Tussen de lockdowns door vond in november vorig jaar in Eindhoven een bijzonder diner plaats: een quatre-mains diner bereid door chef-kok Begoña Rodrigo van restaurant La Salita in Valencia en Adrián Zarzo van het Eindhovense restaurant Zarzo, beiden in het bezit van een Michelinster. Het Spaans Verkeersbureau en Visit Valencia organiseerden deze avond om aandacht vragen voor de stad Valencia als gastronomische bestemming. Aan het diner ging een interessante presentatie vooraf. Engelstalige Hanna Tamminga* was erbij voor Anne-Wies.NL.
I have to make a confession: I have never been to Valencia. And after this event I can say “Shame on me!”. During this evening I was able to experience and get impressed by both, delicious food and passion of proud Valencians.
Delicious Valencia is a project launched by the city of Valencia that aims to boost its identity as a top gastronomic destination and showcase its impressive culinary repertoire – from very traditional Spanish cuisine to extremely modern cooking.
About paella, horchata and esmorzaret
Let’s start from the fact that Valencia is a birthplace of paella Valenciana – famous comforting dish with multiple layers of deliciousness. It was a complete surprise for me to learn that they have rice fields in Valencia and a lot of them (Duh! They need to make those paellas out of something).
Then there are horchata and esmorzaret. The former is a drink that is made out of tiger nuts (chufas), water and lots of sugar. It looks just like milk and is usually served with a small pastry called farton. They even have designated places to enjoy horchata – Horchaterias. And esmorzaret is my favourite. It is a culinary tradition that originates from a mid-morning snack of the farmers and has become a cult for Valencians who very often skip breakfast and go straight into indulgency of esmorzaret between 9 and 12 o’clock. The meal consists of a baguette generously filled with all kinds of goodness – meats, eggs, pickled and fresh vegetables and anything else that your imagination would allow. The cherry on top of the cake is the cremaet – coffee with a drop (or two) of rum, heated to partially get rid of alcohol and garnished with cinnamon, lemon peel and coffee beans. I mean, can’t you just imagine yourself stretching your feet in the mid-morning sun and lazily sipping this nectar after devouring a crunchy baguette with juicy filling? I sure can!
Michelin chefs from Valencia
Valencia on a silver platter
All that’s being said, it becomes clear that the best way to raise public’s awareness about gastronomic wonders of a region is to let that very public taste those very wonders. So that is exactly what this collaboration of the two Michelin star restaurants, Zarzo from Eindhoven (location of the event) and La Salita from Valencia, was about – boil the resources and talent of the region down to its essence and present Valencia on a silver platter. What is even more interesting is that the chefs, Adrian Zarzo (Zarzo) and Begoña Rodrigo (La Salita) know each other for a very long time and are close friends. Both born in Valencia, both jumpstarted their culinary carrier in the Netherlands working at Michelin star restaurants. Begoña went back to Spain and Adrian stayed in the Netherlands but both achieved great recognition for their work.
And, finally, food. It was creative, sometimes bold, sometimes unexpected but always delicious. The menu consisted of four amuses and eight main courses, and included elements of very Spanish and very Dutch cuisine. None of the dishes were boring and the presentation was beautiful. I am only going to mention my favourites for the sake of your precious time.
Surprising Caprese by La Salita
From the amuses I can highlight two dishes: Caprese/La Salita by Begoña and Zuurkool/Coffee by Adrian. Caprese was not really a pile of well-known salad, of course, but a tiny tomato cracker with white and green cream piped on top. It looked cute and, to tell the truth, didn’t make an impression on me at the first bite. But… the aftertaste. It was so long and complex, opening up on your palate and unveiling all the taste components one would expect from Caprese – sweet acidity of tomatoes, creaminess of mozzarella and that really bright flavour of pine nuts in pesto. This one-bite underdog woke up my senses and appetite for more.
Exciting Zuurkool/Coffee by Zarzo
And now Adrian’s dish. I know, I had the same expression on my face when I read the menu. Zuurkool and coffee together? Can it possibly be good? Well, opposites attract, as they say. It was a really exciting course – the presentation, the textures, the flavours, even the temperatures. The whole dish was built in layers in an egg shell that was sitting on a mound of salt in a paper coffee cup. Reaching with a spoon to the very bottom of the shell, you got the layers of very light mousse with a strong flavour of coffee on top and a very intense zing of zuurkool on the bottom. And it worked! These two profiles – subtle bitterness and bright acidity, airy lightness and structure with a bite of spekjes – complimented each other wonderfully, creating a refreshing and memorable dish.
