> Features

Chefs on tour: Merlin Labron-Johnson in Catalonia

by Great British Chefs

We took Portland executive chef Merlin Labron-Johnson to Catalonia, where he sampled some of the world-class wine and incredible produce on offer in this beautiful region.


Catalonia is no secret as a foodie destination these days. The region has a reputation for some of Spain’s very best cuisine, and it has long been one of the finest culinary hotspots in the world, thanks in no large part to the enduring legacy of chefs like Ferran Adrià and the legendary Roca brothers of El Celler de Can Roca. But the cuisine of Catalonia is incredible on every level, from the avant-garde Michelin-starred restaurants known the world over to the simple, rustic dishes which are enjoyed daily by the local population. With a focus on using hyper-seasonal ingredients from the immediate area (many of which are PDO-protected by the EU) to create wonderful dishes that encapsulate everything good about Catalan cooking, this is a region that offers a taste of something you cannot find anywhere else in the world. And that’s before you get started on the amazing local wine varieties.

At its core, Catalan food is all about the ingredients. From the garlic, olives and grapes of the ancient Romans and Greeks to the tomatoes, potatoes and beans which were brought over from America in the sixteenth century, Catalonian farmers made this produce their own and they are now integral to the local cuisine. Along the coast, fishermen catch some of Europe’s finest fish and seafood, while producers throughout the region are world-famous for their cured meats, cheeses and preserves. When these ingredients and products find their way into Catalan kitchens, they’re transformed into something further – they might get the Michelin star treatment and become something truly innovative and boundary-breaking, or be turned into one of the region’s simple, traditional dishes which have stood the test of time. To truly understand Catalan food, however, you have to visit the place, which is why we took chef Merlin Labron-Johnson there for a few days so he could discover it for himself.

Having worked at top class restaurants in France, Switzerland and Belgium, Merlin is no stranger to foreign lands and incredible produce, but he admits that he was blown away by the food and drink on offer in Catalonia. ‘I think what I love about Catalonia the most is that the food, even when it’s at its most sophisticated, it still manages to have this down to earth quality,’ he says. ‘The people are passionate about it and so eager to share their knowledge. There’s something really special happening here.’

Over the course of a few days, Merlin embarked on a whistle-stop tour of the region, going from the cobbled streets of Girona and the fish auctions of Palamós, across Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park and back down to Barcelona. Among the many people he met along the way, few know and understand Catalan food as well as Fina Puigdevall – the chef-owner of two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Les Cols in Olot (Garrotxa). Fina works exclusively with produce that comes from the volcanic zone around La Garrotxa, making the food at Les Cols completely unique.

Merlin also had the chance to visit Oriol Sala at Restaurant el Gravat in Vic (Osona), and see the chef’s unusual Catalan and Japanese fusion, as well as sampling some stunning Catalan wines with Toni Gerez – the sommelier at the awe-inspiring Peralada castle in Peralada. The trip also included visits to Espai del Peix in Palamós with chef Ramon Boquera, L’Hostalet restaurant in La Vall d’en Bas with chef David Colom, Mas el Garet and Ecogranja Salgot in Osona, as well as a spectacular hot air balloon trip over the Volcanic Zone Natural Park courtesy of Vol de Coloms in Santa Pau.

Check out the video, and scroll down for a few images from the trip!

image
Whilst in Palamós, Merlin took in a local fish auction...
image
...and cooked some typical Catalan seafood with Espai del Peix chef Ramon Boquera
image
The next day included a ramble around the postcard perfect vineyards of Peralada...
image
...as well as a walk through the beautiful medieval town of Besalú
image
Traversing the volcanic zone was made much easier and more picturesque via hot air balloon
image
Merlin meets Valeri Salgot at Ecogranja Salgot, where they make delicious pork sausages like fuet and llonganissa
image
Merlin stopped to chat with renowned Catalan chef Fina Puigdevall Nogareda at her two Michelin-starred restaurant Les Cols.
image
Dinner at Les Cols uses produce from the surrounding volcanic zone – an incredible insight into this unique area

Comments ()

Chefs on tour: Merlin Labron-Johnson in Catalonia

 

Please enter text

Comments must be less than characters

Change your username in user settings to something more personal.

 

(Editing)

>

This comment was edited

Please enter text

Comments must be less than characters

This comment has been deleted

Report this comment

Please state your report in the space below

Please enter text

Reports must be less than 750 characters

loading

>

Please enter text

Comments must be less than characters

(Editing)

>

This comment was edited

Please enter text

Comments must be less than characters

This comment has been deleted

Report this comment

Please state your report in the space below

Please enter text

Reports must be less than 750 characters

loading

>

Please enter text

Comments must be less than characters

Be the first to leave a comment on this page...
...   ...
 

Please enter text

Comments must be less than characters

Change your username in user settings to something more personal.