Chef Angel Leon has underlined the role of chefs in society, especially after more than a year and a half of the pandemic, in which haute cuisine has been involved in solidarity initiatives to help alleviate the situation experienced by people more vulnerable. “Gastronomy can help change society” he argues in an interview on the occasion of the presentation of ‘MAR, the Laboratory of Angel Leon by Santander’.
“We closed for almost a year and I was lucky enough to open Aponiente to feed Jose Andres and we were feeding almost five hundred people a day ,” he recalls. Thus, at the beginning of the pandemic,He joined the gastronomic movement World Central Kitchen (the NGO of chef Jose Andres) to cook for disadvantaged groups in his native Cadiz , preparing meals at the El Puerto Tide Mill (where his Aponiente restaurant is located) which was later distributed by the Spanish Red Cross. .
About Jose Andres -who this year has been recognized with the ‘Princess of Asturias Award for Concord 2021’ for the launch of the aforementioned NGO, which cares for and feeds thousands of people around the world who have suffered the effects of some catastrophe, the last ones, those affected by the volcanic eruption in La Palma- affirms that it is “an example to the world, with the key to gastronomy the paradigm has changed”.
“There you can see the loudspeaker that we are, it is an impressive moment to tell stories through gastronomy and for gastronomy to be a loudspeaker to transform other things that society needs. We are at a time when chefs are being listened to. I think that there are other people who should be much more valued, such as doctors and other professions ; this is a bit like the age of the brick, which is a little swollen and then everything will return to normal. But for something that we have done well, let’s get chest a little,” he says.
Angel Leon, who has three Michelin stars in his Aponiente restaurant and one in Alevante (Cadiz), also joined other charitable initiatives last year such asbringing its kitchen to patients and health workers who were fighting the coronavirus hand in hand with the Compass Group restoration group , which is in charge of feeding 90 hospital centers.
It has also participated in activities related to children, such as the ‘Fish Revolution’ project to introduce a new way of consuming fish in the menus of school canteens or more recently ‘ChefsForChildren’, in which some thirty Michelin-starred Spanish chefs teach children the importance of eating healthy.
” We make fish chips, fish paste, fish protein pizza, etc.. We are introducing another way of consuming the sea and there is no protocol at all because children don’t lie,” says the man known as ‘Chef del Mar’, who has just joined forces with Banco Santander to launch ‘MAR, the Laboratory of Angel Leon by Santander’
This laboratory is the centerpiece of an initiative endorsed by the United Nations scientific committee that seeks to find other ways to feed the future by focusing on products from the sea, specifically, those that are discarded – for example, with the trash that the fishermen threw into the sea, Angel Leon makes sausages in the shape of mortadella or chorizo - or others that have yet to beexplored, such as seagrass.
Regarding seagrass, Leon – in love with the sea, which has marked his life and his career – has been working with his team for years on a project popularly known as ‘marine cereal’, which the chef has proposed to bring to the table since it contains a greater quantity of high-quality proteins of group B and vitamins A and E;in addition to minerals and fatty acids such as omega 3 and 6, which common cereals lack, and less than 2% fat.
In a meeting with the media to publicize the advances in the matter, the biologist Juan Martin, head of R&D at the Gastronomic Research Laboratory , recalls that ‘Science’ magazine was the first to echo the Seri tribe of Sonora (Mexico), first consumers of the ‘marine cereal’.
Three-quarters of the earth has salt water, both on the coast and in many salinized wells in the interior, which makes its consumption or use for crops unfeasible, which is why, according to the researchers, the ‘marine cereal’ would change the world map by giving access to a crop that can be grown in areas that only have access to salt water , in addition to becoming a food alternative that could solve supply problems in countries with fewer resources and lack of fresh water, such as Africa.
“The seagrass, through controlled cultivation, allows the recovery of the marine salt flats,” says Martin, who adds that they currently have an area of 3,000 square meters in the bay of Cadiz, although the richest area is in Santander. The “pioneer” of the project they are carrying out, highlights the biologist, is that a seed bank will be created that will serve to repopulate coastal wetlands for their restoration and management , which will generate benefits for the environment, since the coastal wetlands and the Seagrass beds are one of the most efficient carbon sinks on Earth.
In the case of Cadiz, Leon and his team have managed to regenerate and add a high biological, ecological and landscape value to the area.since, thanks to this project, areas abandoned decades ago have been recovered, with the rehabilitation of their old salt pans and fish farms to convert them into ‘marine cereal’ plantations.
In addition, Martin predicts that the ‘marine cereal’ will become an opportunity for the recovery of the seagrass, protected since 2017 to prevent its extinction . Given its impact, he regrets the lack of institutional support for the project.
Precisely, this week the jury of the National Gastronomy Award has recognized the Zostera Marina Project, promoted by Angel Leon and Juan Martin, with the Award for Best Gastronomic Research and Innovation, which recognizes the professional work in the fields of the Royal Gastronomy Academy: scientific or technological research, history, innovation in food or restaurant techniques, development of new products or forms of production.
According to the jury, the collaboration between the marine biologist and the chef from Cadiz has borne great fruit, although it is in the Zostera marina project, on which they have been working for more than 5 years, where the dimension exceeds the purely gastronomic sphere, as it could be an alternative ” viable and real to the terrestrial cereal, with what this could suppose for the feeding of the world population”.
The Zostera project has involved, among others, MAR Laboratory of Angel Leon, the Research Center and Maritime Museum of Cantabria, the Universities of Sonora (Mexico) and Virginia (USA) and the IFAPA Center El Toruno.It is expected that in 2022 it will be planted in seven seas in different parts of the world to analyze its evolution and behavior in other areas.
The discovery of this ingredient is the spearhead of the first specialized R&D center in marine vegetable crops in the world , which has achieved other achievements such as taking light from the sea and being able to offer it to eat through tiny crabs or convert the marine plankton in