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Friendly fire in Leña, Dani García’s new restaurant in Madrid

The steep stairs that lead to Leña, the new restaurant of the Dani García group, could well resemble Dante’s descent into hell. Basically, because what you do not expect is a dark place dedicated to the cult of the grill and the smoke. However, this story ends well, because the experience of enjoying this innovative concept is closer to paradise than eternal punishment.

I wanted to know this daring concept of steakhouse, whose mother house is in Marbella, García’s hometown, even though it is not what you could most want on a summer day. Even opening around this time has been a brave and unexpected move. And the truth is that I must admit that any time of the year is good for grilled food.

The fusion concept of Leña is to show and share the mark that international travels have left on the Marbella chef, especially the US and Japan. Garcia add to the mix his Andalusian essence and his total respect for the integrity of the product. And this is something that is sensed from the first moment. From luxurious American décor to Japanese-style tableware. Curiously, I immediately found myself at home, because the experience of the years I lived in Seattle recognized this combination as very familiar.

baba ghanoush

His effort to “democratize” haute cuisine is well shown here. Garcia abandoned the trap of a 3 Michelin star restaurant a few years ago to feel yourself freer and enjoy family and work balance. This is how he describes Leña concept: “a more informal and affordable restaurant where, however, you have an experience close to haute cuisine for the dishes, the cellar, the attention in the room and special details paying 60 euros” if you are careful with the wine you choose, of course.

If you’re Spanish, you come to a restaurant like Leña for meat. And if it’s red, the better. But I also came for the vegetables. Because if you can make a humble eggplant unforgettable, baba ghanoush is the best I’ve ever eaten, you can get it all. Also, the bimi with romesco was very tasty, al dente as I like it. I decided to save the grilled Malaga avocado and the smoked burrata caprese for the next time.

“Leña is a more informal and affordable restaurant where, however, you have an experience close to haute cuisine for the dishes, the cellar, the attention in the room and special details paying 60 euros”

The ribeye does not disappoint, but I fell in love with the pluma iberica, a piece less cooked than usual for me, but exquisite. The portions are more generous than I expected, and the restaurant gives you bread and butter that are delicious, so in the end we had no room for dessert. We will need to return to enjoy it, as well as the grilled fish like that you can find on the menu if your table companions took you to Leña a bit tricked and you are more “pescatarian” than carnivore.

Laura Machado, Guest Experience manager

On the day of my lunch, I had the opportunity to meet Laura Machado, Guest Experience manager of the restaurant, who was kind enough to spend a few minutes when the restaurant has their doors closes to the public to show me the backstage of it.

I had the chance to visit Smoked room, a very special place that arose unexpectedly when Dani García found the perfect space to prepare a tasting menu at a fixed price of 135 euros called Fire Omakase and whose dishes are chosen by the chefs with seasonal products. The food is prepared in front of the customers, who are sat at a “fake” bar. And I say fake because instead on high stools you will enjoy the meal in several comfortable armchairs raised at a decent height, so you won´t miss a movement of the chefs. In an attached room there are two other small tables.

Laura’s job is to make clients feel at home and at the same time to make them enjoy an unforgettable experience. “They take the effort to reserve and get groomed and, on many occasions, they come to celebrate special moments. It´s my job to make everything perfect,” she explains to me. In fact, many of her customers have become friends over time. They are regulars at all the group’s restaurants in Madrid: Bibo, Lobito de Mar and Dani Brasserie and they come to one or the other practically every week.

She tries to be more a clairvoyant than a psychologist. “The funniest thing about this job that I love, is learning to know what people want without knowing them.” To do this, she tries to be coordinated as much as possible with the rest of the team, especially on an always sensitive issue such as allergies and intolerances.

Laura has job experience in other restaurants in the group. In fact, she trained several months at Leña Marbella before she opened Leña Madrid. Comparing the clients of the two cities, she qualifies the Madrilenian as “demanding, but very faithful if you earn their trust” and considers that another of the elements that make Leña special is that it is a place where everyone feels welcome, and no special dress code is necessary. “There may be a table with a final bill of 70 euros and another with a bill that is close to 1,000. We treat both types of clients with the same love”, he concludes.

