Ljubljana, 29. 10. 2021
There's many adjectives that can be used to describe Angel Leon: innovative,
revolutionary, groundbreaking, crazy. Yes, crazy, because that’s exactly what
you have to be to come up with some unheard of ideas to apply in your kitchen.
Chef del Mar« (Chef of the Sea), is that kind of cook. A three-Michelin-star
chef, but one that will call himself a fisherman first, everything else comes
after. When he speaks about sea and oceans he’s not selling yet another story
on sustainability, yet another second-hand fairytale. He can deliver the story
because he’s out there on the sea practically every day at dawn, scouting the
depths of Bay of Cadiz with his fishing boat.
the sea by heart and this is his inspiration, his raison d’etre. It also takes
a lot of guts to set up a restaurant in El Puerto de Santa Maria, a town that
was left in ruins after the great Spanish financial crisis. Almost a ghost town
with dilapidated white houses, bleached from sun, salt and wind, overlooking
Cadiz and the African coast further south.
That was in
2007. In these 14 years Leon and his team have managed not only to gain three
stars and climb World’s Best 50 Restaurant list in this place, far from
everything, far from the international foodie route, they have also managed to
revitalize the town and explore sea and its underwater bounties in ways never
seen before. Showcasing what can be done with fish considered third-rate, with
invasive crab, with deep water algae or sea hare roe. We use only 20% of marine
flora and fauna and Leon’s take is - there's a whole submarine world to explore
– and he’s more than willing to single-handily raise that ratio.
was the marine charcuterie – lardo, pancetta, mortadella, salami, prosciutto …
But made of fish. Leon’s goal was both to show the versatility of seafood and
play with perceptions (and tastes) of diners. Is it a veal shank? No, it’s tuna
shin, prepared in a way you would prepare a big chunk of succulent meat. Serve
it with some truffles and mashed potato and you’d be surprised how many
hard-core carnivores would mistake it for meat.
was plankton. Nowadays you might get served a shiny green plate of risotto in
restaurants stretching from Italy to Slovenia, but it was Angel Leon who first
figured out how to actually eat these microscopic marine drifters. Because, as it
turns out, plankton, in its base form, isn’t exactly edible.
And it took
Leon a hospital stay and then plenty of research and work with pharmaceutical
companies until he was able to extract plankton spores that are now being
raised and grown in controlled environment of the laboratory, then packed into
neat little “Angel Leon, Aponiente” stamped boxes and sent to speciality stores
and restaurants around the world.
Aponiente and its casual place downtown, called Taberna del Chef del Mar, you
get served plankton in all kinds of forms these days, it’s in the creamy
risotto, Leon’s signature from the old days, it’s infused in olive oil, it’s
used as a filling paste for fluffy bread rolls and even whipped with cream for
a sea-tasting dessert.
came up with a visually stunning, otherworldly cooking-in-salt technique that
engulfs the sea creature in front of you, be it goose barnacles or sole, with mesmerizing
snow-flaky iodine crystals. He found that micro-algae could sequester
the impurities of cloudy kitchen stocks the same way an egg white does in
classical French cooking. And
now he wants to harvest “marine rice”, underwater marine cereal that he claims
is the new super food that can save the planet.
You see, Aponiente, set in a
former 19th-century tidal flour mill next to salt marshes in an impressive
looking refurbished structure, is really so much more than “just” a fine dining
restaurant. And it’s not just a team of cooks, there are scientists and
biologists involved with the project, they are collaborating with several
research centers and universities to delve deeper into the marine biology science.
Aponiente is a beautiful, elegant, spacious restaurant with impeccable service
and memorable menu, but it’s also a laboratory, a creative think-tank, a
research center, a multi-disciplinary polygon that transcends dining venue,
that even transcends dining per se and really aims to change the planet, no
matter how corny it sounds.
Written by: Kaja Sajovic