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On a road trip through the Spanish ecological map

There was an uncontained joy in the environment and very special energy. It was the first time in a long time that exhibitors participating in Organic Food Iberia left their virtual bubble to participate in a brick-and-mortar fair. Those fairs in which samples of wine and ham, are truly appreciated and networking is done in the old way: face to face. And I soaked up all these good vibrations instantly as soon as I crossed the threshold of pavilion 8 at IFEMA.

I had not heard of this exhibition until I received the invitation and searching for information about it, I understood why. It is a young fair, the first edition took place in 2019, which saw its steps truncated last year due to pandemic restrictions.

Organic Food Iberia is an international fair, organized by Diversified Communications UK in collaboration with IFEMA, and is also held in Australia, Sweden, and England. Currently, Spain is booming with organic agriculture and food production, so it was logical that it would have its event.

In fact, according to data from the organizers, Spain currently cultivates 2 million hectares of organic crops, the largest area in Europe and it is the fourth largest producer in the world. The consumption of organic products in Spain grew by 20% last year and we are already reaching the levels of other countries in the north of the European continent.

Spain currently cultivates 2 million hectares of organic crops, the largest area in Europe

In a fair of this type, the best thing is to walk and let yourself be carried away by your intuition, and this is what I did. In this time, I started in reverse mode, when my interest made me begin first with dessert and stop at the ice cream stand of the Runakay company, a pioneer in the production of artisanal and vegan ice cream. I have to say that the name is not the most accurate part of the product, since it is not very catchy and reminds you of a sports store, but the ice cream was delicious.

I was very kindly attended by Manuel Sanchez, the company’s delegate in Madrid, who gave me a taste of the mango sorbet, very rich, and the horchata with stracciatella that won my heart because it combines two of my favorite flavors. Luckily, I already can find it in Madrid so from now on it is included in my shopping basket.

Then I came across an interesting corner designated to “do a wine tasting yourself”, with a selection of organic wines. The most interesting of them was Granza Crianza 2015, made with Tinta de Toro grape by the Cyan winery from Matarromera group.

The DO Jumilla has played a prominent role in this fair, with a stand entirely dedicated to its wines. The answer is that its geographical conditions, in transition between the Mediterranean climate and La Mancha plains and its remarkable altitude, between 320 and 900 meters, and the climatic conditions give their vines a natural resistance to various pests, making it a perfect enclave for the production of organic wine. Currently, 70% of the wine produced in Jumilla is organic. A good example is Numun, from bodegas BSI.

My next stop was Dehesa de Luna winery, also located in the Albacete area. I must admit that I was attracted by the smell of the Iberico ham tasting. But this farm is much more than ham. Located in a unique enclave surrounded by 2,800 hectares of nature, it has been creating organic wines for 15 years from its centuries-old vineyards and protecting the fauna and flora that surround it.

Taking a break from wine, I came across a drink more unknown in Spain and full of healthy properties. Ginger beer, which is different from its companion ginger ale. Ginger beer is produced by fermentation like traditional beer. In California, ginger is a more than familiar spice, and an artisanal and fair-trade company from there, The Ginger People, has finally just arrived in Spain. In addition to this drink, they sell too really interesting products, such as ginger syrup, ideal for preparing healthy pancakes with a zen flair.

A farm as unique as Dehesa el Milagro requires a special mention. Behind a company with such a suggestive name is Blanca Entrecanales Domecq, who a little more than a decade ago turned a mix between dreams, utopia, and the search for a quiet life in what is now an established but innovative company. The project for this ecological farm was born in Alcañizo (Toledo) to treat Nature with the utmost respect so she, in return, returns us healthy products of the highest quality. On the farm, they try to be self-sufficient to the maximum through a closed production cycle in which the cattle are fed with their pastures and in which seasonal products are respected to the maximum.

The intention of its creator was also to make consumers participate in the excellence produced by the land. For this reason, its objective was to eliminate intermediaries in the distribution chain, and therefore its products can be purchased online. Their latest launches are a line of products already prepared such as meat for tacos, very rich, and also an ecological stuffed chicken with which they won the award for the best innovative product. We will have to have it on the radar for the festivities to come.

I still had two interesting stops to finish my tour of Organic Food Iberia. The ecological preserves Monjardin, a family business on the Navarra riverbank that has been producing quality products for more than 50 years. and another of my favorite products and which is now starting to hit the ground running in Spain: kombucha.

