Tuesday, August 9

Fernando del Cerro: vegetable radicalism in the kitchen | The weekly country

The first thing he does Fernando del Cerro when you meet him in Aranjuez it is to take you to the vertex of the rhombus. Imagine that it is easy to see it from the air, but on the way, between the avenues, you need a place where the line is perceived in a transparent way. “This is how he projected it Juan Bautista de Toledo and, thanks to him, Aranjuez is today what it is… ”, says the cook. It refers not only to what the architect and urban planner contributed as author and assistant to Juan de Herrera in the original palace of the town, but also to the richness of the garden, something fundamental to understand today the radically vegetable cuisine that the chef offers in House José.

Fernando del Cerro knows about roots at 51 years old: those of his territory and those of his restaurant. He boasts of the former by emphasizing the vision of Juan Bautista de Toledo, who arrived from Naples in the mid-sixteenth century by order of Felipe II to work on the construction of El Escorial and the palace of Aranjuez. “He had Jewish origins, he was a visionary. To such an extent that today the plain produces some of the highest quality crops in Europe ”, explains the chef. The conjunction of the Tagus with the Jarama transformed into what is known as the Picotajo orchards, its wise use and channeling thanks to the geometric and astral calculations that the architect made in his day, today produce a more than fertile land: “The best …, conducive to bear fruit and harvest in each season.”

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Red cabbage acidulated with pomegranate, red apple and chestnut powder.
Red cabbage acidulated with pomegranate, red apple and chestnut powder.Joseph Fox

And that Juan Bautista de Toledo was projecting the successive triangles of each plot so that ornaments were cultivated above all: “The flowers that were brought from America should be used to decorate, but along with that a very particular way of life was developing.” He tells it before walking between the sowing and the fallow with Ángel Gómez, one of the farmers in the area, who was also a cook for a time. Enough to later return to his land and farm with his father. The son returned with enough experience to know what they were going to demand in the restaurants and the business of the land, in this regenerated way, works.

In the orchards of Gómez, says Del Cerro, “the best asparagus and artichokes in the area are grown.” But for that we will have to wait for spring because in winter we have to focus on the cruciferous family: cauliflowers, cabbages, red cabbage. Everything in its own time and according to its natural cycle. It is impossible to go to his restaurant, Casa José, to eat something that is not offered in season.

The chef prepares red cabbage.
The chef prepares red cabbage. Joseph Fox

At his establishment, Fernando del Cerro puts on his jacket and takes his place in the kitchen. From there, together with his brother Armando in the room, they promote a natural choreography of gears for flavor. The place smells of charcoal and within its walls the art of flame and fire is trained and executed, above all. In that, the chef is radical. “Vegetables should never be cooked,” he says. How do you say? “Yes, I am very blunt about that. The water causes a change in texture. It does not enrich it, on the contrary, it detracts from its character. Vegetables are a complete food, if you submerge them in water you only increase the water. On the other hand, if you put it on fire, you highlight all its properties and its aspects ”, he says. Hence I only cook them that way. “I serve them like this or raw.”

In this, he is inflexible to contradict one of the crucial virtues of his premises: the changing capacity and adaptation to the raw material. This is how Casa José was born in 1960, next to the Plaza de Abastos de Aranjuez. “My parents founded it attached to the market.” That marked its dynamics. “My mother cooked what the traffickers brought her every day. If they were presented with artichokes, then artichokes; if they came with a lamb, I would make you some cutlets or some sweetbreads ”.

Solid minestrone sam with bacon and fermented ginger foam.
Solid minestrone sam with bacon and fermented ginger foam.Joseph Fox

Always, yes, there were Toledo specialties at hand, given its origins. A good carcamusas stew, for example. Or several potato omelettes: a prevalent custom. Whoever comes to Casa José today receives a pincho as an aperitif and, later, whatever you want to order. “Since 2017 we have recovered that spirit. Before we had the most closed letter; today, our characteristic is flexibility ”, he affirms. It is a virtue that motivates both staff and customers. “Whoever arrives is surprised every time and thus returns. We have a lot more fun. We practice a kitchen, first of all, cheerful. I need that freedom and I want it to be reflected in my dishes. I seek to get out of the structured and not be attentive to the stickers that a local can wear ”.

