Four videos on this page take readers deeper into the historical and cookery narratives of New Art of Cookery. A Spanish Friar’s Kitchen Notebook. Two of them, filmed by Valencian producers El Vincle between 2017 and 2019, are accessible via the lower half of the page; both give glimpses of landscapes where Altamiras grew up and learned to cook while the longer one includes behind-the-scenes views of recipe recreation. On the top half of the page you’ll find two clips from an on-stage 2019 talk given with chef Kiko Moya at Madrid Fusion, a chefs’ congress for which we were asked to mesh my historian’s research and his rootsy but avant-garde cookery.
KIKO MOYA & VICKY HAYWARD:
“ARRÒZ DE GRASSA: MADRID FUSIÓN 2019” (09.12)
How can one explore culinary history in show-cooking? Historians lean towards precise recreation, even reenactment, but at Madrid Fusion 2019 Kiko Moya and I were asked to take a free, modern creative approach. His first pick for inclusion in a half-hour sesson was Altamiras’s arròs de grassa, a rice cooked in fatty broth and pine-kernel milk, which probably developed from Mestre Robert’s and Martínez Montiño’s versions in their recipe anthologies. Kiko asked me to send him condensed notes on the dish and its context: enough to inspire, but also to leave him free to experiment. From various possibilities he chose to work with two ideas; firstly, the potential of the meat broth, unusually cooked with its grassa, or fat, a technique linked to Arab cookery and to the large Mediterranean family of meloso rices. For this he used a tendon-rich cut of beef with lightly aged fat. Secondly, he focussed on the absorbency of a round-grained rice variety like those around which Spain’s medieval and early modern dishes were developed. Close to hand at Pego, a small alicantino coastal town, Kiko had access to Bombón, a historic variety revived in a small growing area by an alliance of the regional seed bank, agronomists and farmers. Like Bomba, a variety which survived thanks to to a cooperative of small-scale growers in Calasparra, Bombón’s relevance derives not only from its gourmet quality, but also the environmental value of its growing fields. We also discuss a detail specific to Spanish Franciscan food culture: the friars’ use of arroz roto, or broken rice grains till well into the 20th century. It’s a telling detail shared by humble kitchens in some of the world’s great cuisines, which illuminates the power of hunger cookery, past and present, speaking to what James Joyce called “the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past”. One can think of recreational cookery in those terms. In this prototype recipe Kiko plunged into the XVIII-th century using whole rice grains and recreating the tactile creaminess given by egg-yolk and sugar thickening with a 21st-century emulsion of white beef stock, cow’s and pine-kernel milk. The only thing changed in the recipe was a simple new garnish, a very thin slice of home air-cured beef laid on top of the rice.
KIKO MOYA & VICKY HAYWARD: “MODERNITY IN JUAN ALTAMIRAS’S COOKERY” (16.59)
José Carlos Capel, president of Madrid Fusion, commissioned Kiko and I to come up with a presentation about New Art of Cookery’s inspiration for chefs. We wanted to combine Kiko’s personal approach to historic cookery at his family restaurant, L’Escaleta, with key research from my close reading of Altamiras’s work. This video focusses on Kiko’s explanation of his wonderful version of Altamiras’s Leche de Almendras (almond milk), a deconstruction with a historical hook: it pulls our eyes towards the detail and beauty of one everyday ingredient of the Mediterranean, in this case the almond, which appears in the recipe in seven different forms relinking it to its growth cycle and the landscape. The most unexpected form is the ephemeral early blossom preserved in vinegar; the most lavish finishing touch is a cream of turrón, alredy a thriving craft in the 18th century, when it was made with honey or sugar. There are no modern added ingredients, as such; Kiko simply gives a plural sampling of the almond, at every moment of its season, from flowering to picking, shelling and roasting for turrón.
With thanks to José Carlos Capel, Presidente Madrid Fusión; Kiko Moya, chef and co-propietor of L’Escaleta, Cocentaina (www.lescaleta.com **Michelin); and Vicente Pavia, chef L’Escaleta. Thanks also to sommelier Alberto Redrado. Video courtesy of Reale Seguros Madrid Fusión, January ´19 (www.madridfusion.net).
“NEW ART OF COOKERY”: ALTAMIRAS IN THE 21ST CENTURY (05.02)
Altamiras’s book captured cookery in print at a moment when an anthology of popular recipes was a radically modern idea. Working on its recreation 275 years later, I wanted to revivify his words for readers, but also to encourage them to cook like Altamiras, using smell, taste, feel, sight and sound. A short film for Youtube seemed to be a good way to do it, and I was lucky to work with El Vincle, a dynamic young Valencian production company whose cameramen are early risers and keen cooks. Both skills were essential, as was a native eye for Spanish natural light. We began filming in Santo Espíritu’s friary kitchen, watching Fray Ángel prepare an estofado in an earthenware cazuela; next we were invited to film an aperitivo of Altamiras-inspired chef’s tapas in La Almunia de Doña Godina whose town-hall runs an annual competition in his memory; and, finally, I prepared a few of his dishes in my tiny Madrid kitchen as I had done during years of book research. So often Altamiras’s dishes are one-pot creations; and I wanted to emphasize how easily you can make them.
“NEW ART OF COOKERY”: A GLIMPSE IN 90 SECONDS
Fray Ángel Serrano, one of the book’s invited chefs, told me that when he read New Art for the first time, he realised his work day cooking, feeding the hens, collecting vegetables, picking fruit, serving three meals a day and washing up – all fitted around mass and other duties – is not so very different to Altamiras’s day back in the eighteenth century. We decided to use his idea to sum up rediscovering Altamiras’s book today for a short 90-second video. Pau of El Vincle decided to shoot the first scene at dawn although the friars used to start their day well before, while it is still dark, even in summer. Pau knew and understood the history, he’s a keen cook and he has great experience working in Mediterranean light and locations. Equally important, Fray Ángel enjoyed working with him. For the backdrop we picked San Cristóbal, the only friary Altamiras mentions in his book, and from there we travelled across time via an archive to Fray Ángel’s kitchen near Gilet, Sagunto. We avoided any staged interviews to camera and instead Pau filmed Fray Ángel cooking lunch and talking freely as he did so. Recreating historic dishes in this kitchen is for Ángel, above all, a return to slow-cooking methods, to the flavours and textures that accompany them, and to the ungarnished aesthetics of dishes from popular homes. The final scene captures one of many mornings of work in Vicky’s home, where she cooked the book and wrote the new narrated history woven around the recipes.