Articles for Creative Agency’s Magazine
Roam Magazine was born to explore Madrid’s creative culture through its maker-community – the artists and crafts people that live and work there. Launched by brand design agency, Bert, it ran for 12-months. I wrote many of the articles (in English), working from interview transcripts translated from Spanish. My brief was to create a story around this raw material, linking them to broader lifestyle, craft and design trends.
Read more about the project at www.bertagency.co.uk/our-work/roam
Here’s an example:
Changing Tastes, Plate by Plate
Serial chef-entrepreneur, Estanis Carenzo, has spent a decade opening the minds of diners in Madrid. His freestyle cooking takes them on a culinary adventure through Asia, Latin America, and Europe. We chat to him over a bowl of his Pho soup about his impact on Madrid’s taste buds, how travel inspires his cooking and his latest venture, Elephant, Crocodile, Monkey.
Estanis Carenzo’s food flouts tradition and defies labels. Something that, in Madrid, has not always been met with total enthusiasm. His restaurants – a handful of innovative concepts that blend Asian or Latino cooking techniques with iconic Spanish ingredients – have broken new ground in a city that’s proud of its own rich, culinary heritage.
But since Estanis arrived in Madrid 10 years ago from Buenos Aires and set up an outpost of his now famed Sudestada restaurant, local tastes have evolved. And many would agree it’s a change in part influenced by Carenzo’s creativity and skill as a chef and restaurateur. His food tastes fantastic; exquisite dishes eaten in relaxed, modish utilitarian surroundings that are a magnet for a younger generation of well travelled, adventurous diners open to new foodie experiences. He has since followed Sudestada’s success by launching concepts such as Latino-Asian eatery Chifa, Argentinian pizza joint, Picsa and artisan brewery and restaurant La Virgen. He has also introduced punters to his own brand of street food, with his roving food trucks and bar, Pero.
Estanis says that opening his first restaurant in Madrid was almost by chance. ‘I happened to be living in Madrid and I just felt the time was right,’ says Estanis, ‘it took a while, but people slowly became interested in what we offered. We’ve now been successful here in Madrid for 10 years, so it seemed logical to show Barcelona what we can do too.’
We are sitting in the lobby-bar of his latest project, Casa Bonay, Barcelona’s newest and hippest boutique hotel, where he has just opened his new restaurant Elephant, Crocodile, Monkey. The hotel itself is a joint venture, the result of a collaboration between himself, the hotel’s founder Inés Miro-Sans, and a group of artisan food and beverage entrepreneurs. ‘Casa Bonay is a kind of ecosystem of ideas from several continents and people,’ Estanis says, ‘It’s a hotel, there’s no mistaking that, but it feels like our collective home. Because of this feeling, we all contribute ideas to the project and the outcome is great: a fantastic mix of people and restaurants.’
And there is definitely a strong sense of teamwork about this project; a group of individuals coming together to create something that breaks the mold. ‘For example,’ he continues, ‘We have one of the best coffee makers in Spain – Satan’s Coffee Corner – running the hotel’s coffee bar. We also have Mother, the first cold-pressed juice bar in Barcelona. Guests can also visit Libertine, a hotel-bar and lobby with a difference, serving my food and high-end cocktails.’ By all accounts, it’s an eclectic mix that seems to work and is already winning over visitors with its multifarious interiors and convivial vibe.
Madrid, however, was initially a harder nut to crack, according to Estanis. At the time, Spain had not experienced anything like his particular brand of fusion cooking and his restaurant challenged Madrid’s ideas of dining out. It took time for him to establish himself and the financial situation in Spain did not make it easy to be an entrepreneur. But over the years, Estanis has succeeded in gaining an intimate knowledge of Madrid’s diners and their tastes, knowing them well enough now to dare them with new dishes and dining experiences.
Sudestada was founded 15 years ago in Argentina and it originally aimed to serve authentic Southeast Asian food. Its move to Madrid prompted a new approach influenced by Estanis’ travels and his love of local traditional food like cocido, morcilla and Iberico that features in some of his dishes. Coming to Spain changed his perspective on cooking and he started to develop fusion dishes that used Asian techniques and flavours but championed the Spanish ingredients he loved.
