How the best (Vegan) Gastronomic restaurant in Barcelona was created. Rasoterra restaurant
In a small place in Barcelona’s city center, much more is cooked than just one of the best vegan meals in the world. They elaborate a whole philosophy of life, of care for the land and respect for the local product.
Rasoterra restaurant is the paradigm of gastronomic food, period, without labels. Each dish is done with such devotion that the result is exquisite, making even non-plant-based eaters forget the, sometimes scary, vegan label.
After enjoying Rasoterra’s delicious menu, we spoke with Daniele, who, together with Chiara, is responsible for this ambitious project. We then understood that Rasoterra’s success begins a little beyond its kitchen, although not too far away!
How did the idea of Rasoterra restaurant come about?
Both Chiara and I are Italian, and we came to Barcelona more than twenty years ago. In 2001 we decided to open the first restaurant. Sésamo, which in fact still exists. “Sésamo, meal without Beasts”, and we opened it with another partner, a Belgian girlfriend of ours. Both Nathalie and Chiara were vegetarians, and I have studied Chinese medicine, so we wanted to focus on the vegetarian world.
Our goal was to create an unpretentious vegetarian restaurant from a health point of view. We wanted it to contrast with the so fashionable, at the time, macrobiotic restaurants since they seemed a bit sad to us. We were in our 30s, and we wanted a full of music, life, and, above all, a fun kitchen. It started as a bar, and as people asked us for more things, we created more elaborate dishes.
Finally, we were joined by an Australian chef who had worked in London. London has always been at the fore in vegetarian and vegan matters. With him, we turned the menu around and made a more or less gastronomic vegetarian restaurant. I say more or less because we had two stoves and an oven, nothing else. The kitchen was tiny, just like this table!
Sésamo worked for eight years.
What happened to Sésamo, and how did you get to Rasoterra restaurant?
Chiara became pregnant. Nathalie too, and I went to Italy to work with Slow Food.
In 2005 Chiara and I founded Slow Food in Barcelona, and I was called from the head office in Italy to work there, where I stayed for four years. One day Chiara met the Sésamo cook again, and they began to talk about starting another restaurant. They asked me to go back, I did, and we created Rasoterra.
We wanted it to be Sésamo 2.0. The initial idea was to have a vegetable garden, non-bottled water – water that did not come from a plastic bottle, which at the time we were pioneers, it took us three months to find a company that set up osmosis. And local food, these were the three pillars of the new project.
So, do you still have the garden to supply the restaurant?
No, after three years, we realized that you either have a restaurant or a garden, not both!
The garden grows despite you, you are here cooking, and the garden grows. We had it nine miles away; we would go there to see how the garden was, then we would return and cook. In the end, we were defeated and decided we had to choose.
From that moment on, we have an Italian farmer in the Garraf. He has his fields and plants what we ask of him for, from vegetables typical of our Italian tradition to more local vegetables. He is our leading supplier. Then we have a Japanese farmer in Empordà who makes micro-leaves, micro-vegetables, roots, and things like that. He mixes products from Japan with products from here.
You mentioned that Sésamo was a vegetarian restaurant. Was Rasoterra restaurant born vegan, or has there been a transition?
It has been a process. Last year during the confinement, we did a lot of reflection, and we thought that the time had come to move on to vegans. We believe that this pandemic is a sign from the planet that we have to be more sustainable, consistent, and fundamentalist, that is, vegan.
We understand that veganism is one of the most powerful ways to save the planet. In our opinion, for there to be a balance, there must be extremes. Vegans can be a bit extreme at times, but they are necessary. It is an essential change.
And education is crucial. We believe that it is vital that we educate our children to know how to ask themselves where meat and fish come from. How they are obtained and the consequences that it has. So that at least they know and then they can choose.
And how do you think it is easier to reach people with this message? Through the economy – since eating vegan is so much cheaper? Through sustainability? Or through more health-focused messages?
I believe that the approach to a problem never has to be mono-directional. That’s why Rasoterra exists with its contradictions and its issues, but it continues to exist.
For example, I do not need to attack a vegan customer with animal sustainability, I need to ask him if he knows where the avocados he eats come from and their footprint on the lands that grow them.
