The investigation of the eelgrass bears the signature of Ángel León, the ‘chef of the sea’, which years ago revolutionized the stove by betting on dishes cooked with whitebait that nobody wanted and that the fishermen ended up throwing into the sea or, in the best of cases, they were used to make flour. Those tripe, those skins, those useless fish and those scraps are used today to prepare delicious and surprising sausage: mortadella, chorizo and salchichón. It has paprika, of course. And a lot of science behind to turn the hardware of the sea into food for three Michelin stars, which are the ones that the restaurant in León shines, Appointing, located in Puerto de Santa María, Cádiz.
Built in what was the largest tidal mill in Europe (built in 1815), Appointing It is not just a restaurant that opens its mouths to its customers. He also wants to open minds. Upstairs is a gastronomic and scientific research laboratory where technicians look for new ways of eating and also more sustainable and respectful products with the environment and with the marshes of the Bay of Cádiz, ecological jewels at risk.
In that laboratory, baptized as MAR and backed by the Santander bank, León and his team managed to turn marine plankton into another culinary ingredient. They call it the ‘milk of the sea’ and it is a deep green powder that turns a simple cooked rice or a tasteless butter into a tasty sea bite. They have also managed to use tiny crabs (crushed with the mortar and turned into powder) to flood soups and drinks with bluish light.
“We are in front of a sustainable crop and generator of ecological wealth”
Relying on previous culinary successes, the MAR laboratory is now working on the seagrass project. The plan began in 2017, when León read an article in the magazine ‘Science’ that talked about how a Mexican indigenous community fed on a marine plant, an aquatic grass that has flowers, fruits and seeds and with which they make cakes and molasses.
In the 30s of the last century a plague it ravaged many wild eelgrass meadows throughout Europe. In the 21st century, this plant – protected since 2017 – continues to stand on most of the coasts of the northern hemisphere (with the exception of the north pole), but the climatic emergency is an obvious risk for its survival.
“Zostera will be cooked in the houses, yes. When Ferran Adrià started using the blowtorch he was also a weird one. And today it is the order of the day”
In Spain, the richest area is in the north of the peninsula, especially in Santander. The Aponiente laboratory is cultivating marine cereal in a controlled manner in an area of about 3,000 square meters in the Bay of Cádiz. It is a long-term job that does not have any subsidy from the Junta de Andalucía despite the environmental objective. We are not only in front of a future gastronomic dish but of a “sustainable crop and generator of ecological, landscape and social wealth, something key in the fight against the climate crisis”, explains Juan Martín, head of R&D of the MAR laboratory to a group of journalists invited to Cádiz by the Santander bank to learn about the scientific project. “The zostera is an ecological niche. It fixes the soil, prevents marine erosion, produces oxygen and is a carbon sink”, Adds the environmentalologist.
Martín highlights that scientific studies have proven the nutritional properties of the eelgrass for the human diet: carbohydrates, fatty acids, vitamins B and C, minerals and omega 3.
Obsessed with the sea since he was a child and fished with his father, Ángel León is excited about growing rice from the sea and is confident of being able to harvest it industrially. Will zostera be cooked in Spanish restaurants and homes? “Yes”, affirms convinced. “When Ferran Adrià started using the blowtorch for his culinary creations, he was also rare. And today it is a culinary instrument that is present in many houses ”, he smiles.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.