Penne, roasted chicken, scallions, fresh tomatoes, turkey bacon, black olives, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, pepper, oregano
It could sound bizarre to interview a chef about his new project without having tasted his food. Well, not exactly. My most rewarding culinary experience since I came to Seattle a year and a half ago was my visit to Spinasse to enjoy their amazing squash ravioli.
I´ve made two reservations in Aragona that I had to cancel in the last minute, every mom should understand me, and you need to book so in advance that It´s been impossible for me to come. But I contacted Jason Stratton, Aragona´s chef before Christmas and I didn´t want to lost the opportunity to interview him. So let´s think in this post as a previous intro to Stratton´s culinary universe that more sooner than later will be tested in the field.
The love relationship between Stratton and my country began a long time ago in Granada. “I wanted to be a writer and I lived Granada, Lorca´s homeland for a few months. It was there when I feel deeply in love with the Spanish cuisine”, explain. In fact, he still keeps his scrapbook from that time full of ideas and thoughts.
But he needed two previous business, Piedmontese cuisine Spinasse and Artusi Bar, to come to his final dream of having a “not authentic but fully Iberian in spirit” Spanish restaurant.
The election of the name Aragona, coming from my homeland region, has a reason of being too. “I´ve read a lot about the Crown of Aragon and I´m fascinated about how they conquered the West Mediterranean and about this powerful influence in the cooking of the East of Spain”, says. “Visiting some different areas from Spain I realized this particular style could fit perfectly in the Pacific Northwest, where you can find many ingredients like veggies, seafood, fish and truffles too”.
Spanish cuisine is all about few but high quality ingredients, flavors and simplicity. But as Steve Jobs said: “Simple can be harder than complex”. So for Jason Stratton looking for the best fresh ingredients has been a priority since the beginning. “We work with local producers and artisans to assure the best ingredients for our dishes, like Viridian Farms in Portland”. In this farm Spanish varieties like Padrón peppers, cardoon an borraja grow from spring to late fall.
But simplicity is not always easy to be embraced. When I ask Jason about which of the dishes in the menu is most misunderstood for the customers he tells me that the Black Cod in Adobo. “It´s fish marinated in vinegar and deep fried, so people think is a kind of fish and chips, low stuff”. I smile, because every andalusian would get offended to see his revered “pescaíto en adobo” treated as fast food.
In my opinion, this is the main challenge Aragon will have to face in his first year of life. The idea that an upscale dish needs bells and whistles to impress. And that you need to pay an extra for the best ingredients, although the technique, looks, maybe is not, so easy.
But Jason Stratton trusts Pacific Nortwest foodies. “Seattlelites are more interested than ever in healthy, local high quality food. I think the Spanish cuisine time is arriving”.
I agree. And I´m looking forward to come back to this airy, bright, simple but stunning place to try Aragona menu. Anyway, the wine list is so huge overwhelming and well curated, Chris Tange is Aragona´s sommelier, that I will need to follow the experts advice and studying it in advance.
Because you don´t need to be Spanish to be a great Spanish food chef. You only need passion, talent and honesty. And Jason Stratton, this shy, kind and thoughtful chef that was elected as one of the best 10 young promises in the US in 2010, has all this attributes so far.
If you thought that our Yummy Bull was a virtual one you´re totally wrong. Because our bull lives happily in a ranch 30 minutes driving from Oklahoma City. Weird? Let me tell you a short and inspiring story… Every November Microsoft organizes a fundraising campaign called Giving. Yep, the name is not really original but the idea is great. For every dollar that you donate for a cause the company adds the same quantity… Until $15,000. Apart from the conventional giving, theres is an auction in which the employees offer a reward to the best bid for a good cause. My husband, Microsoft employee, told me that one of the reward was giving a name to a bull that one executives of the company raises in his ranch of Oklahoma. Having a real Yummy Bull and doing something fulfilling for the giving month led me to ask for help to my husband: “We need to win this”. And luckily, he didn´t fail to me. So we finally we have our real Yummy Bull and United Way has an extra financial help to keep on with is huge labor in the King County. The next step: visiting him as soon as possible in the sunny wide prairies of Oklahoma. Muuuu!
Do you know how the differences between the different varieties of Olive Oil and which one will work better with your dish?
Olive oil is an essential part of the Mediterranean Diet . In Spain we count with 260 different varieties of olives and consumers can find on the market different commercial categories of Olive Oils :
• Extra virgin olive oil : 100 % olive juice , with excellent flavor and aroma characteristics . It is especially suitable for use in cold, as marinades, salad dressings , sauces, or as a finishing touch to any dish as well as casseroles and desserts. In this case, we find two types:
Monovarietal : obtained from a single variety of olive, so that you can clearly see the sensory attributes of each type of olive.
