part of it. We will get them involved in the construction of an experience which to a large extent, will depend on their willingness to seek it out. “Are you willing to come with us? If you aren’t, then our failure is guaranteed”.

How can a restaurant operate like this? How can the front of house staff transcend the barrier that separates protocol from enjoyment? They have come a long way in the last few years, but the result has made it worth it. A collection of teachings, the result of shared experiences with choreographers and actors has made them feel different and therefore, move and project in a different way. They also underwent psychology training hoping to be able to read and understand diners at a reduced distance.

Panorama_sala_mugaritz

After many hours of practice, our front of house team has learnt that emotions are contagious, and we can influence the way the whole dinning room feels if we push the right buttons. Trust and complicity are required, because in order to make you enjoy our edible stones, first we must convince you to bite into them. Can we make you enjoy eating a macaron of sweet blood? Of course we can! We just need to make you feel safe and willing. The most important role of waiters and sommeliers is not to transport food or drinks, but to build a context where pleasure can be found, to point out the most important details and to tell the stories behind every nuance.

After a few minutes upon your arrival, your anxiety will be soothed with warmth and hospitality. Through body language and a natural speech, our team will charm you and will make you enjoy this quest in search of something memorable.

Perhaps the most surprising thing we’ve found through these innovative dynamics, is that when you try so hard to make someone feel happy, a gleam of true happiness flows through you every time you smile.

Decoding pictograms in the kitchen

- - Cocina, Sala

 

There is no white canvas nor is there a start from scratch. Many ideas are bounced around years before the proposal reaches the surface where it needs to be presented, the name that defines it or the context it will be served in. Many hours of creative work are required to find certainty and in many cases the guts to defend an idea.

During the four months that Mugaritz remains closed, the main kitchen becomes a hive of buzzing minds and hands. A lab for tests and trials. A creative space where new ideas come up and old ones are reshaped. The working process of the more than 10 chefs who work with the senior R&D team members changes drastically. The stiffness of everyday work is broken, we sacrifice perfection in order to gain flexibility.

81 drawings_mugaritz_creativity

 

One of the kitchen walls is covered with 81 drawings. Ideas that chefs need to decode and shape into the 50 new dishes for the new season.These culinary proposals go through 3 menu rehearsals where Andoni and the front of house staff, sample the new ideas. Each rehearsal is a stage for the new dishes to perform and show if they deserve a place in the new menu. These are moments of great tension where ideas are ripped open to see if they are viable, unexpected and creative.

This year we had a renowned guest participating in the rehearsals. Toni Segarra, the acclaimed Spanish publicist who came to visit and share the creative process with our team.

Every year we end up making about 100 new dishes including those that need to be adapted to fulfill nutritional or dietary requirements. This must be done in order to keep making exclusive daily menus. We also see more and more diverse ingredients among the ones we use. A pure reflection of how our prejudices yield in front of the cultural exchange we have been part of in our many travels.

During 2014 we will eat dishes that make sound, appetizers that disappear in your mouth and the most delicious cream ever made. A Long story made short, we are finishing the last details of what we think will be a thrilling season…

 

 

Sharing emotions: mortar soup

- - Cocina

Emotions are a key element in our perception of space, time and memory. Emotion is a powerful fuel which, in many cases, conditions the way we enjoy our daily routine.

At Mugaritz, we have observed that people don’t just travel from one part of the world to another to simply sit at a restaurant and eat. They do it because they are in search of new sensations and experiences that might get them excited. We have also learnt that most of our guests don’t know what they come looking for, however they all know with certainty what they don’t want to find: a context where nothing happens. It is for this reason that we put a lot of efforts in creating an ambience where emotions can be stimulated as much as the senses are.