Thus, Del Cerro’s creativity is not exhausted and the letter flows between the wisdom inherited from his mother and a cosmopolitan search product of his travels or the classes he teaches in different countries: from Poland and Denmark to Brazil, the United States, Japan, Korea, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt. Based on a tradition of root and stem attached to the Tagus valleys, the chef seeks constant crossbreeding.

Winter cabbage ceviche over kaki gel and beet sprouts.
Winter cabbage ceviche over kaki gel and beet sprouts.Joseph Fox

Mushrooms, asparagus, artichokes come together with pumpkin or red cabbage with focaccias and minestrones, or inventions such as their sour cabbage with pomegranate, red apple and chestnut powder or winter cabbage ceviche on kaki gel and beet sprouts . This is its vegetal radicality. But on its stoves, the techniques of oriental cuisine and Latin airs go hand in hand with some pochas, and fish, game or meat raise the forcefulness of their materials together with the continuous experiments that the chef gives him to try with. legumes, stems, leaves and spices.

The kitchen of Fernando del Cerro thus undergoes a continuous renovation from its corner adjacent to the Aranjuez market. It is an example of cosmopolitanism attached to the origin and the land. Dismiss cheek, forcefulness and freshness without fear of experimenting or making mistakes. It does not decline or conform. It does not fall asleep in success, but it knocks it down and rebuilds it in a dynamic that keeps it alive and aware of crosses and trends.

Fernando del Cerro finishes a dish.
Fernando del Cerro finishes a dish. Joseph Fox

Traveling is for him an attitude that is as inalienable as looking at good produce on a daily basis next to the irrigated basins of the river. “Discovering Nordic cuisine in Denmark, for example, was important to me,” he acknowledges. Hence, many pilgrimage to Casa José to taste smorrebrod with its festival of herring, citrus, fennel, seaweed, celery … “But also Asian and Latin and Mediterranean, which is opening many new paths for me,” says Del Closed.

His search does not stop: “To open myself from our raw material to the world, to get out of the traditional, the trite to enrich our tables with textures, lesser-known flavors and colors, so that each diner travels from the table to any of the spaces and places where I nutro “.

Without leaving aside the desserts, which were also, in his case, an origin: “I am a trained pastry chef,” he says. “I studied this specialty at the school of the association of pastry chefs in Madrid.” Since then, he has been aware of the extent to which these apprenticeship methods have facilitated the subsequent journey to his stoves to make him a master reference in other areas.

Dining room of Casa José.
Dining room of Casa José. Joseph Fox

From that starting point, Del Cerro has observed how in recent years the influence of pastry has marked not only his techniques, but the general panorama in signature cuisine. “We have been adapting the structure and the wisdom of the workshop.” Not so much in the elaboration or transfer of the sweet to the salty technique, as Martín Berasategui maintains, for example. “Rather, I believe in the knowledge of the matter from the low point. In the sense of looking for the balanced proportions so that the reaction you are after takes place, in knowing what each ingredient needs and then looking for the right boyfriend for each dish ”.

In their case, the home-made ice creams stand out: the pistachio ice cream, above all, made as a cold coulant, with the solid texture of freezing and the liquid surprise of a dried fruit essence that overflows any palate. But also the chocolate and hazelnut one or the mango and raspberry one … The strawberry one is missing from the menu. But forget it, Fernando del Cerro is shocked at the mere mention of the idea. “A strawberry ice cream in Aranjuez? Never! ”He affirms. “That is not touched, nor does it occur to me to betray such a pure, so exquisite fruit. The strawberry is eaten as is, you do not have to do anything with it except respect it ”.

Smelling some aromatic herbs.
Smelling some aromatic herbs.Joseph Fox


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