His task now is to get to know Barcelona and its diners equally well. ‘I’m an immigrant who has lived all over the world and now I’ve arrived in Barcelona,’ he says. Another move that has again prompted an evolution of his cooking. ‘Elephant Crocodile Monkey is a new restaurant for Barcelona,’ he explains, ‘offering modern food that’s hard to put a label on. It’s experimental and will constantly evolve. We’re bringing all our cooking skills and techniques that we’ve learnt around the world to Barcelona and the cuisine of Cataluña and the Mediterranean.’
Estanis didn’t want to just replicate his Madrid restaurant, Sudestada, in Barcelona. ‘Lifestyles are different here,’ he says, ‘and so are attitudes to food. We want to show we have evolved our ideas about the food and the experience we offer. The essence of what we do remains the same, but the language we use around it has changed.’
Hence Elephant Crocodile Monkey: still serving food that’s clearly a product of the chef’s signature ‘free-cooking’ style but in a restaurant with a different, laid-back personality. There is also Têt, a daytime pop-up inside Elephant Crocodile Monkey that serves Vietnamese food to a hungry lunchtime crowd. It’s an experimental fusion concept, with small dishes perfect for sharing and very much in keeping with the affordable, relaxed, tapas style dining that people are used to.
The pho soup Estanis has prepared for our lunch is a perfect example of his latest take on fusion food. ‘It’s Vietnam’s national dish,’ he explains,‘ and I like it a lot. But I noticed it’s hard to find in Spanish restaurants. Ramen is everywhere but not Pho, so we created our own version.’ The soup is made of rice noodles in a hot and aromatic broth with Toro de Galicia, ox meat that’s matured for seven months, cooked slowly until it’s meltingly tender. ‘The soup brings back good memories of my travels in Vietnam,’ he says, ‘But the meat we use is a very traditional Spanish ingredient that’s part of food culture here. I personally think it improves the dish.’
The chef’s hunger for experiencing new countries and cuisines continues to stimulate his creativity in the kitchen. ‘I travel as much as I can,’ Estanis says, ‘it gives me ideas and inspires me to recreate sensations in my dishes. For example, a freezing cold train journey I had to take once gave me an idea for a soup that would have helped me cope with the cold.’ The name for his latest restaurant was also born out of his travels in the jungles of Thailand. He read a sign hanging on a tree next to an elephant, crocodile and monkey that were chained up and it lodged in his mind. He continues, ‘Bizarrely, the sign was written in the same style as the Argentinian parking signs I used to see when I was a child. It was like two cultures coming together.’
It’s this reformulating of random experiences that characterize Estanis’ brand of creativity. ‘For me, being creative is a matter of education. Creative people are not Gods wandering the world; we shouldn’t be narcissistic. I think we are part of a process or evolution and it’s always possible to see where ideas come from,’ he explains. Estanis grew up in a family interested in the arts. He continues, ‘Photography, cinema, art were all valued at home. Stimulation that eventually manifested itself, for me, in cooking.’
Estanis Carenzo’s expanding group of restaurants survived a recession, which is partly down to his commitment to doing everything well and to the best of his ability. He pushes the team around him to do the same, and has an eagle eye for detail that shines through his plates of food and his eateries. ‘When I was young I thought that doing things quickly to compete in the market was the best option. But I know now that this isn’t the case. Every time I try to do something quickly I fail,’ he says. The way Estanis learnt to be a chef has influenced this attitude. He learnt to cook at the coalface, in real working kitchens. ‘I began by cleaning and doing the dishes, so my learning was tough. But it taught me about what it takes to run a successful restaurant business,’ he explains.
A learning curve that has obviously paid off, given we are sitting here on the back of his success in Madrid, talking about his brand new venture in Barcelona. But what of things back in Madrid, how does he see the future of the city? ‘Although the economic situation in Madrid is now beginning to stabilise, the crisis has changed consumer habits for good. Which makes the aftermath of the crisis very interesting for businesses. There is less posing post-recession and more authenticity,’ he says and continues, ‘Great things are being created right now. It’s exciting. It has an incredible energy and buzz. I believe it’s the best time to live and work there.’
Read more about the project at www.bertagency.co.uk/our-work/roam