Every year, for a few years now, a special food-related event named Culinarinangus is organized by Espacio Reflex. This outpost for artistic events and creation in the name of social good caught my attention when they brought renowned chef Iñaki Aizpitarte for a private dinner last year. Original, not-obviously-branded food offerings are surprisingly rare creatures in this so-called culinary paradise of San Sebastián, and this year's event brought another rarity into the frame: VEGANISM.
This time the invited chef was Toni Rodriguez, the brains behind "The Bakery of the Future", Lujuría Vegana in Barcelona. It's the only bakery in Spain making baked goods and pastries as good or better than the fanciest creations in traditional bakeries—without eggs, butter or gluten. That alone makes me want to take off my hat to this guy.
With the first course, coca de berenjena ahumada con portobellos y olivas de kalamata, it became obvious that Toni can work with salty as well as sweet. Coca is a Catalán flatbread, and this version consisted of a slice of whole wheat sourdough with smoked eggplant and black olives, topped off with a drizzle of parsley.
Another winner, the crema de coliflor con germinados, raz el hanout, piñones, rabanitos y aceita de oliva virgen extra, showed a feminine sensibility that makes sense with a pastry chef. I hate to gender-generalize, but the delicate slices of radish and the silky cauliflower pureé had a level of deftness and detail that I rarely see at the hands of male chefs around these parts (Dani Lopez of Kokotxa and the dishes of Martín Berasategui come to mind).
The clorfila en escabeche; guisantes, habitas, espárragos, vainas, brócoli, hierbabuena e hinojo was a dish of the sort that you almost never find here: green vegetables and a challenging vinegary sauce. Delicious, yet maybe left me questioning the cooking of the veggies (the eternal question 'why boil when you can roast?').
The night continued to surprise all the diners, gathered at one of the outposts of vegetarianism in San Sebastián: Garraxi Taberna. The ragout de hongos con patata baby y trufa elicited statements like "It's so delicious, and I can't believe there's no meat."
But for me, the standout of the evening was the dessert. A phrase I have almost never uttered in Spain, yet one that makes sense, considering the chef's background.
Toni's babá al ron sopa de chocolate blanco tahití, crema de pistacho y frambuesas was dee-vine. How did this one man make a dessert that put all other butter-filled, egg-containing, gluten-y desserts in town to shame? His rum baba was tender, flavorful, and the pistachio cream put it over the edge.
I love that alternative food plans exist in San Sebastián...here's to many more. You'll read about them first here, I promise.
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