Wine, cured meat and cheese from the mountain, and the very special Andorra colt - these were some of the local culinary treasures shown off during an afternoon of brilliant cookery at Andorra Taste, with original creations and recipes from Lasarte by Martín Berasategui***, presented by Paolo Casagrande.
The event began with a round table of producers and chefs from the Pyrenees, who discussed the characteristics that make high-altitude produce so special. This was illustrated by Cristina Tor, co-owner of Casa Auvinyà (Auvinyà, Sant Julià de Lòria, Andorra), one of the five wineries operating in the Principality, who explained that "in the mountains, the fruit's ripening process is very slow, and so fruit is smaller and more concentrated because of the changes in temperature". Conditions which will obviously determine the distinguishing features of high-altitude wines.
Orography also has an effect on the process to obtain such typical mountain products as cured meats and cheeses. This was confirmed by Jordi Planes of Embotits Cal Jordi (Ransol, Andorra), and Pablo Urcelay, master cheesemaker at Quesería Casa Raubert (Escàs, Andorra). In both cases, the lack of grazing pastures determines access to the raw materials such as pigs and milk. A shortage also mentioned by chef Eli Farrero from the El Ventador restaurant (Barruera, Alta Ribagorça, Lleida), who pointed out that if we really want to cook the territory, "diners must be aware that we have long winters here, and, for example, the land provides what it provides".
Land and sea with stars
On the subject of high-altitude gastronomy, Paolo Casagrande was at Andorra Taste to showcase the major gastronomy project he runs with Martín Berasategui at Monument Hotel (Barcelona), the 5*GL hotel featuring the restaurants Lasarte by Martín Berasategui***, Oria Restaurant and Hall0 Cóctail Bar. Born in Italy, he learned the trade in a number of European cities, and for 20 years he has formed part of the crew with the Basque chef, whom he considers "a mentor, a friend, a colleague and a brother". He explained that his objective at Lasarte is to create unforgettable gastronomic experiences with the best produce nature can provide, for maximum satisfaction of diners, concentrating on "the best seasonal produce, sustainability and a balance of tradition, culture and origin with innovation and state-of-the-art".
He admits that Lasarte has Basque roots, but a considerable Catalan and Italian influence - three territories which hold the communion of land and sea in their DNA. “I am lucky enough to be right in the middle of the Mediterranean, with its natural magic, getting the best of both worlds", he said, and demonstrated this by showcooking a spectacular creamed potato fermented with skate wing, warm red prawn and seafood salad, turnip cabbage and crunchy sweetbreads, two examples from the sampling menu. Before stepping down, Paolo finished off with some news of the project they are now working on at Lasarte, known as "The chef's table", "a special zone inside the kitchen which you'll hear more about shortly".
Sweet edible landscapes
The afternoon's cooking continued with an excellent slot by David Gil, co-owner and director of innovation at I+Desserts (Barcelona), a gastronomy innovation centre specialising in desserts. As the outcome of intense research into the Pyrenees mountains, he wowed congress-goers with some wonderful trompe l'oeil desserts conceived and produced live for Andorra Taste. He was accompanied by Carlos Bonnin, owner of the mini-distillery La Destilateca (Barcelona), who created a couple of liqueurs inspired by the mountains.
Intensely creative and ultra-aesthetic, he demonstrated green pine cream with pine seed ice cream, jelly made with red fruit and caramelised "piñitas", covered with glazed sugar to simulate a snowy landscape, accompanied by a pine distillate. And no less of a surprise with the ice cream fashioned from boletus fungi, "infused, not ground", with cream of toasted pine kernels, caramelised pear, chunks of goat cheese, crunchy enoki mushrooms in syrup, along with a boletus distillate, hydrated with water aged in American oak. A genuine spectacle for the senses.
The Andorra colt
And to round off the day, two Andorra chefs arrived at the congress to reveal the properties of another very special local product, the colt, which is usually exported, but a number of local livestock families are now focusing on national consumption. It has red meat and very little fat, and also healthy and nutritious with large amounts of protein and very little cholesterol.
To demonstrate its versatility, Marc Mora arrived from the La Pèrgola Andorra Park Hotel restaurant (Andorra la Vella) to make asparagus cannelloni filled with colt steak tartare and red fruits, with Andorra anchovy mayonnaise, and colt carpaccio with the same ingredients. The executive chef at the restaurant in Hotel de l'Isard (Andorra la Vella) Roger Biosca, meanwhile, served up two colt meat recipes. First he presented a savoury version of traditional "coca" bread flute with colt "cecina" beef on crunchy brioche. Second up, stewed colt cheek with Andorra ratafia and nuts and local herbs, and also Ebro Delta rice crunch and spherifications of pumpkin, carrot and peas.