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.

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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.

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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.

Let the games begin… San Sebastián Gastronomika 2013

Once again we are getting ready to be part of San Sebastián Gastronomika, where not only will we share our latest ideas and experiences, but we will also meet old friends. This time, our participation in the congress will be very diverse: on wednesday 9th, we will open our research and development kitchen to a small group of enthusiasts to show them how we put together our menus. It will be a step by step explanation of how we build an experience from scratch.
Tomorrow we are also going to make a presentation in the main auditorium. We will share the new developments based on the concept of playing with food. We have already talked about how games can be used in the search for pleasure. The adventure of the unknown becomes easier if it is turned into a game. The “Astragal” dish is a stimulating exercise for which the craft of Japanese artists from the Arita region is necessary. These craftsmen are part of a porcelain workshop which will soon be 400 years old. This has been an amazing project which we have worked upon for a long time. From the very start we have been in love with the ability of Arita artists to recreate tradition, technology and a huge dose of creativity.

 

We will end our presentation with the world premiere of a new video produced by La Fura dels Baus for Mugaritz. A wonderful story about moving from the past into the present while preserving traditions and stimulating innovation. Food and games… is there anything better?

High mountain cheese for Mugaritz

- - Sin categoría

The road to the Beaskin hut, in the hills of the Aralar montain range is hazy. Full of details, ins and outs and surprises all of which are reflected in the cheese made by Jon and Martina. They are shepherds from Zerain, a small town in the heart of Goierri (literally highland in the Basque language) region. From May to October, Jon confines himself to the remote wilderness of the mountain to make a unique cheese full of distinctive features.

Quesos de altura para Mugaritz

The Mugaritz team paid a visit to spend a day with him. Observing the landscape around the hut and watching Jon work with his flock of Latxa sheep is the best way to comprehend the reasons why his cheese is so rich in flavour and texture. We brought him a basket of food and supplies since we know he will not come down off the mountain for another month.

Jon is 37 years old and he knows that in order to make the best product, he must sacrifice much of his time taking the sheep to graze on the best grass only found on the higher plains of the mountains. It can be said to be the best because the diversity of aromas from the wild herbs found near the peaks are condensed in the milk and, subsequently, in the cheese he makes.

 

The Aralar mountain range is a territory shared by the regions of Gipuzkoa and Navarra. At a height of 1,200 m the grass flourishes in this natural ecosystem where shepherds have carved out a living for centuries. There are more than 70 individual huts where shepherds make cheese. Every single one of these cheese-makers has his idiosyncratic style and methods. For Jon the protocol is strict: a flock of 160 sheep milked twice a day by hand. After letting the milk sit for a few hours, a batch of new cheese is made. The cheese is then aged for 6 to 18 months. The result is sublime!

The only problem when dealing with Jon, is that his own high standards exceed even our own. It has been more than 3 months since Jon has sold us any cheese. “It is not my best work”, he insists. We can’t wait to sample what he deems to be truly exceptional.