Saturday 17 October 2009

Ferran Adria

Last Monday I went to the Restaurant Show with Rafi and Daz, Sabor head chef and one of his team. Without a doubt the highlight for us was to listen to Ferran Adria, head chef of "El Bulli", which is widely considered the best restaurant in the world (voted as such by the judging panel of Restaurant magazine for the last three years). He was interviewd by the editor of Restaurant magazine, and was there to promote his new book A Day at El Bulli. With the first question the man was off like a rocket to share with us his passion.

There is no easy way to explain the food of Ferran Adria at El Bulli. You need to eat there and that's difficult because his 50 seat restaurant, a two hour drive north of Barcelona in Spain, only takes 8,000 people a year and two million apply for places. Most of us simply won't make it there, not even by having a personal plea to the man himself.

If you've ever wondered why so many restaurants now offer dozens of courses in degustation, it is Adria's influence. If you wonder why chefs are serving ingredients foraged from the seashore - or spices from Africa or flavours from
South America that you've never heard of - it is because he started searching for new ingredients and combinations.

It was Adria who first used seaweed extracts to make flavoured, wispy foams, or synthesized spheres of flavour - for instance olive oil balls that taste of the pure essence of olive and that look like olives themselves. He started cooking - or freezing really - in liquid nitrogen at -196°C. He started deconstructing dishes and presenting food as works of art.

Speaking in Spanish through a translator, which was great for me as I did not want to have anything lost in translation, he says that for him "creativity is not copying". What he is interested in is the food and making diners happy rather than business. That is the course he decided to follow in 1994, ten years after he joined El Bulli. It was then that he broke out of the mould of traditional French haute cuisine, established by great chefs such as Auguste Escoffier and Antoine Carême before him.

Ferran Adria's work is labour intensive. He says that in western developed countries it won't be economic to develop avant-garde, high-end cuisine. The manpower required is enormous. Adria has 70 people working in his restaurant to serve just 50 people each night. He said that El Bulli is not a profitable enterprise. It is supported by a range of spin-off businesses and consultancies that in his own words 'bought the freedom for him, to be able to do what he does at El Bulli.

Without a doubt he is the most inspiring person I have come across in the food industry and listening to his philosophy and experiences was a very enlightening experience.

Thursday 8 October 2009

Mercedes Sosa Tribute

Many of us at Sabor were sorry to hear, earlier this week, that Mercedes Sosa, the Argentine folk singer who became a powerful voice of resistance to authoritarian Latin American regimes, died on 4th October in Buenos Aires. A leading light of the "nueva canción" (new song) movement that pushed for social justice in the 1960s and '70s, Sosa was 74.

I grew up listening to her music, as students we always played our favorite songs. She possessed a deep, alto voice and a strong sense of conviction, and had a warm, engaging personality. These qualities helped to make her one of the few Latin American musicians who could, over five decades, command a wide international audience. Described as "the voice of Latin America", she was revered as a commentator on the political and social turmoil that afflicted the region.

Driven into exile in Europe in 1979, Sosa returned to Argentina in 1982 and enjoyed a career renaissance and enormous popularity that endured throughout her life. "La Negra," as she was known, always sang in Spanish. "Her undisputed talent, her honesty and her profound convictions leave a great legacy to future generations," her family said in a statement.

If you're not familiar with Mercedes' work already, do take a look at this video on youtube, an excellent performance of one of her most moving songs.

Thanks to life (Gracias a la Vida)
by Violeta Parra
(translated by Ron Adams, 10/07/09)

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me two bright eyes that, when I open them,
Can perfectly distinguish black from white
And in the distant sky with her starry backdrop,
And from within the multitudes, find the one I love.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me hearing that in all its wide ranging
Records night and day, the rattle of chains and canary songs,
Tyrant shouts, the roar of war, slander, misfortune’s storms,
And the tender, loving song.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me meaning and learning.
From them come the words I’m thinking and now confess:
"Mother," "Friend," "Brother"; and the light shining
On the road of the soul where love travels.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me the strength in my tired feet.
With them I have crossed cities and seas
Valleys and deserts, mountains and plains
To your house, down your street to your heart.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me the passion that shakes my soul
When I see the fruits of real human understanding,
When I see far beyond the bad to the good,
When I look deep into your clear eyes.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me so much laughter and so many tears.
With them I rescue happiness from the crush of pain—
The two materials that form my song,
And your song, that is my song too,
And everyone’s song, that is my special song.
Here’s to the life, which has given me so much.

