The true art of modernist cuisine
Tenerife News was delighted to catch up with Carlos Gamonal, the distinguished chef and owner of Restaurante Mesón el Drago.
How would you define your restaurant kitchen?
Our kitchen is clean, abundant, tasty and free of genetically modified foods. We also cook with products grown or raised in our region. We like to cook classic Canary recipes, Spanish and from around the world, as well as incorporating new culinary technologies, at times, into our style of cooking. In addition, I consider our cooking “modernist” so in our house, my team practicses “modernist cuisine.”
What is modernist cuisine?
It is a current culinary fashion today. I will try to define it. A modernist chef has classic cooking skills and recipes. He also has know-ledge of modern culinary technology (pressure cooker, vacuum cooking, temperature control, humidity, acid or pH levels, induction, convection, precision weighing, freezing systems and traceability). A modernist chef has his recipes “in his hands”, a traditional chef usually has his recipes “in his head”. However, without exception, the recipes of a modernist chef are more like making pastry, with the data and procedures always accurate and precise. A modernist chef always has his recipes at hand; it is difficult to accurately remember all the different formulae that meet in the same recipe. And a fundamental characteristic of a modernist chef is that they stick to the recipe and use foods which do not add extra flavours.
Why not add flavour? Do you mean producing food without taste?
These ingredients don’t contribute flavour but without them it would not be possible to practise modernist cuisine. These foods are often used in the food industry generally. Have you ever wondered why “oil” appears on the ingredients of a packet of biscuits but it doesn’t make that biscuit hot, crumbled or destroyed and “oil” is not detected anywhere? This is because the recipe uses an ingredient called “tapioca maltodextrin”, a natural product, processed industrially, which binds the oil to make it solid. Can you imagine an oil being converted to the texture of earth? This is what happens when the traditional recipe of Mojo green sauce when parsley and pepper is added at the right proportion and Maltodextrin is necessary. Other ingredients are added to these which do not contribute flavour but add new textures instead or are added to maintain freshness, to preserve them or to allow the product to withstand high temperatures to achieve a perfect gratin. Etc, etc…the etceteras are so long I could write a book about them. And finally the definition of modernist cooking is something very important in this style of cooking: It is compulsory “re-flection”, a modernist chef needs a roadmap that can be repeated easily, hence it is necessary to think much. A traditional chef cooks and serves, a modernist chef creates concepts and fusions through reflection and planning his order of work. Without good preparation, cooking this way is impossible.
What are the favourite dishes of customers?
Favourite dishes of our customers are the Canary recipes: “Caldereta de cherne con papas negras y cilantro” (white grouper stew with black potatoes and coriander sau-ce), “Puchero canario de las siete islas” (Seven Islands Ca-narian stew), “Cabrito embarrado en salmorejo de almendras” (goat bathed in almond Salmorejo sauce), “Prensado de pulpo con vinagreta de esferas” (Squid with vinagrette spheres), “Papas rellenas al estilo de la abuela” (grandma’s style stuffed potatoes, “Chuletón de buey con cebolla morada de Tacoronte” (T-bone steak with Tacoronte pink onions), “Tarta de chocolate sólo chocolate plátano y oro” (chocolate cake, chocolate banana and gold), etc.
It’s said that Canary cuisine is wrinkled potatoes, Mojo sauces and gofio!
Do you agree?
Of course NOT, many other things apart from Gofio identifies our cuisine as Canary. At this point, I feel our kitchen lives in a “gofio-sphere”. Gofio is always present or always willing to be present in snacks, in duck salad, in casseroles, garni-shes of rabbit in Salmorejo sauce and in some desserts. Sometimes it is an important ingredient for taste, some-times to add its name, other times to add texture or as a thickening agent.
Canary cuisine is not just potatoes, mojo sauces and gofio as it has always been a fusion cuisine. A fusion of many different cultures. Since the Spanish Conquest, our cooking has been influenced by the cuisine of the world. There are recipes consi-dered to be traditional Canary cuisine without equal in recipe books, for example, in Portugal, England and on the Spanish mainland.
For a new client visiting your restaurant, would you advise a tasting menu or something else?
We do not have a tasting menu as we consider this style outdated. However, without hesitation, we would suggest a presentation of modernist plates, beautiful dishes to pick at and share. Our cuisine is cuisine to be shared and we would en-courage the diner to do so. It is the very best way to discover and savour Restaurante Mesón el Drago: sharing the beautiful flavours which are presented in the confines of a simple white plate.
Finally, would you give an example of a Canary plate to share?
I would start with “Uvas de foiegras cocido en vino maceración carbónica”(Foie Gras grapes cooked in car-bonic maceration wine) , second “salmón ahumado en madera de ciruelo y ensalada de malas hierbas ecológicas” (salmon smoked in plum tree wood & ecological salad), then continue with “Pulpo con vinagreta de esferas” (Squid with vinagrette spheres) giving way to a modernist style “puchero” (Canary stew). It would now be the moment for fish dishes and I would opt for beans with passion fruit cuttlefish and garlic shrimps. I would finish off with “salmo-rejo de almendras de Santiago del Teide” (Salmorejo sauce with Santiago del Teide almonds) to step to the desserts: “sorbete de las tres mentas” (three mint sorbet), “Torrija carnavalera” (Carnaval French toast and a small chocolate Teide to finish off). Average price per person for this menu would be: 33 euros
We are suprised. It seems cheap for such food.
I did not include wine. Our cellar is extensive and, of course, include the wines of our region. In addition to the bar, we have a large collection of rums and gins. Today, if you are not careful, the drinks can be more expensive than the food.