Team of chefs share the flavours and techniques of Spanish cuisine
Two Michelin-starred chefs who are in the city cook up their traditional family treats for mid-day readers
Every rice dish is not paella; Spanish food doesn't taste of garlic, and Spaniards do not survive on paella and tortilla alone. A couple of hours that we spend with a team of Spanish gastronomes (see chef Maria Valera's recipe box) prior to their festival at the Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai changes our image of the country's diverse culinary legacy.
Chef Miguel Barrera, who runs Michelin star restaurant Cal Paradis, is from Valencia and excels in French-inspired nouvelle cuisine characterised by lighter, more delicate dishes, with an increased emphasis on presentation. "Gastronomy is a language full of different influences. The same thing happens with nearby countries like France and Spain. Our food is lighter and more Mediterranean, and it focuses on olive oil and fresh vegetables instead of butter and cream," he says.
Chef Miguel Barrera; (right) chef Ignacio Solana. Pics/ATul Kamble
Making a real Valencian paella deserves a lot of respect, he explains, adding, "The ingredients have always been the same: green beans, chicken, rabbit, olive oil, sometimes artichokes, tomato water and bomba, bahia or j sendra rice."
We learn there is an important movement to defend the authentic paella in Valencia. "Some people add chorizo or ham but this isn't right. The dish hasn't progressed and isn't going to," he signs off.
Four generations down
Spanish super chef Ferran Adrià - of El Bulli fame - created before and after periods in Spanish gastronomy. He changed everything, from traditional to the most avant garde cuisine. "We have all moved on because of him. For example, my cocido montañes - a traditional mountain stew which is famous in our region - has a better texture now," says chef Ignacio Solana, whose four-generation-old family restaurant Solana has retained its Michelin Star since 2011.
His great-grandparents opened Solana in Cantabria hills near Bilbao soon after the Spanish Civil War in 1938. "There was barely a road to the restaurant in my great-grandparents' day, more of a dirt track. When my family ordered the first-ever Iberian ham to arrive in their region, it caused a great commotion in the village.
It arrived from Salamanca," he says. When we prod him to reveal the secret behind his mother's stew, he stresses on the quality of ingredients. "She doesn't like stews to be too dark. Instead, they need to have a nice brown colour, even if you add red wine to them. Also, the vegetables can't be too caramelised as this darkens the stew."
When cooking in another country, Ignacio likes to create a fusion by incorporating the local produce. So, the lamb is Indian but I am going to cook it as if I was in Spain. "The warm lobster salad employs three different techniques. Firstly, we make a cooked tartar, and then dress it with mayonnaise, onion and fresh lemon. The warm foam is made with the head of the lobster and finally, slices of lobster are fried," he signs off.
ON: Today and tomorrow
AT: Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai, Apollo Bunder, Colaba.
COST: Michelin experience (Rs 9,500); live paella and tapas counters with flamenco dancing (Rs 4,500)
How to make Escalivada
1. TAPAS SELECTION: Take whole eggplants, red, yellow and green bell peppers and onions, drizzle olive oil (but not extra-virgin olive oil) and bake it in the oven for 20 minutes.
2. ROAST: Escalavida is found all over the Mediterannean Sea belt, along the north of Spain on the West Coast. Farmers build a fire and toss their veggies in.
3. The chef scoops out roasted eggplant mash (you can keep the skin on), and chops the peppers to seal them in a vaccum bag for an hour with olive oil, sherry vinegar and salt.
4. Chop the peppers to seal them in a vaccum bag for an hour with olive oil, sherry vinegar and salt for better flavouring.
5. PLATE: The dish is garnished with Manchego, a Spanish parmesan that adds a saltiness to the otherwise smoky and sweet roasted vegetables.
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