Saturday, 24 June 2017

Slow Food

You may have heard the name before or you may have seen our snail sign in Cuca’s entrance but in case you don’t know much about this movement, this is what it stands for and how strongly we in Cuca live by its principles.

I guess any Slow Food evangelist starts by unknowingly experiencing that food made with love tastes better, that a meal in the small restaurant of a remote village makes us happy, that taking some time off to have lunch with friends or family on a week day is priceless, that food delivered to our table with a smile and genuine pride is the utmost exciting sight. We do cherish dearly these precious moments of pleasure so we took some time to identify them and decided to make sure we in Cuca provide as many of them as possible.

Slow Food was founded in 1989 in response to fast food and fast living, the loss of our local food traditions and a general diminishing interest in the food we eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices can impact the world around us. Fighting this situation, Slow Food surfaced as a global, grassroots movement with thousands of members around the world that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to the community and the environment. It is a way of living, a way of eating and for us, also a way of running our business.

This philosophy has led us to establish very specific and relevant operating guidelines:

  • Who do we hire: we choose local unskilled youngsters and we train them from zero to hospitality professionals to provide them a secured long term income;
  • Our conditions of employment: we guarantee health care and fair remuneration for everyone;
  • Who do we buy from: local farmers who understand we value quality over quantity and who get paid for the extra time and effort they spend on the products they deliver to us;
  • How do we manage our waste: we have invested a small fortune on a complete sewage treatment plant that allows us to treat our waste water till is safe for the environment and to re-use it in our garden to reduce water consumption;
  • How do we maintain our premises: we have religiously followed since day one our rule of not cutting any single coconut tree in the garden,  we have learned to up-cycle (have you seen our gorgeous and well-used home made kids playground?), we have built our own herb garden so we can get herbs as fresh as possible, we spend hours every day checking every single detail and a simple flower setup is made with as much delicacy as it were a matter of life or death;
  • How do we pack our products: no plastic is used in Cuca, only recyclable and biodegradable materials;
  • How do we develop our recipes: we only use local produce, we cook fresh every day, we home-make absolutely everything we serve;
  • How do we prepare our food: with lots of time, care and respect;
  • How do we serve our dishes: with pride, confidence and excitement!

So that’s how we do it. We take our sweet time to ensure everything we do translates into good, clean and fair (Slow Food’s principles), a pledge for a better future and a happier, tastier today.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Welcome to Indonesia

As a chef the further away you step from actually pulling a carrot from the ground, the more difficult it becomes to use that product with understanding. Being able to somehow connect to those ingredients just seems to make sense if it is your job to cook them.  Most chefs today, however, have no connection with the actual origin of the ingredients for the food they cook: meat, poultry and fish come pre-portioned in plastic bags with no bones and no unsightly remnants of its living, breathing past; fruits and vegetables are picked inedible and ripened along the way losing out on those last weeks of sunshine, rain and fresh air that allow its natural flavor to develop; spices have lost their shape, now ground and packed in beautiful shiny tins and colorful labels with aromatic descriptions, and dairy surely misses its cow.

Traveling throughout Indonesia, a country that is rich in both culture and natural resources, has given us the most intimate connection to every ingredient we use in Cuca and reminded us of so many amazing ones we have foolishly ignored. Products that are so packed with flavor and character that our job is less of being a surgeon trying to bring dying broccoli back to life and more like a tailor simply putting good quality together well.

Drinking coffee in the mountains where people are handpicking ripe cherries and the smell of roasted beans perfumes the air, spotting cashew nuts cling from their maturing fruit that hangs high up in old trees, watching locals stripping bark from young shoots that when dried becomes cinnamon, video-recording golden rice stalks being smashed against wooden ramps to shed them of their grains of rice and attending a traditional ceremony where within an hour a massive buffalo walks in and soon becomes sticks of BBQ satay. This isn’t a summary of the last five years we spent in Indonesia, this happened last week. Welcome to Indonesia, where those products (except for the buffalo for now) have become part of Cuca’s recipes. 

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Learning from Legends (part 4): SERGI AROLA

From the moment I woke up to the moment I arrived at Michelin 2 star La Broche restaurant in Madrid, I felt sick. Putting on my uniform I often threw up and entering the kitchen I would be shaking with fear. A small team of 5 cooked for a full restaurant every day, lunch and dinner, and there wasn’t time to eat, drink water or pee.

The day started at 8am and finished at 1am with 1 day off a week. It was hell. Just when you figured the menu, Sergi Arola would change it and just when you thought you were ahead, someone quit and his work became yours pushing you farther behind. You washed your own dishes, did your own ordering, prepared your own food, cooked it and plated it. You became a machine, a jack of all trades, a soldier fighting in a war that was surely not to be won. Despite the madness, the food was brilliant with technical dishes that required clinical precision and amazing products that reflected each season and formed staples of Sergi’s style of cooking.

Working at the now closed La Broche sure as hell toughened me up and the few who stuck it out and survived left with a masters degree in efficiency and determination and the feeling of really accomplishing something. The worse it got, the more us, the surviving zombies, wanted to stick around to see what happened next.

The intensity of service and the focus required to deliver great food regardless of what may be going wrong is a lesson I will never ever forget and try to teach to my key guys in Cuca. Just minus the fear of death, of course.

Kevin and Sergi Arola

If you enjoyed this entry, do not miss the previous one here!