Story by Manos Angelakis
Photos courtesy of Chef Bataller
The meal took place before the COVID-19 travel restrictions.
The clarion call amongst many very successful Spanish chefs whose food I was lucky enough to experience is “make something new from something old”. In other countries, some chefs might experiment with strictly exotic ingredients and cooking methods, but the Spanish chefs I have been meeting are mostly going “back to their roots” taking traditional recipes from their mother's and grandmother's kitchen and giving them a modern twist, sometimes changing the preparation method or adding one or more very seasonal or regional ingredients.
A very good example has been the meal I had from the kitchen of Chef Jordi Bataller. He has taken local recipes, like Malaga Salad -- in Spanish Ensalada Malagueña -- and by smashing, puréeing and layering the ingredients gave varied textures and a totally different look to a salted-codfish-based dish. A similar twist was used with a risotto that was the base for some gorgeous smoked prawns; shredded coconut and lychee imparted a tropical taste and, at the same time, made the dish a feast for the eyes.
Chef Bataller, has come through the kitchen ranks of Spanish and French restaurants that have produced a number of the current top European chefs. He apprenticed at the Cordon Blue in Paris and then worked at Le Pré Catelan in the Bois de Boulogne, one of Paris’ legendary temples of haute cuisine. For 14 years he worked in the kitchens of the 5-star Hotel Kempinski Bahia, in Estepona, rising to the position of executive chef.
To continue with my dishes; there was “Patata, huevo y morcilla” a classic little dish which could have been just another Spanish omelet with blood sausage. In his very capable hands, it became a confit of potatoes and anchovy pâté topped with a fried yolk, all resting on slices of Morcilla.
Another dish was described as “Seared foie gras and fig mostarda in vanilla extract”. This was another culinary pyrotechnic. By this time my senses were all sharpened to a high degree -- taste, smell and sight.
The wine I ordered, a López Christobal Crianza, was an easy drinking, nicely fruity, slightly oaky red from Ribera del Duero. It went well with both the lighter dishes and the heavier ones, like the “Estofado de ternera con espinacas y menta servido crema ligera de patatas”; what came to the table with this long Spanish description was a very nice timbale of shepherd’s pie with sautéed vegetables -- spinach and mint -- between the layers of chopped meat and potato mash. And a very tasty dish it was.
By that time I was ready for dessert, and I was not disappointed. A chocolate bag with cooked pears covered by honey and nougat ice cream was put in front of me. It only lasted seconds, just enough to have with it a glass of Virgilio, a truly luscious Pedro Ximénez from Moreno, S.A. of Montilla-Moriles.
And his is only one of the many interesting kitchens I have encountered throughout my sojourns.
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