Blend : contains different varieties of olive, in the stringency necessary to achieve the desired attributes of bitterness and fruitiness
• Virgin olive oil : 100% olive juice , with good flavor and aroma characteristics (though not great , which is what differentiates it from extra virgin) . It is suitable for the same uses that extra virgin.
• Olive oil : the oil blend of refined olive oils and virgin or extra virgin olive oil. It is especially suitable for high temperature cooking , especially for frying . Retains all its properties during frying ( 180 ° C/380 ° F ) due to its high content of oleic acid . It is also ideal for making sauces , like mayonnaise .
Major varieties and their recommended uses
There are 260 olive varieties processed to produce olive oil , although the most popular are: Arbequina, Cornicabra , Hojiblanca and Picual . These are the characteristics of each and their recommended , according to the Spanish chef Juan Pozuelo uses.
• Arbequina : This oil has a fruity aroma (apple , banana and almond) . It is a very fluid oil, a little sweet, iwith only a spicy or bitter note. When the olive is collected at its peak of ripeness , that sweetness is much more evident .
It is ideal for making mayonnaise , dressings, pickled anchovies , marinated salmon, seafood carpaccio , gazpacho and sautees . We will use , for example, to spray white fish baked or grilled . It also applies in soft marinated , cold creams and confectionery masses . Recommended for pastry.
• Cornicabra : cornicabra oils have aromatic apple flavors and herbal tones . It has a slight bitterness and the taste is more intense. It is very stable and has a high content of oleic acid, polyphenols and antioxidants that provide a high resistance to oxidation and make it healthy.
It is used in the preparation of deep fried foods , salads , ceviches , sauteed meats, shellfish , baked potatoes , pizza crusts , empanadas , churros and donuts.
• Hojiblanca : this variety is very fruity and complex , characterized by aromas of freshly cut grass , artichoke and aromatic plants. It is also a sweet oil, with a slight bitterness at the end , which ends with a very localized spiciness in mouth. Having a composition of oleic acid and antioxidants well balanced .
The techniques are recommended for use in cooking and preserves. Applies in soft salads, marinated meats and oily fish emulsions. It´s used to produce mayonnaise , aioli , vinaigrette , marinated fish strong , hot and cold soups , pastas , stir-fries and canned vegetables.
• Picual : its oil is prized for its high stability (very resistant to oxidation ) , due to its high polyphenol content and the high percentage of oleic acid. It is therefore very resistant to high temperatures . Picual varieties have great personality and great body , bitterness and a slight spiciness.
Apply in salads , stir fries , marinated meats, canned vegetables and hunting meats . It is a type of oil ideal for making salads, Andalusian type chips, fries, breaded and battered fish or meat , stews , canned or cooked raw foods ( sausages , cheese…).
Madrid Fusión is one of the great gastronomic events in Spain that brings together national and international chefs, journalists and food companies. It is one of the most important conferences in the world about cooking and food.
Madrid Fusion was held from 27 to 29 January at the Palacio Municipal de Congresos in Madrid. Some congressional figures give an idea of its importance and international projection: Madrid Fusion has had 3,500 visitors daily, of which 150 were foreign journalists in addition to another 500 professionals of national press. There have been 57 international speakers from 15 countries, more than 100 domestic and foreign chefs in total.
These are the highlights of what has been Madrid Fusion 2014 and trends in food that will arrive:
1 – The importance of local products and the binomial restaurant-small producers in the area. This is a growing trend worldwide. This was demonstrated by the chefs from Peru, Bolivia and Chile, which explained their agreements with market gardeners and farmers.
2 – Products of the orchard: a trend in the world of gastronomy, green, healthy and natural cuisine with products consumed directly, without going through cold rooms.
3-: Congress, as usual, held a charity auction of two specimens of black truffle from Soria. Were acquired by Andrea Tumbarello (restaurant Don Giovanni) and the Iberostar group in 3.000 to 5,000 euros each. In addition, the chef from Soria, Óscar García Marina, gave a presentation about the truffle and the soul of the mushrooms.
4 – Great chefs in action. Every big name in Spanish cuisine went through Madrid Fusion to showcase their latest creations: David Muñoz, Quique Dacosta, Arzak, Joan Roca, Eneko Atxa or Ángel León, among others, who dazzled attendees with their edible luminescent bacteria.
