Looking back in order to look forward, understanding and questioning, gastronomically, creativity and trends. Hispanist and historian Vicky Hayward has recovered, revisited and commented on the 18th-century culinary classic ‘Nuevo arte de la cocina española’ (New Art of Cookery: A Spanish Friar’s Kitchen Notebook); a cookbook ‘for everyone’ by the Aragonese Franciscan cook Juan Altamiras, a document that is ‘the history of cuisine, the first democratic cookbook in the world’, explains its author after spending years studying it. ‘That someone in the 18th century wrote a cookbook that was for the poor as well, using ingredients that were also “cheap”, is a European milestone, incredibly unusual for that time,’ a source of wealth to better understand how to use vegetables, how to experiment with local produce and how, for example, ‘to adapt to the possibilities offered by a small kitchen, like those of the Franciscan friars of the day.’
Hayward, who studied under the exacting methodology of the University of Cambridge, has recovered this book ‘not just for historians, but for cooks and the public. It is an open document, for everyone, just as the friars of the day intended. The history of cuisine has been written by many and it can, of course, also, be used as inspiration for chefs.’ It has thus been of use to several prominent chefs who have ‘adapted’ the recipes found in it. Among them are: Andoni Luis Aduriz (Mugaritz **, Renteria), Diego Gallegos (Sollo *, Fuengirola) and Kiko Moya in Alicante (L’Escaleta **, Cocentaina) ‘who I chose because I admire him; because he is as creative and poetic as Altamiras was, because he works with historical recipes and because, like the friar, he has a vegetable garden and inhabits a Morisco terroir similar to that familiar to Altamiras (Zaragoza).’
‘I have described the friar’s recipes and I completed them when necessary, adding what I think he was trying to say, yet offering each cook complete freedom. Kiko has creatively made his versions.’ For this cook from Alicante, it is ‘a book from which to learn, a tool to extract ideas from. Those of Altamiras – all things local, terroir – are pure, clean concepts, ideas that sound familiar to us all today. Personally, it has served as an inspiration for dishes I have had on the menu at L’Escaleta, not to mention making use of his way of employing ice,’ he explains. They will both will offer the fruit of this collaboration on the stage at Madrid Fusion on Wednesday, 30 January at 16:35.
Hayward, who won the National Gastronomy Award 2017 for the Best Publication with this book, sought the synergy of cooks who have done this the inversely, such as the English chef Heston Blumenthal who only serves British dishes from the 14th to the 17th century at his restaurant, Dinner. ‘Heston worked hand in hand with researchers and historians specialized in the history of English cuisine for his menu, and I hope that Altamiras’s book will also serve as an inspiration, but not only to chefs.’ There are plenty reasons for this. Among them is the fact that Altamiras’s recipes, edited from the perspective of this historian who also cooks, ‘respect all local produce equally, expensive as well as cheap.’
The cuisine of Altamiras, Spanish creativity
Containing 210 recipes, ‘New Art of Cookery: A Spanish Friar’s Kitchen Notebook’ shows the creativity of an 18th-century cook driven, Hayward explains, by the precariousness of the life that Franciscan friars led. ‘Franciscans did not have huge farms like other orders, nor did they have fishing rights. Nor did they receive orders from higher up regarding what they had to do; they survived using ingredients from their surroundings and availing themselves with what visitors brought, as the Franciscans were an order that was everywhere. An example of this was new produce introduced into Spain, such as tomatoes or cod, and it is the first book of recipes from the Iberian Peninsula where cod appears in a dozen recipes that are diverse in terms of flavour and texture.’
This imposed freedom must be added to the hours spent in the kitchen – he cooked three times a day, 365 days a year – and to the innate qualities of a singular person able to generate creativity. ‘Altamiras explored all the possibilities of every ingredient in a surprisingly modern and liberal way.’ For the author, his philosophy dovetails with current trends in this country: ‘Spanish chefs don’t have rules in their heads like their Italian or French counterparts, who are always cautious when breaking them. Ferran Adrià is huge; yes, he revolutionized cooking, but the collective strength of Spanish gastronomy is even bigger. And Altamiras is part of that.’