In short, Leña is a very special place in Madrid, a buzzling city now, as chef Quique Dacosta commented a few weeks ago, following the recent and upcoming opening of several luxury hotels. Leña restaurant itself is on fire, but it is worth being patient and insisting to get a reservation to enjoy this unique experience.

Laura Machado

Make your reservation here

Books Chefs entrepreneurs

Renee´s Erickson slow writing… and food

Elena F. Guiral

Her first book A whale, a walrus and a carpenter is the most beautiful cookbook I´ve ever read in my life but at the same time one of the most practical. Some of its recipes stuck with me forever, such as the halibut and morel sauce, the parsnip soup, and the Brussel sprouts with Espelette paprika.

When I had notice that Renee Erickson, one of the most amazing Seattle chefs and entrepreneurs had published her new book Getaway I tried my luck to know if she would be willing to talk to an anonymous Spanish blogger and admirer. To my surprise she said Yes!

Renee, as the rest of us, is still emotionally and financially recovering from the pandemic that has shaken to the bone especially the entertaining industry all around the world. “It´s been a really hard year and workers and customers are exhausted, but luckily things are improving with the vaccination campaign. Luckily, we live in a progressive state where science rules”, she explains.

Getaway talks about travel, cocktails, and informal food to share with friends, inspired by Erickson trips to places such as Rome, Paris, London, Normandy, and Baja California. She shot the photographs in 2019 without knowing she would be again a visionary as when she began to blend and honor local pacific northwest products with a European flair a long time ago. Because now everyone is dying to travel again, this is the perfect book to plan our most special summer holidays ever.

As a journalist and writer, I am perfectly aware of the epic amount of work and care behind such beautiful books, and Renee confirmed my guess. She doesn’t write in a conventional way, blocking 3 weeks of her time to finish all the work. “My books are conceived seasonally so you have to take the time to develop the idea and the book. We traveled to Baja in January, and shot the dishes related to Seattle in summer. It makes all sense to take a picture of a tomato in summer”, Renee adds.

She laughs when I ask her which is more challenging: writing a book or opening a restaurant. “Both are difficult because I want to be hands on fully on both processes although know I have and amazing team managing my restaurants so I can focus more on my books”. In fact, her restaurants are as deeply personal as her books and offer a complete vision of her way to understand beauty and cooking. I would say is a slow cooking and writing way of life.

I hear another laugh on the phone when I ask her why Spain is out of the table and out of Getaway. “In fact, it´s a great question. Spain is the first European country that I visited, and I loved it. I guess it has to be with the way life went, as my first restaurant Boat street café had a strong French influence, and the fact that I went to school in Rome”, she recognizes. “And my personality. When I love a place I always want to return and know more and more”

When I ask her if she has a specific reader in mind when she begins writing she barely tells me “culinary educated”. She wants to share all these experiences and friendships with the home cook in an easy but a special way with tips and discoveries she has been exposed too. “I collect a lot of amazing memories, as when all fishing boats were coming back in Normandy and scallops where so fresh that they were still clapping”, Renee remembers.

She is planning a trip to Sardegna or Greece to celebrate her 50th birthday, but I hope to see her soon in Madrid because a lot of interesting things are happening right now here. She promises to consider it: “I am a big fan of Europe. I love the tradition of all these individual places that are so uniquely different. It´s exciting to be part of the European culture and learn from that”. I will wait here for you, Renee.

Bateau restaurant Seattle

My Getaway particular discoveries

As I expected, you want your suitcase as soon as you begin to read Getaway, but trips will need to wait for now, so I browsed through the book to find the most appealing recipes to entertain and enjoy your virtual culinary tour. The things that surprised/didn´t surprised me where the amazing cocktails featured in the book with local spirits, from the Italian bitter wonders like Amara Amaro to Calvados, the Normandy pear and apple liquor. I am a bit lazy and clumsy to prepare them, so I will try for sure the ultra-easy concoctions as calvados and tonic or the white Negroni. Easy but adventurous, as I will expand knowledge of drinks for sure.

