Rodrigo de la Calle… beyond “Gastrobotany”!

Rodrigo de la Calle

If while in Spain you hear about algae (seaweed), lichen, dates, citrus, desert vegetables and “gastrobotánica”, it’s surely because Chef Rodrigo de la Calle is behind the story.

One of the most sensible and passionate for nature cooks I’ve ever met. And having worked with chefs like Adoni Luis Aduriz, Quique Dacosta and Martín Berrasategui, I don’t get surprised that someday he would get as recognized or even more than them.

Just minutes away of exiting his restaurant in Aranjuez, Spain, I wanted to write to some friends of mine that were dying to know about my dining experience. While I took the train to dine alone in Aranjuez, they were dining in a well-known, two Michelin stars restaurant. We agreed to exchange feedbacks about both places at the end of the night. They sent me pictures of the dishes, of the chef and a brief note that only helped to confirm me that my dinner was a thousand times better than theirs.

This was the email I sent to my friends:

I find it almost impossible to describe in words what I just lived tonight. It is easier to tell you that is worth the plane trip from EU just to live this experience. Now I understand why Madrid Fusión prized this chef Newcomer Cook 2009 (Cocinero Revelación 2009) and why he was recently nominated Chef L’Avenir 2010….It is very difficult to describe this 34 years old cook who comes from a farmers family that all their lives were touring all over Spain, working with its fruits and seasons.

Rodrigo’s restaurant is in Aranjuez, a small town close to Madrid where not much happens and maybe is the reason why it has taken a little long in getting to be known. The restaurant is very small and cozy. Sits about 25-30 people and has 2 stories. Upstairs he serves “tapas”, which he calls “classics”, but there were nothing classic about them because for me they were “unique”; and downstairs is the fine dining that he calls “Menú Gastrobotánica” (Gastrobotany Menu), whichhe defines as the study of the forgotten vegetables for their use in the kitchen.

He served me a Tasting Dinner of about 15-17 dishes…who knows if more. Since I tried the fresh bread, the olives, the vegetables from his uncle’s patch, the olive oil made by his father and the fried sweet potatoes, I prepared myself right then for one of the best dinners of my life. How can I explain it: It was a very high upscale cuisine without not even an ounce of horseplay or crap, respecting or better said, raising the nature of the ingredients that he and the biologist Santiago Orts, discover, study and harvest to take them directly to the plate; a process named by them as Gastrobotany. I was told by a great journalist: “He makes the best rice dishes that I’ve ever tried in the whole World”. And among all the dishes that I tried, I can assure you that with or without rice, most of them have been the best I had the pleasure to ever taste.

The funniest part was when I asked him about the ingredients that were unknown by me (dry flowers, algae, desert vegetables, lichen, and citrus caviar). He brought them to me right away with such an incomparable excitement. Rodrigo gave them to me to smell them, cut them and to experience them so I could get to know them and “make them mine”…he only wanted me to taste, learn and to do nothing else but live the moment…until he scolded me for reading an interview of him, while I was eating.

My dining experience was in charge of Cristina, who was the “garnish” of the dinner. An impeccable service that shows the incredible knowledge of what Rodrigo is and does. I got stunned! She is an excellent sommelier and rules the restaurant like she was the director of a symphony orchestra. The dinner started with a little wooden board and a parchment with a beautiful creed written on it, about the nature, purity and freshness of the ingredients that would season the night. The most memorable dishes were: The vegetable oyster with citrus caviar, Seasonal Fall Vegetables Mosaic, Mushrooms and Seaweed Rice, Cochinillo (baby pig) With Dates, and Torrija (toast) of Fresh Date from Elche’s Garden…They can’t be described or defined…you have to try them!!!

Surprisingly you won’t find his picture not even in the restaurant’s website. He doesn’t enjoy cameras, interviews or the “glamour” of being a great chef. He is very humble and what makes him happy is having people going to his restaurant to try his cooking and the dishes that define the essence of what he is. So just make sure that if you take him out of the kitchen is to talk about some ingredient or dish. He is shy, detailed and meticulous and only dreams about people enjoying his life: his only love, his cooking: Gastrobotany.

Well…After those lines I wrote to my friend, the one I was telling you at the beginning; he didn’t hesitate on traveling to Aranjuez to try Rodrigo’s cuisine and for my satisfaction, he loved it as much as I did. And although Rodrigo could get mad at me for this, I need to say that the tapas dinner ‘’classic and simple’’, as he called them, was memorable also. Why denying it Rodrigo? When there are thousands of tapas restaurants that don’t even get to make a good selection of cold meats and cheeses like yours. I still dream of the prawns and oysters with citrus caviar. Your marmalades took my breath away and about the croquettes I can’t even talk because I get hungry and we don’t have in Miami any place comparable to your memorable and exquisite cuisine.

Thanks Rodrigo for your time…although you didn’t let me formally interview you, while you were introducing me your desert vegetables, citrus, your father’s oil, your Carrasco Hams and the natural gastronomy of your Madrid, I hope I got the chance to take some of the cook very few know out?

The Michelin star will arrive…just as it happened to your great grandfather in 1929.  But you’ll get it with more restaurants, in many cities and countries, and more curious like me that would like to know about the Gastrobotany of Rodrigo de la Callein Aranjuez. Congrats to you and to your beautiful team…thanks for letting me in to your kitchen!!!

 

 

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Doreen is an Editor of:

 

Doreen is Celebrity Chef of:

Novo Nordisk

 

Doreen supports:

Baptist Health Foundation

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