It is sometimes difficult to find an emphasis on vegetables and fruit when dining in Spain, but when one does find it as I did with the cooking of Paco Morales at Senzone, it is often extraordinary. A rapidly ascending chef, who has made a name for himself via his innovative and successful use of vegetables and fruits is Rodrigo de la Calle, chef of an eponymous restaurant in Aranjuez, Madrid (no website available). A disciple of Andoni Luis Aduriz as well as Martin Berasategui and Quique Dacosta, de la Calle was selected as the 2009 winner of the Revelation Chef award at Madrid Fusión representing the chef considered to have made the most rapid ascent over the previous year.
De la Calle made his presentation along with the culinary gastrobotanist Santiago Orts, with whom de la Calle is collaborating on a famous palm orchard called "El Huerto del Cura" or "The Garden of the Priest" in the town of Elche near Alicante in eastern Spain. Orts described his role as a gastrobotanist looking at old and forgotten plants and fruits for new culinary uses. De la Calle has become his partner in this search with Orts providing the material for de la Calle to work with.
The first part of the presentation focused on the wide variety of citrus fruits available , especially in Spain, where they are cultivating quite a few of them at the Huerto del Cura, including Buddha's Hand Citrus, Kumquats Finger Limes amongst many others. They are searching for not only interesting fruit that they can work with, but flowers as well, including a variety of citrus flowers selected specifically for their culinary potential.
De la Calle crafted a dish, "Citric Oyster Essence" in which he paired a large Galician oyster with "citric sea foam" made with citron, fingerlime "caviar", calamondin oranges and orange blossoms. While not present in his written recipe, for his presentation de la Calle also added a base of ice plant leaves, another botanical element with which he and Orts collaborate on.
"Citric Oyster Essence"
The collaboration between Orts and de la Calle has included a lot of work with dates. De la Calle described the various stages, the unripe kimri, the fibrous, astringent and crunchy khalal, the soft, ripe rutab and the sun-dried and ripe tamar. De la Calle uses each of these in different ways in his cooking as he also uses different cultivars. For his demonstration, de la Calle used a variety of dates as well as a number of different plants and vegetables to create a Warm Scallop Salad with Desert Vegetables and Fresh Dates. Ironically, I do not recall him actually using scallops during the demo. My photo shows all the other elements but that. Then again, he wasn't demonstrating how to use scallops!
Salad with Desert Vegetables and Fresh Dates
With a strong reputation as a meat and starch cuisine, de la Calle's and Orts presentation along with those that preceded it on the day, have shown that any effort to characterize the nation's cuisine as such, is at best superficial. Vegetables and fruits are alive and well in Spain.