Berberechos – linzen – zeebouillon
Main courses. So hard to choose. So I will go with the most memorable. The first we got was Berberechos (cockles – a distant cousin of a clam) and lentils in “see broth” by Begoña. So much intense and at the same time very refreshing flavour! The first association of the whole table was Tom Kha Kai – Thai coconut soup with lemon grass. This is the very memory I have of this dish – creamy, bright, fresh, very well balanced with the salty impression of cockles. Perfect start of a long savoury meal.
Zwezerik, truffel, burrata
The next dish is as opposite to the previous one as it can be. Adrian presented Sweetbread (zwezerik) with truffles and burrata. I am not going to explain zwezerik, you will have to google it yourself. But I am going to tell you that it is organ meat and it is not for everyone. The flavour is incredibly intense. It gives the impression of organ meat immediately, with some funkiness and bitterness to it, and the texture is very homogeneous and a bit rubbery (in a good way) but soft and creamy at the same time. I had a bit of an argument on my palate eating it. On the one hand the taste was so rich – the smokiness coming from a perfectly crispy outer layer, thinly shaved truffles, paper thin parmesan crisps, all enveloped in luscious cream of burrata – that it almost overwhelmed and your palate screamed “enough”! But on the other hand you just kept coming back for another piece.
Onions – the very essence of talented cooking
And the last dish I want to give special attention to is Royal van Uien by Begoña. The whole dish was literally an ode to an onion. Let’s get it straight. I really do not like onions and I try to avoid having them on my plate as much as I can. But I had to try this dish after the chef told us about the whole process of making it and philosophy behind it. The onions are cooked for fifteen hours to create this super intense broth. It almost tasted like really concentrated and properly done bouillabaisse broth. No kidding. Hiding under this thick sauce was that silky smooth (a good pannacotta could be jealous of that silkiness) puree of onions topped with crispy petals of… yes! That’s right! Onions! To put it all in one word – genius! Begoña definitely reached her goal of showcasing the very essence of talented cooking – every ingredient is beautiful, diverse and worthy when it is handled with skill, respect and care.
And what about wine, you would ask?! Oh, yes, there was wine. The dinner was not conducted as a full one-to-one wine pairing but I tried great wines worth mentioning. My thirst for discovery and surprise was quenched by an organic sparkling rose wine from Valencia Domaine Celler del Roure by Pablo Calatayud – Les Filles d’Amàlia, Les Danses Blanc de Mandó 2018 Brut Nature. It was described as a “white wine made out of red grapes” using saignee method. Specifically, out of a very rare indigenous variety Mandó. The grapes are harvested by hand and destemmed. The wine is made using ancestral method with the first fermentation in ancient amphorae and then racked for about 30 months. The outcome is an extremely expressive fragrant profile with juicy open nose of fresh strawberries, raspberries and flowers lifted by subtle vivacious bubble. My eyes popped when I made my first inhale – it had an intoxicating aroma of fermentation, almost like fresh must. The attack was immediate and the finish was long and dry. This wine was a great surprise and complimented the strong flavours of that Zwezerik perfectly.
Another surprise was Nodus Sauvignon Blanc 2020 from Bodegas Nodus, Utiel-Requena. I was rather puzzled when they brought it to accompany the Onion dish – it wouldn’t be easy to take on the richness of that course. But this wine was a different story. It was full and round leaning more towards Entre-deux-Mers style. The nose was rather thick with pronounced tropical tones but the fullness did not compromise the freshness thanks to the great acidity. I definitely enjoyed.
There is so much more to tell about this wonderful event and Valencia itself but let’s face it, the best way to get a clear impression is to go and see it with your own eyes. So pack your bags and off you go! Buen provecho!
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*Hanna is geboren in USSR, heeft in de hospitality gewerkt in New York en is nu werkzaam in het sourcing team van de grootste online wijn retailer van Nederland. Hanna is een nieuwsgierige eter en drinker en deelt graag haar ervaringen.
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