Wednesday 7 October 2009

Empanadas Paisas

Empanadas are one of the most traditional Latin-American dishes, with their origin in the north of Spain, introduced by the moors during their occupation of the Iberian peninsula. Today you can find empanadas in almost any high street in Latin America as one of our favourite street snacks. There are lots of types of empanadas, and different varieties are typical of different territories, both the filling and the pastry can be made with different ingredients. Beef, chicken, pork, or fish, which may or may not be mixed with vegetables, are all to be found. The empanada dough is generally made with wheat-flour, and can be either baked or fried, but in countries like Colombia and Ecuador, empanadas are made with cooked corn or cornmeal, which makes them a bit more crunchy. In the Caribbean the dough is sometimes made with a black bean puree. Empanadas are best served hot and are usually accompanied with a spicy salsa.

Depending on the size empanadas can be served as a canapé, starter, main course, or even dessert - obviously depending on the filling. Empanadas de Cambrai are a particular favourite in parts of Colombia, the pastry is made with cassava flour, and the empanada is filled with a sweet guava paste, rather like Spanish membrillo. Empanadas are a good party dish as they can be made in advance and fried or baked just before you serve them.

In this article I want to give you a recipe for the Empanadas Paisas, which are traditional from Antioquia and the coffee region of Colombia where I come from. As a child I knew that if my mother was making empanadas, we were expecting a visitor. We all learned the trade from our mother, but out of five brothers and sisters my sisters Nidia and Liliana are the empanada queens. Nidia, whose recipes I'm sharing with you, makes them using shredded beef, her empanadas are smaller, Liliana minces the beef and makes them bigger. This just goes to show, that even in the same family, the basis may be the same but the detail is very much a personal preference.

Empanadas Paisas (beef and potato patties)


  • 500 grams beef brisket
  • 20 grams each of spring and red onions, chopped
  • 10 grams cumin seedsSalt and pepper
  • 40 ml of vegetable oil
  • 500 ml of water
  • 125 grams each of chopped red onions and chopped spring onions
  • 4 small tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 400 grams (4 medium-sized) potatoes, boiled in their skins
  • 500 grams dry yellow corn or you can use cornmeal

Sauté the additional onions and spring onions in oil. Add the chopped tomatoes and fry an additional 3 or 4 minutes. Mix in the ground meat and meat stock and cook for about 10 minutes. Peel and mash the cooled, boiled potatoes and add them to the meat and vegetable mixture. Mix the salt, pepper and ground cumin seed into the meat and potato mixture. If you can find it, add triguisar which is a saffron mix you can get at the Latin markets for the seasoning.

Boil the dry yellow corn meal in sufficient water to cover the corn, for about halfan hour. The key to good dough is not to overcook the corn. Put the cooked corn through a grinder. Alternatively you can use cornmeal, follow the instructions on the packet, and make sure the cornmeal is cooked otherwise the dough is going to crumble.

To the ground corn adds salt. Knead the dough until it is thoroughly mixed and form a firm ball. Pick off small pieces and form into the size of small balls. Flatten each piece thin, with the help of a piece of plastic and a rolling pin. Put about 1 spoonful of the meat mixture in the centre of the flattened ball, depending on how big you would like to make them. Fold over and pinch edges together to close and form a pretty edge, using a cup, form a half moon, cut it, put them in the fridge, until you are ready to fry. Place in deep, hot vegetable oil and fry about 3 or 4 minutes until golden brown. Remove and put on paper towels in a colander. Serve immediately or reheat in a paper bag in the oven prior to using. The meat mixture can be made in advance and stored in the freezer, but the dough must be made fresh the day of use.

Makes about 60 empanadas

Served with Aji

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Recipe for Aji


Ají is a spicy tomato and coriander salsa, that is usually is served in any Colombian Restaurant, we enjoy scooping it up to crusty meat filled empanadas, yucas fritas, also spooned over grilled meats or fish. Ají is as important to Colombians as chimichurri is to the Argentineans. This is our Sabor version, which is influence by growing up in the coffee region of Colombia.


  • 300 ml of vinegar
  • 1 bunch spring onions
  • 1 bunch coriander
  • 2 hot red chili peppers
  • 2 medium red onions

Finely chop the onions and coriander. Blend the chili peppers with the vinegar. Mix everything together adding salt to taste. Cumin is sometimes added also.