The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Hola from one of the southern-most cities in Spain: Marbella.      

Marbella is home to many of the things that we gringos associate with Spanish cuisine and culture:   

The staccato rapport of flamenco, refreshing gazpachos, and–to those of us in the culinary world– a guy named Dani Garcia and his michelin-starred restaurant, Calima.  

                                                                                    

I am 2 weeks into my apprenticeship here, and I have already learned SO MUCH about technique and the kind of cook I am looking to become!  Not a day goes by that I am not scribbling furiously into my notebook about some new technique or idea, and I still have SO MUCH time to learn here (I will, of course, NEVER learn enough… but it is very easy to be a sponge here and take everything in).   

 Here are some of the highlights so far:    

1. We use liquid nitrogen: A LOT of liquid nitrogen. Since Dani Garcia is one of the pioneers of using the technique of super cooling products in the kitchen, many of our menu items meet their fate in a bubbling cauldron of −196 °C goo.         

Liquid nitro playtime

As things like olive oil or alcohol change texture drastically when super-cooled (ever had oil in the fridge and seen it solidify? Multiply that times 100), we use liquid nitrogen to make such dishes as     

Palomitas

 Palomitas= popcorn to you gringos, and made out of–among other things–super-frozen high-quality olive oil  (see the video link below!) 

Liquid nitro tomatoes

 The soon-to-be famous liquid nitro tomato, a frozen mousse of sorts    

Serious cooks, serious work

2.   This crew is serious about what they do and improving daily about how they do it.    

More specifically, something special is happening here– and this crew knows it. These guys come from everywhere in Spain and beyond, and they have worked at some of the best places in the world (many have been chefs de partie and high-level cooks at Mugaritz, El Bulli, El Poblet, Cellar de Can Roca, and more).    

This is a crew that spends their kitchen time (respectfully) keeping each other in-check, helping each other where needed,and teaching each other their stations and the tricks they have picked up. 

We also spend our off time together at the bar or on day-trips–mostly arguing over culinary technique, how to cook an egg or a tortilla espanola (naturally!), and who’s knives are the sharpest (these guys love their Globals but, after seeing my Ittosai, Togaharu, and Misonos, they have opened their eyes to the world of Japanese knives beyond… thanks P!)   

Dani Garcia

And then there’s our Head Chef (Dani Garcia) and Chef de Cuisine (David Olivas)– a couple of leaders who crack the whip or crack a joke as the situation calls for. They are knowledgable, inspirational, and damn good cooks.    

All in all, I don’t think I could have asked for a better group of mentors and peers.    

3. This kitchen is progressive, but has a deep respect for traditional culinary technique– something that has been a theme for this 1-year journey and a source of heated conversation for my fellow scholarship cooks.    

Consider Calima’s tagline–which also serves as their mission statement and modus operandi:    

    

As I have blogged previouslyCocinacontraditión can be translated two ways:    

Cocina con tradición = cooking with tradition    

or    

Cocina contradictión= cooking contradiction.    

This translates to days when I am roasting bones to make a traditional veal or chicken jus one minute, then up to my elbows in liquid nitrogen the next. We make a potato puree from the archives of the great Joël Robuchon, and then we use calcium oxide to confit veggies because it imparts a specific texture.    

This exact issue– the missing link between culinary tradition and progression– is what my group of ICEX cooks noted and took issue with previously. More specifically, this relation back to traditional cooking is what we identified as the difference between “cooking with love” or “making food from the heart” as opposed to making food “devoid of love or soul.”    

What great lessons so far… I can’t wait to see where all of this is leading. Stay tuned… 

Here’s some photos and video links: 

Video: Making liquid nitro palomitas   

Video: The late night churro man of Marbella 

Photo set: Calima  

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