As a Spanish and seafood lover as Renee is, I will focus on the fish and seafood recipes such as the fried salted cod with lemon aioli and the clams with Dijon broth that I prepared with mussels (see below), because a cookbook is a path not a prison. And I will remember my Mexican friends from Seattle grilling pineapples and fish to prepare tacos in my barbecue. But any recipe is worth trying and it won´t disappoint you.

My mussels version of clams in Dijon broth

Read more about Renee

Bon Appetit

Eater

And buy her book here

Bloggers Chefs Events Festivals The yummy chronicles

A real NW food and wine experience

Elena Fernandez 

Writing about a massive food event like Seattle Food and Wine Experience is always tricky. It´s like trying to describe a complicated puzzle piece by piece to the eyes that never had the opportunity to taste, smell and see all the bounty and the complexity that the Pacific NW (and our special guest, California) have to offer.

You also know that your body and your mind have to physically endure a lot of food and alcohol offerings and you don´t really want to feel silly sick or terribly bloated after this. The idea is having fun not a post event nightmare. So my strategy is grabbing a first bite, usually It will be close to the entrance, jambalaya in this occasion, and a glass of sparkling water and go for a first quick tour all around the place to see and prioritize your favorite pit stops.

I was particularly interested in the American Lamb Board´s Brews and Ewes Experience but I wanted something lighter at the beginning so I dropped by Chinoise restaurant booth. Unluckily the Bibimbap that gave chef Thoa Nguyen the victory against Bobby Flay in the Food Network show had ran out but the poke salad was really good too… A bit too much spicy for my Occidental taste though.

So I needed a glass of wine to rinse my palate. White if possible. Chateau Saint Michelle Riesling was a really interesting option. Loved again the classic, everyone´s favorite, the dry one but Eroica brand was quite an interesting discovery for me a bit more  fruity but not overpowering.  Both good options not only to enjoy as a drink but to steam clams and mussels, two of my favorite seafood dishes.

Just landed in lamb´s territory I grabbed one of the winning bites of the day, the smoked lamb meatballs from Gavin Stephenson, chef from The Georgian at the Fairmont Olympic hotel. Cute tiny little pots were used to highlight the hearty spirit of the dish and the potatoes were simply awesome. I felt more disappointed with the cold and not so appealing sticky rice cake from Frolik. Lamb plays better with a more traditional simple approach as its flavor is strong enough. So interesting the info displayed by the American Lamb Board about recipes, pairing and cooking techniques that you can find also in their web.

Talking about funky unexpected meats… meats that we love to cook in Spain I was so lucky to bump into Nicky Farms based in Portland. This company, created to support small ranchers in Oregon sell to retailers and restaurants delicacies as quail, goat, rabbit and venison. I had the opportunity to enjoy a really goat mortadella prepared by chef Seth Fenald from Lark and to have a fun experience exchanging with them my tips as a Spanish cook. Talking about more meat I had the opportunity to taste dirty rice with pulled pork for the first time from Davids & co a small American restaurant located in Benarroya Hall and It was pretty nice too.

The truth is that the pattern of not so much fish at all and this will be mainly salmon was played yesterday too. It´s a bit disappointing that a place like Seattle who is at the sea doesn´t take full advantage of this location to enjoy even more the gifts of the sea.

Time for more drinks… chosen carefully and sipped frugally. Fun the honey beverages from Nectar Creek in Corvallis (Oregon), interesting my first Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley Vineyards, although I´m a girl of Grenache and Syrah, really happy with Jet Black Syrah 2014 from Alexandria Nicole Cellars who will be released this summer. Close to zero the Spanish wines representation at the event. Only Bodegas Torres 2014 5G Garnacha paired with Iberico cured ham… A hidden gem that I hope any foodie didn´t miss.