5.- Winners: Madrid Fusion holds various competitions, such as the Revelation Restaurant, which went to Montia, (El Escorial) with Daniel Ochoa and Luis Moreno. David Muñoz and Gert de Mangeleer (three Michelin stars each) were chosen as the best chefs in Europe.
6. – Vanguard and Tradition: Madrid Fusion is a showcase of the culinary art, but this year has combined the most advanced talks with a tribute to the tradition in the kitchen. At Madrid Fusion presentations have been added to the Taste of Spain, where great chefs have praised products such as legumes, hunting or cod.
7 – The Bullipedia: Ferrán Adriá and his team presented the Bullipedia, which is guessed as a key instrument for the work of young chefs like a virtual culinary encyclopedia.
8 – Tapas: another trend that is consolidated in the world. One of the clearest examples, the chef José Andrés and his group Think Food Group, who said: “We have to celebrate and be proud of where we come from”, claiming the Spanish cuisine in miniature.
9 – Design and communication: food processing companies have to be distinguished in order to gain a foothold in the market. This requires not only enough to have a good product: the design and how to position it are vital.
10 – Enofusión. Parallel to Madrid Fusion, where winemakers, restaurateurs, distributors, sommeliers, journalists and fans of the wine culture have shared during these three days is celebrated unforgettable experiences. One of the highlights was the tasting of three wines in the Parker 100 points list.
The origin of Rueda wines walks in parallel with the history of Spain. Maybe its origin could coincide with the Alfonso VI reign (in the eleventh century). At that time the Duero river watershade was repopulated by Cantabrians, Basques and Mozarabs. It is believed that the Mozarabs brought the Verdejo variety, the most common grape variety of Rueda wines.
In those days, most of wines –including Sherry– were sold as “young” varieties. However, Rueda wines were the first sold as “old” varieties (and the oldest was more expensive). Since medieval time, in this area of Spain (Castilla y León), bordered by the Duero river, the grapes were harvested when the sugar’s levels were very high and with powerfull yeast. The ancient traditional methods to achieve the Rueda wine included the addition of clays or even blood, usually from ox or bull, to clarify it. Actually, times have changed and the origin’s factors are more important than graduation or aging processes.
The grapes are harvested at the right time of maturity, a key factor for the wine development. The wine harvest is mechanised and it prevents the oxidation of must. To prevent this oxidation, most of the grapes are harvested at night, without the presence of sunlight. So, the grapes arrive into the wineries with low temperatures, 10-15°C (59-60ºF), lower than the daytime temperatures (24-28ºC/ 75-82ºF in September).
Three months later, the wine takes a slightly yellow colour with a fresh and fruity flavor. This is the rigth time to put the “Rueda Verdejo” in the bottles. And this is the most famous Rueda wine: harvester wine, no aging and manufactured applying the latest technologies. Thereby Verdejo is able to show his best primary, powerful and elegant flavor.
After several years working in, the Certificate of Origin “Rueda”(and its native variety, Verdejo) was recognized on January 12th, 1980, by order of the Ministry of Agriculture and it was the first one in Castilla y León. The production area is located in Castilla y León and include 74 villages, 53 of which are located in the southern area of Valladolid, other 17 in the western area of Segovia, and the other 4 in the northern area of Ávila.
Rueda is one of the few European areas specialized in the development of white wine and the protection of their native variety, Verdejo. This variety has a strong personality because the vineyard has learned to survive in a difficults and hostile surrounding
From small to medium leaf, medium bunch and very short peduncle. Medium, generally spherical or short elliptical berries and seeds tend to be somewhat larger.
Originally from French Loire, it have presence in Rueda since the 70s. This grape add a floral component with grapefruit and passion fruit flavors. It have a short growing season, like in the French zone, due to the altitude in Castilla. Small and pentagonal leaf. Small and compact clusters. The berries are wide and ellipctical and they mature earlier than other.
Its origine was Rioja. Viura variety began to be cultivated in Rueda in the 50s. At that moment, the classical white wine was fermented in wooden barrels. This variety put the aristocratic touch Castilian table wine because the Verdejo’s virtues hadn’t been discovered of Verdejo were yet to be. This strain, called Macabeo in Catalonia, has pentagonal medium to large leaf.
In the 30s, Rueda began to plant the Palomino Fino variety, which it’s the origin of “vinos generosos de flor”. This kind of grape has higher performance than other varieties and it’s able to give similar wines to Sherry, very famous at that time. Today thie variety is decreasing.