But to the omnivore who has never considered going vegan and comes here hand in hand with his daughter, for example, if she is vegan, I like to ask him if he knows where the meat and fish he eats come from and not only the effect it has on the planet but on his body as well.
There are different levels, and everyone needs a little pedagogy and help. Many people are very curious but may not dare to ask. It is a process.
Let’s talk about your menu, how do you create it, and where do you get inspired?
There are two Rasterras, one pre-pandemic and one now. The pre-pandemic was much more gastronomic, the menu had about 20 dishes, and now there are 10.
In both cases, we rely on proximity products. Before, I mentioned that the orchard led; now it is Luca, our Garraf agronomist. He periodically sends us the list of the produce that will begin to be available. Once we have that list, we all sit down together, and typically, it is Chiara and I who inspire the dish, and the girls, Queralt and Nicole, carry it out.
What is your goal when creating new dishes?
We try to apply in the kitchen what Joan Roca says, “The maximum concentration of flavor in the minimum space.“
We try to treat the vegetables well, leave them visible, not destroy them without being able to recognize what is inside, but also trying to concentrate the flavor because the vegetables have a lot of flavors, but you have to be able to potentiate them.
If there are good ingredients, it is easier, and this is another constant struggle that we have.
How do you look for quality products? You’ve mentioned Slow Food and the importance of suppliers for Rasoterra restaurant. Could you explain a little more what your criteria for choosing suppliers is?
The definition of Rasoterra is vegan, slow food, and natural wines. Our job is a constant search, a work of visibility to the producers that surround us. Because if the producer stops doing that work, the lands are lost, and we miss a part of our biodiversity and culture.
We have a farmers market that takes place every Saturday in the square of the three chimneys in the Parallel. There are about 25 or 30 direct product producers. One of the criteria to be able to participate is that they have to produce their products; if not, they cannot be part of it.
And the criteria for the restaurant is the same as for the market. Km0 is the point of the market square, and we begin to draw a circumference expanding the circle.
If we are looking for vegetables, we go to Baix Llobregat, and we already have them.
If we look for fruit, it is a bit more complicated. So we go a little further, to the Maresme where there are strawberries, for example.
If we look for oranges that we don’t have here, we go to the Delta de l’Ebre.
So we are expanding the circumference. For example, algae, we can’t find them here in Catalonia. There are three powerful providers in Spain, one is in Andalusia, and the other two are in Galicia, Algamar, and Porto Muiños. We have visited Porto Muiños; we know how they work: that they respect the coast, that they only collect in season, and that they employ local people, and that is why we buy seaweed from them.
What would be the geographic limit?
We are geographically limited to Spain or the south of France. We want to know the producer, see how he is like, how he works, whose land they work. Also, how the products are grown, when it is produced, and if it meets our criteria as a small producer, meaning, it is not a multinational.
The method is not scientific, but we try to get to know our producers personally. Going to see how they work for us is vital.
To finish, how do you see the future and the new generations, do you think they will have more awareness?
I believe that a paradigm, cultural and mental change is necessary. That people have to start wondering what is behind what they eat.
There should be a change in mentality, and there has to be a philosophy behind it, a compelling reason and not a fashion. Which it’s also useful, but it is more complicated not to be reversible if it’s a change based on just a trend.
I always think of the example of Easter Island. It was a very green island, very prosperous; it had fish, forests, and land to cultivate. The tribes began, for some reason, to build statues. At first, these were small, but they became bigger and bigger, rivaling each other. In the end, they were so big that they did not know how to transport them, so they began to cut down trees, for making wheels, to take them around the island. They cut down so many that the island did not have time to repopulate so many trees. The trees did not grab the fertile land; the sea took it away, they could not cultivate, and little by little, the island was emptied; people died or left. And I always wonder what the person who cut down the last tree thought.
It’s the same here; what will we have left when we catch the last fish? Or when there is no arable land around here anymore?
I want this reflection on the consequences of what we eat to be linked to veganism as well. It will be hard, yes, complicated too, because people look for the easy thing, but that is not why we will stop doing it. Have ever been in Rasoterra restaurant?
Address: Carrer del Palau, 5, 08002 Barcelona, Spain