Spain’s Catalonia after El Bulli
Take Iolanda Bustos' La Calendula Restaurant for starters. Not far from El Celler de Can Roca, La Calendula's menu is built entirely around the flowers and plants that are typical of Costa Brava and Catalonia, including wild carrots, sorrel, liquorice and marigolds. But do not expect raw food, vegan or even vegetarian-centric dishes; cod, prawns and rabbit -- also sourced locally -- all feature prominently on the menu. Flowers are not merely decorative either; they provide both the base and the shape of an entire meal, from the rabbit loin with pickled rose petals to the Gala beer made with hops, calendula, hibiscus and elderflower. Bustos calls her food “landscape cooking”, and while she forages for most of La Calendula's ingredients herself, she also has pots and trays of plants and flowers sprouting around the restaurant.
El Celler de Can Roca and La Calendula are both located in the Costa Brava town of Girona, a medieval city that perhaps seems an unlikely spot for vanguard modernist and hyperlocal “landscape” cooking, given its history and closely held traditions. But across Catalonia, even in the smallest, most rural towns, you can find farmers, home cooks and professional chefs all drawing inspiration from the land, just as Adria did. Thanks to its position between sea and mountains, Catalonia is marked by dozens of microclimates, each producing ingredients and plates that are tied indelibly to their terroir. The ingredients and techniques are not necessarily novel; in some cases, they extend back generations. But what these gourmands have in common is the goal to make these techniques and the dishes they produce more visible and accessible to foodies around the world.
One such technique is “volcanic cooking,” promoted most passionately by independent chef Pep Nogue i Puigvert of Garrotxa, an interior region of Catalonia ringed by dormant volcanoes. The particular properties of the volcanic soil are ideal for growing purple potatoes, black truffles, buckwheat, white corn and tomatoes, and Nogue insists the ingredients have a distinct flavour profile compared to the same vegetables and grains grown elsewhere, a characteristic he attributes to the soil's perfect balance of absorption and porosity, as well as its mineral properties. Nogue offers cooking demonstrations in a rustic, outdoor setting within the Garrotxa Volcanic Region Natural Park, but other chefs, namely the executive chefs of Michelin-starred restaurants Ca l'Enric and Les Cols, also in Garrotxa, are sharing volcanic cooking with a much bigger audience.
About 185km south of Garrotxa is the town of Falset, where the equally passionate chef Roger Felip-Soler works to familiarise visitors with the ingredients and cooking styles of his little corner of Catalonia. Neither coastal nor volcanic -- though not far from either -- the yield of Felip-Soler's land in Falset is no less impressive. Olives, walnuts, stone fruits and rosemary are typical, and Felip-Soler is one of many local food producers whose meats are fully pasture-raised. At his rural farmhouse, Mas Trucafort, he and his wife host cooking classes and meals featuring foods that are typical of the region, like delicious calcots -- a cross between a spring onion and a leek -- served with romesco sauce, and artichokes served with Catalonia's favourite accompaniment, the garlic sauce allioli. All of Felip-Soler's meals, from appetiser to dessert, are cooked over open, wood-fuelled fires outdoors. Felip-Soler explained that focusing on the “raw material that nature offers” brings his family closer to the land and motivates them to not only learn more about their own food heritage, but to work actively to share and preserve those traditions.