The easy thing – or maybe not – was to start a business of his own inspired by the cuisine he had prepared at Aponiente for so many years: but Juan Luis Fernández is a man of challenges and his goal was to stamp his name on recipes that would mark a difference on what had been done in Jerez until then. His restaurant, Lu, Alma y Cocina, has achieved this goal with the greatest success.
But it has not been a simple task. Convincing a public accustomed to traditional tapas – and at affordable prices – that other gastronomic worlds were equal to, or better than, the usual offer, is at best, bold. And yet, Juanlu has not only convinced the locals but also food critics. The best proof of this is his recently awarded Michelin star.
Technique, produce, flavours, colours and aromas with something of a French air but without forgetting his homeland, Andalusia. This is Juanlu’s cuisine. Dishes that improve upon French recipes by making sauces lighter – the main protagonist of his culinary imaginary – and reducing the amount of fat, refining acidity, eliminating the flour usually used in French cuisine, and replacing some of the butter with oil… All done so that the dish is a joy for the palate but not heavy on the stomach.
For this chef, the key to his work in the kitchen lies in using what he calls ‘rear-guard techniques’ and affirms, ‘instead of siphons and spherification and fussy techniques, we just get down to work with a knife in one’s hand, a whisk, and a mortar and pestle.’ He adds, ‘our menu draws from the classic French repertoire of recipes from around 1880 until today, and we look at how we can shape it to the Andalusian repertoire of recipes. The structure of sauces is the same but, as we said, we reduce the fat, acidity, etc. and make them more elegant. We use reductions, we substitute ingredients…’ The ‘how’ and the details of this will be at the heart of his upcoming presentation at Madrid Fusión, on Monday, 28 January from 18:20 to 18:55.
To end our conversation, Juanlu confesses a wish to us, ‘I would love it if we returned to cooking using fire, one that burns our hands. In this era of avant-garde and snobbery we live in, we have forgotten about cooking, about fire and spending hours in the kitchen. What is avant-garde about we are doing in this kitchen, that is so difficult to do in an avant-garde way, is to use these “rear-guard” techniques. It’s not enough to receive produce from a supplier and say, “okay, let’s do this” but we smell it, touch it, feel it…not everything is not based on using scales or on weight; the senses of the cook must come into it.’ And that’s the way it is.