I wouldn´t to finish my SWFE chronicle without featuring the small entrepreneurs and artisans that work so hard to fulfill their dreams and to give us amazing food or condiments. It´s always so fun to talk with them and to learn from their experience and their journey. Sportsmen´s cannery, Rusty´s cheesecake, Forte chocolates, Copperworks Distillery are only a few of them. Special mention for Alaska Pure Sea Salt and Co from Sitka (Alaska) who worked for 5 years to find the perfect flake salt, the salt that I call Maldon. A bunch of dreams, goals and experience under the same roof for a few hours. This is Seattle Wine and Food Experience.

Click on any photo to see the full gallery 

Chefs Eateries and restaurants Healthy life

Jason Stratton, chef from Aragona. Echoes from my homeland in the Seattle Waterfront

Jason Stratton Aragona

Elena Fernandez

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.

Aragona Seattle

 

 

 

 

Chefs Learning new skills The Yummy Guests

Bourgeoisie Brunches – Meals of the elite, Taught to the masses.

Ricky Flickenger

Foto Ricky blanco y negro

“Bourgeoisie” is typically thought of as the elitist part of society, the top tier – and it is often a term that is looked down on. Though my business name sounds as though I am catering to only the top tier, that could not be more wrong. My tag line (Meals of the elite, Taught to the masses) really demonstrates my mission.

My name is Chef Ricky. I grew up south of Philadelphia in a fairly poor household. Food was important to our family, and how we interacted. My family…along with extended aunts, uncles, grandmothers & grandfathers…used food as a way to sit down, nourish & spend time together. The holidays were a time when large portions of the family would gather at a relatives house for dinner. Stories & jokes were told, laughter was often the main course. It was at these parties, watching my Mom, aunts & grandmom cook that I really took a liking to the art of food. Not to mention I love to eat 🙂

As I grew I continued to cook and learn – though I ended up going to college for psych, not culinary. My brother & I were the first to attend college and I wanted to choose a “safer” career, despite my parents protests that I could study anything I wanted. Flash forward 11 years – I have moved to Seattle, no longer crave a career in psych and really want to delve into the world of food. After working/running several bakeries & catering places in town, I was done, I had had it with restaurants. I needed to start my own path, working for others was driving me crazy. There were two things I saw in the restaurant world that really annoyed me. 1) A lot (not all) of chefs/cooks/bakers are very pretentious and very guarded about their skills. They do not want to share, and they certainly do not feel as though someone who didn’t go to school could be a master at food. 2) A lot of non restaurant people felt the same way about themselves.

Well, I didn’t go to school for culinary or baking, and I CERTAINLY didn’t feel that way. I wanted others to feel the way I did, I wanted others to know they could cook the way I did – the way they saw famous chefs on TV cooking. This wouldn’t be 30 minute meals, or a great way to make grilled cheese (though I LOVE grilled cheese) This would be showing people that food & cooking are an art everyone SHOULD know. Pate choux, coq au vin, beef bourguignon, wellingtons, seafood, duck con fit – all with in reach of even the most inexperienced cook. Bourgeoisie Brunches, my mission & my business, was born.

Fotos Ricky chef BBrunches – as it has affectionitly become known – offers classes to any level of cook. Not just classes, but I am a mobile chef. We compile a custom menu together, I shop for us, bring recipes and come to YOUR home. I show you how to use YOUR kitchen and YOUR tools. I teach using food science to explain what is really happening in the pan. You cook with a recipe and a chef right by your side to see how easy & delicious food can be. I can, and have, taught classes from 1 to 65 people – and ages 4 to 65. Due to the nature of cooking I teach (from scratch) people also learn the value of cooking with whole foods. Using ingredients that have not been processed. There is no need to add a ton of salt or fake fats to make food taste good. You can start to move away from a world of pre prepared food, to a world of creation and imagination. My goal is to inspire others to use & teach my recipes to others. To keep the learning going through generations so that the art of cooking does not just fall to those heralded on TV as “master chefs.”

More info here