I managed to book a table at restaurant Santceloni recently. It’s one of Madrid’s most famous gastronomic temples and was originally opened by the legendry 3 Michelin-star Catalan Chef, Santi Santamaria.
Sadly Santi passed away in 2011 but during his life he was a champion of sourcing local ingredients and traditional cooking throughout his career and occasionally he seemed to relish controversy. He created rather a stir in Spain for launching a very public attack on the “molecular gastronomy” movement led by his rival at the time, El Bulli’s Ferran Adria, whom he cheekily accused of “poisoning” diners with chemical emulsifiers. The fact is that he was never a great fan of molecular or techno-emotional cooking with gelling agents, stabilisers and laboratory emulgents, he was a careful, proud craftsman who knew exactly when to stop in his cooking. There was never a superfluous element in his food and he always managed to combine very simple ingredients to allow their true flavours to be discovered. That, I can assure you, is the hardest thing to do in cooking. I was lucky enough to meet him a few times and I always admired his good humour and free spirit. Although he had reached the very pinnacle of his profession and loved what he did with a passion, he never took it too seriously. On receiving one of his very prestigious awards, he reminded his audience that even the best meals in the most expensive restaurants in the world “all end with a good shit.”
Since Santi’s death there has been a huge change with the emphasis returning to great, simple ingredients and chefs respecting their provenance. I’m really pleased to see this to be honest, as my personal food philosophy has always been based around these ethics with seasonality, pure flavours and simplicity at the core. It’s what I like to call “clean food” where the natural ingredients can really shine without being overpowered by heavy sauces, soy sauce etc. I’m also into texture and balance when it comes to food and although I don’t like to over-complicate things, I need to get the maximum flavour out of each ingredient. Here in the Mediterranean, fantastic ingredients surround us and you don’t have to do too much to bring out all their wonderful flavour.
Going back to basics and enjoying real food may not be very exciting for food journalists and critics looking for the next new trend…”duck taco with wasabi mayo anyone?” But as far as I’m concerned…cooking great simple food with true flavours will never go out of fashion and thank god for that!
Mediterranean spiced cauliflower soup
Cooking time: 25 mins
Prep time: 15 mins
Ingredients serves 6
800g cauliflower florets, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
100ml double cream
2tbsp Mediterranean spice mix
Heat the oil in a deep, heavy-based pan over a gentle heat. Add the onion and garlic and sweat for 2-3 minutes, or until just softened. Do not colour the onions.
Add 1 tablespoon of the spice mixture, the chopped cauliflower, chicken stock and milk. Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10-12 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender. Add the cream and carefully pour the soup mixture into a food processor and blend to a purée. Pass the soup through a fine sieve and season to taste. Divide between the soup bowls, sprinkle with Mediterranean spices and garnish with coriander leaves.
Mediterranean Spice mix
2 tablespoons rosemary, dried.
2 tablespoons oregano, dried.
2 tablespoons savoury, dried.
2 tablespoons thyme, dried.
1 tablespoon lavender flowers, dried.
2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Add all the ingredients to the spice grinder and pulse until coarsely crushed. Store in an airtight container.
By Marc Fosh – Michelin Star Chef