At Mugaritz, we work under the premise that there are no set boundaries for knowledge, therefore, we enjoy bending (sometimes breaking) the rules and protocols of conventional service. Our Mortar Soup is a good example; we used to make diners grind their own spices on a hot, cast iron mortar. The simplicity of this dynamic made them feel the best aroma from the spices and enjoy the tune produced by the clashing metals. A very stimulating sensory experience, however, the biggest surprise behind the Mortar Soup was that every table in the restaurant was served the dish at the same time. The multiplied exercise made everyone in the dining room connect with strangers at other tables through an amplified  sensory experience. Bonding through smell and sound lead to bonding through laughter and  joy. Emotions were shared through time and space making us wonder if there are tools we can use to further develop this idea.

sopa_de_mortero_mugaritz2-1024x342

During the 2014 edition of Madrid Fusion, Mugaritz shared ideas and thoughts on the concept of restaurants as multi-sensory spaces. Together with neuroscientists, we try to understand how is it that emotions make us enjoy certain moments more than others. We collaborated with Luis Castellanos, from El Jardín de Junio, an expert in Neuroscience who works with language to stimulate positive ideas, creativity and talent, and Professor Adrian David Cheok from London’s City University, an expert in multi-sensory projects.

These are stimulating and revolutionary projects which make us go deeper in the world of sensations and the creation of a unique experience. Hopefully one day we will have the keys to generate emotions in our guests, but in the mean time, we will keep providing a fair amount of excitement and happiness.

The simplicity of an apple

A great metamorphosis lies behind the white velvet of this apple. The peculiar resemblance of culture and cultivation is expressed through the art of fermentation. The transformation of food through a fermentative process withholds a world of possibilities to modify the aromatic expression and texture potential of food.

In Mugaritz we explore different fermentation techniques, each has a particular ceremony and the results vary greatly from one to another. Perhaps the only element they all share is the main concept behind them. The detachment of the mold from the food which it usually ferments.

Terciopelo de Manzana from Mugaritz on Vimeo.

We use the bacteria Rhizopus oligosporus, which is traditionally used in Indonesia to ferment soy beans and make Tempeh, together with an emblematic ingredient of Basque culture: apples. After a 36 hour process, the mold transforms the whole structure of the apple using its natural sugar content and acidity to develop more complex aromas like those of flowers and tropical fruits. Furthermore, a white, velvety, hairy looking texture spawns from the fermenting apple and continues to grow until the whole process is finished.

The result is a rather strange looking apple which defies some and lures in the more adventurous. This new dish reminds us a lot of our “Edible Stones” because despite the first visual impression, which immediately leaves you taken aback, its inside is a surprisingly easy-to-eat mouthful. The familiarity of its flavors convinces even the most skeptical among us because its secret lies in its simplicity.

As a new dish, our fermented apple was presented in the 2013 edition of San Sebastian Gastronomika congress, however, fermentation has been present in many different civilizations over the course of history. Every one of them has handed down a legacy of culture which should be cultivated and passed along. We hope this new idea is not only a delight for the senses, but also inspiration for whoever might be looking for it.

 

Mugaritz witnesses the txakoli grape harvest

- - Cocina, Sala, Una pizca de...

Fresh and lightly acidic, txakoli has its own particular ritual for both serving and drinking. The distinctive taste of txakoli can be put down to the coastal climate in which these grapes flourish.

The grape harvest begins in autumn and this year we decided to make a trip to see this process firsthand in the winery of Txomin Etxaniz (Getaria). We hoped to discover what makes this local wine so special, and to see how this fruity white wine is made.

The influence of the Atlantic on the fresh, green vines is immediately evident. Two native varieties of grape Hondarribi Zuri and Hondarribi Beltza, grow in this region, the former makes up 95% the harvest and the latter the remaining part.

 

The way of pruning, which ideally takes place in winter, also contributes to the uniqueness of this wine. The resulting high vine ensures a distance between the grapes and the wet ground. The location of the vineyards on the side of the hill facing the sun, a very typical Basque landscape, is another influential factor in the composition of this characteristic wine.

We asked Nico Boise, sommelier from Mugaritz, for his opinion on the virtues of this wine. He states that the combination of traditional techniques and new technology have led to an improvement in the wine making process and the performance of the grape. What makes one txakoli different from another? The hand which makes it, the climate of each territory and the addition of new varieties of grapes.

It has been enjoyed by many generations on these shores and now is becoming increasingly popular beyond them.