Gastrobotany is the experimental, plant-based initiative taking over the Spanish culinary world and spearheaded by Michelin-star chef Rodrigo de la Calle. It involves studying different plant species and using them to their full potential in delicious cuisines. Not only does this creative form of gastronomy provide new flavours, but by highlighting lesser-known botanical elements we can increase their popularity and help save them from extinction.
With visitors to de la Calle’s many restaurants already raving about the exquisite presentation and flavours they have experienced as part of the chef’s carefully curated tasting menu, it seems gastrobotany is here to stay and even has the potential to go international. Let’s take a look at this groundbreaking food philosophy.
What is gastrobotany?
Gastrobotánica Rodrigo de la Calle is both a book and an initiative that follows the study of plant species such as roots, stems, seeds, fruits, and flowers and how they can be used in dishes and different cuisines. De la Calle practices what he calls ‘fine green cuisine’ and his focus on gastrobotany can be seen at his various eateries, from El Invernadero in Madrid to Virens, his new restaurant in Barcelona.
As well as creating a whole variety of mouth-watering dishes, the chefs who follow gastrobotany are also rescuing plant varieties in danger of extinction, as they can often go unnoticed meaning they are not cared for and grown as they should be.
It is a concept that has always existed, dating back to ancient times when people used wild resources such as algae, plants, and fungi in their dishes. At a time when we’re too focused on mass-produced ingredients, the gastrobotany philosophy revisits the idea of using lesser-known ingredients and has begun to make an impact on the culinary world.
Known as the union between gastronomy and botany, it is a trend gaining popularity. However, for now, the movement that chef Rodrigo de la Calle adopted is mainly developing in regions of Spain.
When cooking with the rare plant species, each one is prepared with its own unique technique, in which chefs bring out the flavours as much as possible. Some unknown vegetable varieties found on gastrobotany menus include citric caviar, the fruit of a bush that grows in Australia, or salicornia, a plant with a high salt content that grows in swampy areas. Although the initiative focuses on rare plant species, vegetables, and fruit, it’s not a vegetarian or vegan movement. Rather, these unique natural flavours are often garnishes to be served with animal protein to provide a memorable taste.
Gastrobotany and incorporating rare plant species into cuisine came about in the early 2000s. This is when chef Rodrigo de la Calle came up with the idea of this initiative and changed the way he approached his menus for the rest of his career. The Michelin-star chef grew up with a farmer as a father and grandparents who worked as cooks, so he was constantly surrounded by fresh produce which he saw his family transform into tasty meals in the kitchen.
Discovering he had a passion for food and creating intricate dishes, de la Calle decided to study gastronomy in Aranjuez. He created meals with fresh vegetables from the very beginning of his career, but it was only when he started working in a restaurant in Elche that he discovered his signature cooking style.
He met botanist Santiago Orts, and they both began to study rare species of plants and experimented by cooking with them to create unique meals. And so gastrobotany was born. Although they had both been practising the art for years, it finally had a name and a way for the concept to become more widespread.
So, who is Rodrigo de la Calle?
Born in Madrid in 1976, de la Calle spent his entire childhood surrounded by fresh produce and developed a passion for gastronomy. In 1994, he followed his dream of studying gastronomy in Aranjuez and worked in restaurants such as Lhardy and Goizeko Kabi once he obtained his degree. Following his move to Elche in 2000, de la Calle worked as executive chef at Hotel Huerto del Cura, and that’s where he met Santiago Orts and created the concept of gastrobotany.
From there, de la Calle’s career began to reach new heights. He worked at different restaurants where he learned new skills and techniques in pastry, rice dishes, and vegetables. In 2007, he opened his own homonymous restaurant in Aranjuez, with a focus on gastrobotany. The awards started flowing in, with de la Calle winning Cocinero Revelación at Madrid Fusion, Chef of the Year from the Chamber of Commerce in Madrid, and gaining international recognition at the International Academy of Gastronomy, culminating in his first Michelin Star in 2011.
He also became a published author with his book Gastrobotánica in which he shared his philosophy and recipes for gastrobotany. With many more new restaurants, books, and concepts throughout the years, he won a Michelin star for restaurant El Invernadero, launched Paella Power at Mercado San Miguel, in Madrid, and opened Virens at the Hotel Almanac in Barcelona. He has also recently become the consulting chef for Air China. Great things are expected of chef Rodrigo de la Calle as he continues to amaze the world with his unique flavours and dishes.
An initiative with a future
Gastrobotany isn’t just a form of cuisine that combines extraordinary flavours, colours, and textures, it’s also a noble initiative that is helping preserve the environment. By making use of rare plants, growing and protecting them and promoting them to new audiences, there is a lower chance of them becoming extinct. Chefs like Rodrigo de la Calle are making the best use of our natural resources with the added benefit of being able to create unique dishes.
Throughout Spain, more chefs are starting to notice the appeal of this concept and introducing it into their own menus. Could gastrobotany become the new food trend that helps us all create a greener, more sustainable way of adding unique ingredients to our dishes?
Rodrigo de la Calle is an inspiring chef and is influencing the drive to explore more unusual, plant-based ingredients. At Terminal 42, our chef’s signature cuisine includes a variety of exciting plant-based options as we explore a more sustainable way to create delicious dishes.