The first company in the country to make them by hand is Mun Ferments, created by Jordi Dalmau in Mataró in 2015. Kombucha, a common drink in yoga studios in the western United States, is a probiotic fermented drink made from green tea that improves intestinal flora and promotes the detoxification of the organism, and is also a guilty free soft drink since its composition of sugars and alcohol is very low.

In short, a very interesting route that combines tradition and innovation. Because they are not only compatible. They are a combination of success.

entrepreneurs wineries Wines

Get this special wine … before it flies

In Aragon, a well-known region in the NE of Spain, it’s uncommon to find a winery with two wins and the name of a saint as its logo.

Legend says that Saint Frontonio was beheaded on the banks of the Ebro river, but his head sailed upriver instead of downstream. This is where Frontonio winery gets its name. According to Aiyana Vilimek, Key Account Manager, “We also like to do things against the tide, constantly innovating”.

As a native of Aragon, I gravitate very frequently towards fruity wines in general and towards Grenache in particular. That is why I decided to try two of the star wines of this winery: Telescopico Carignan 2017 and Supersonico 2018. They surprised me even more than I expected because they had very unusual notes, more earthy and risky than usual. I decided to contact them to understand something more about their history and work philosophy.

Bodegas Frontonio is located in the small town of Alpartir, one hour away from Zaragoza. Behind this adventure, we discovered Fernando Mora, an engineer who always dreamed of being a winemaker and who started making wine in the bathtub at his home and finally pursued his dream in 2013. He continued his training until he achieved the title of Master of Wine in 2017. This is a select club to which only 416 professionals worldwide belong, seven of them living in Spain. Obtaining this title opened many doors for him to make himself known among winemakers and give impetus to his new projects.

“Here in the winery, we do the work in the fields and harvest in a very traditional way and very different from how things are done today,” explains Aiyana. “The grapes are hand-harvested and then trodden, and we till with horses”.

Frontonio winery is aware of the close bond between the natural environment and the identity of a bottle of wine. For this reason, they have made this determined commitment to a type of organic and sustainable viticulture, maintaining the native vegetation and working with some vineyards in poly-cultivation. They also maintain green corridors for animals to achieve a perfect balance between biodiversity and agriculture.

Elaboration in the winery

Once the grapes are harvested, they are worked by gravity in a three-story cellar, two of them being underground in old caves that maintain constant humidity and temperature. The wines are fermented in crates and used wood barrels so that the wood does not add too much character to the final product and the wine does not lose its vibrancy and character.

The hallmarks of Frontonio winery wines are their high acidity to achieve greater liveliness and freshness, with the predominance of fruit and berry notes so characteristic of Grenache, the original Aragon grape. “I would say they even have some earthy and aromatic herbs notes as well,” says its sales director.

“I would say our wines even have some earthy and aromatic herbs notes as well

Aiyana Vilimek, Key Accounts Manager

When I asked her to recommend three wines for this summer, Aiyana decided on a white wine and two reds: “First of all, I would choose a Frontonio Blanco 2018, made with white Grenache and Macabeo from our vineyards in La Loma and Los Santos. It has been fermented for 12 months in used wood to keep that most vivid part of the fruity note,” she explains. “And I would also choose two reds, the Supersonico and the Telescopico. The Supersonico 2018 has a touch of raspberry that makes it a very special wine. It is made at an altitude of more than 1030 meters with Grenache and some Macabeo in vineyards that are more than 80 years old. These characteristics give it high acidity and perfect freshness,” she adds.

But Aiyana loves especially Telescopico 2018. “In the 2017 vintage there were two reds made with Grenache and Carignan grapes. The new one is a fusion of both and in fact, we launched it just a few weeks ago. It is an organic and very special wine, and in my opinion, it is going to improve over the years and become a spectacular wine, since we have seen that this has happened with previous vintages”.

When I ask her if a good product or good marketing is more important to stand out in the competitive world of wine, Aiyana has no doubt: “A good product. Marketing is essential to make yourself known. Press articles or Parker scores are very good for us, but you do not keep a customer if that wine disappoints him. For us, loyalty to our product is essential,” she says.

It is essential for the winery to care for and maintain this loyal audience, who can be made from professionals or other winemakers, but also from people without specific training that have been enchanted by the fascinating world of wine. For this reason, Fernando Mora, Frontonio’s alma mater, creates tutorials on Instagram and a quarterly wine club in which something different is done in each box, with guest wineries and a wine made especially for that occasion in the winery. They know excellence is not achieved by isolating themselves and seeing other wineries as competition, but by collaborating and learning from them. This attitude is reflected in their amazing and innovative wines.

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Chefs Eateries and restaurants entrepreneurs

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

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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