In Lanzarote, on the edge of the Timanfaya National Park, within sight of its impressive dormant volcanoes, is a 70,000 square-metre piece of heaven where orange, avocado, mulberry, apple, fig and apricot trees grow; not to mention the flocks of majorera goats, herds of cows, free-range chickens and the local breed of black pigs they have. A Noah’s Ark in the middle of a sea of lava. This is the Finca de Uga, a farm where they grow crops and raise animals in a totally sustainable way, and where they also have a dairy where they make cheese. It is run by the vet, Arminda García, and it is the extraordinary pantry for the chef, Víctor Bossecker, and his team who cook at the restaurant Isla de Lobos, in Yaiza. Or as he says, ‘A Disneyland for cooks.’
At first, the owners began to cultivate their land simply as a way of supplying the restaurant and hotel with basic ingredients, at a time when concepts such as cooking with locally sourced produce was not fashionable. But this natural storehouse ended up being the roadmap for Isla de Lobos. ‘When I saw the farm for the first time, I realized that this was the path for the restaurant. Imagine what it’s like for a cook to have this larder of livestock, crops as well as a cheese shop. It gives me goose bumps. We also convey this value to diners who come here and eat the produce they have seen being harvested that very morning. Although a diner might be enjoying a humble carrot, it’s worth more than offering them caviar from Russia,’ explains Bossecker.
On the last Saturday of each month, the restaurant offers a special menu that begins in the morning with a visit to the facilities and fields that surround the farm, and ends with a dinner made with the produce the visitors picked earlier in the day. Something which, apart from being original, is a learning experience for urbanites, and for children – who are ‘the diners and chefs of the future’ as Bossecker reminds us – as well as foreigners who want to understand where our local flavours come from. ‘Our diners are curious and very often they asked us what Finca de Uga was all about – this place from where the ingredients came – but it was impossible to convey in words what the feeling of being there was really like, to share that sensitivity, and we realized that was missing was a physical connection. So, two years ago we launched this kind of visit. Now, diners see everything first-hand and, in the evening, they can taste it. They remember everything about that morning, and it reinforces the visual sensitivity of what they saw, that orange tree, that suckling pig…,’ points out Arminda García, who acknowledges that ‘this has expanded by the day, the trees that we planted six years ago now give fruit, and we grow much more in the fields… It’s a joy to visit.’
The first thing that they planted in this soil was local produce from the island, crops that could withstand the volcanic soil mixed with sand from the sea: onions, sweet potatoes, and potatoes. But little by little, and as the menu varied, they added different kinds of plants. ‘Many friends bring us seeds from the countries they visit, fruit such as Buddha’s hand, pitanga, etc. Exotic produce for this volcanic land. I have German ancestors, and rutabaga reminded me a lot of my childhood, that resource that cooks like to use so much. So, I asked our agronomist if he could plant some rutabaga… two weeks ago he presented me with the first harvest,’ says this cook.
Is sustainable cooking a fad or is it, by necessity, the future?
A fad? I don’t think so, it’s the future that cooks will have to get used to, working with locally sourced produce. But that doesn’t mean we can’t use coconuts that have been grown in an eco-friendly way in Thailand, for example; it can’t define us. But hey, if I’ve got great produce right next door, why would I go to a supermarket?
A golden cheese
The cheese-making dairy is another of the highlights at the Finca de Uga. On 4 November, his ‘Bodega de Oveja’ cheese won the Super Gold medal at the international 2018 World Cheese Awards competition, one of the most important fairs in the world thanks to the number of companies that compete in it. This last edition was held in Bergen, Norway. It was not the only prize with which they returned to Lanzarote; they also won two silver medals with their ‘Finca de Uga Alegranza’ cheese, and their paprika-coated ‘Finca de Uga untado al pimentón’.
This is why, at a time when cooks have become true media stars, Arminda García – who will be present at the next edition of Madrid Fusión together with her partner Víctor Bossecker – likes to highlight the importance of the producers and growers in the gastronomy sector, ‘We aren’t seeking fame, but more prestige. Farmers, growers and everyone who works 365 days a year in this sector should be as recognized as the cooks are. Without the work we do, all this would be impossible.’