A plea, land, and offal as well. Luis Alberto Lera (Lera, Castroverde de Campos, Zamora) has arrived in Madrid to show off his native land (de Campos), to stand up for a region ‘that is increasingly depopulated, where sometimes even cooking isn’t easy’. He has presented the Rehabitar project, and naturally he has cooked squabs.  

January 30, 2019

The cynegetic cuisine of Luis Alberto Lera (Lera, Castroverde de Campos, Zamora) was sampled this Wednesday at Reale Seguro Madrid Fusión 2019. From the land of Tierra de Campos, covering four provinces of Castile and Leon (Zamora, Leon, Palencia, and Zamora), Lera has promoted pigeons and squabs as ‘the basis of our survival, even though elsewhere pigeon is discredited. For us, with no kitchen-garden to speak of, it is a staple of our diet, and also gives us many ideas for other dishes’. On the basis of these animals, he has built up the offering of a surprising restaurant.

Lera explained the ecosystem of the dovecotes of his land, their biodiversity and inherent sustainability, and he has created four dishes with the squab as the protagonist. ‘As we face depopulation, these are the only animals we know how to cook properly, and not even all the time, given their volatility and the lack of people to catch them and work them. I know what I can offer on my menu two days ahead, but not 15’.

The dishes, which are ‘completely subsistence meals for us’, were squab cooked in a meat and vegetable papillote, stewed squab gizzards, and pigeon liver fritters with onion and breadcrumbs. Offal from a dry, unirrigated land that exemplifies how every part of the animal is used with zero waste, which is the leitmotiv of the congress. He also prepared some dried salted pigeon breast, finished off with corn infused with the ecosystem of the dovecote’. 100% sustainable.

For Lera, ‘the squab is an incredible animal. At no more than four weeks old – otherwise it’s no longer a squab – it has an incredible richness of flavour, and it can vary’. As such, it can be compared to unweaned lamb in terms of what it contributes to cuisine’. As it happens, they are both products of Castile and Leon, land of Flavour, sponsoring the workshop.

Rehabitar Project

The chef finished off his show cooking with a call to action: ‘We face a lack of dovecotes, a lack of farmers, and pigeons suffer from agricultural pesticides, which make them sterile so they don’t lay eggs. They can even die. The dovecote ecosystem depends on this’.

Although aware that he faces an uphill struggle, he explained the project being undertaken by the Rehabitar Foundation, ‘where we want to breed squabs, integrate small farmers in the area, encourage dovecotes, and adapt disused livestock barns. The measures would have an impact across the county, in terms of rural development. It is sustainable farming, it would improve the landscape, conserve our heritage, generate business activity, and discourage depopulation’.

Lera is doing all this for a reason as basic as this: ‘A land like ours should never be lost’.