Dover’s 'Devil came to me', a quintessential album for an entire generation, turns 25, and we’re celebrating by chatting to some of its makers and analysing its impact.
The Sea of Castile
Alejandro Serrano’s cuisine combines youth, talent, and creativity. The result: a Michelin star at the young age of 24 —the youngest Spanish chef to receive one— and a new concept, the Sea of Castile, has burst onto the Spanish gastronomy scene with inspiring force and has up-turned the rules about what should (or shouldn’t) be cooked in each region, by betting on the sea despite being inland.
Alejandro Serrano (Miranda de Ebro, 1997) tells us himself that he’s not a prodigy, rather simply hard-working. “I’ve been training since I was 16, when I started at the Higher Catering School of Bilbao, but I’ve been connected to this world my entire life because of my parents’ restaurant. If you start out young in this sector and cook delicately, you have the tools to get somewhere.” That somewhere he humbly refers to is nothing less than a Michelin star, awarded last December thanks to an innate talent to conceive cooking as the perfect formula combining sensitivity and creativity, plus an extra ingredient: surprise.
His restaurant is in Castile, specifically Miranda de Ebro, Burgos, but Alejandro chooses to fill his menu with fish and seafood from the Cantabrian and the Mediterranean Seas, and the Atlantic Ocean. Do I seek to break down stereotypes? In a certain sense, yes. In recent years there’s been a tendency to overfocus on local products. That is, if you’re from Castile, then cook lamb well with a nice sauce, etc. And the funny thing is that Spanish chefs aren’t like that, I think that something that sets us apart is a certain amount of madness,” he affirms.
“We can defend the aroma, the landscape, and the traditions of our community through other foods”
His madness as a chef seems to have hit its target, by combining the aforementioned surprise factor with flavour, without giving up on his origins. Although he’s Castilian to the core, he removed the meat products typical of his region from his menu. “All my dishes talk about Miranda and Castile and Leon, although in a unique way, because we can also defend the aroma, the landscape, and the traditions of our community through other foods, such as fish or seafood. It shouldn’t seem so odd: at home we’ve always eaten the freshest fish my grandmother could buy.” And so, the aforementioned seas have become the essence to boost his dishes. A cuisine designed to inspire and win people’s hearts through a sensory experience for all.
A philosophy of success
Chatting to him, we realise that Alejandro’s always got something on his mind —”I’m always thinking about new dishes and concepts,” he confesses— and breaking the mould was a matter of time. Despite his calm demeanour, he admits that his creative side has a rebellious streak. Funnily enough, he didn’t take the real plunge until the pandemic hit: “We opened in 2019 and for the first four months, we tried to please the general gastronomic public and that of Miranda in particular, which is more traditional. And it didn’t work. We fell short with both types of customers. Then the pandemic hit, we had to close, and we took the opportunity to reflect and find ourselves again. We realised that we’d won the Denia Red Shrimp International Creative Cuisine Contest and the Chef Balfegó 2019 edition with fish and seafood-based dishes alongside products from our area. We understood that that’s what we’re good at and that people enjoyed it. That’s when we decided to follow that philosophy 100%.”
So, for example, guests at Alejandro Serrano can taste oysters flavoured with rosemary from the hills of San Juan near Miranda, along with passionfruit jelly and oyster leaf with forest water slush and vinegar mist. Or El Pasto [The Pasture], his iconic dish consisting of glazed red tuna back cheek [the part that separates the belly from the head] over a smoked leek sauce, fried leek roots, and Castilian wheat brittle in honour of regenerative farming and the fields in Castile using local grains: “It looks like you’re eating beef cheek, but it’s fish,” he notes. A canvas of flavour where clams, hake, monkfish, prawns, or even sea urchins add the seaside accent to the gastronomic concept that Serrano has implemented so successfully: the Sea of Castile.
“Cities and communities evolve thanks to exciting and thrilling projects,” he declares, almost as an argument in favour of his gastronomic proposal, which he hopes will be a win for everyone in Miranda. “I’ve lived in several cities, I love travelling and getting to know new places, but I know my place is in Miranda. I combine that personal escape towards other places with my city because I don’t want just the restaurant to go well, my passion must be reflected in the society of Miranda and thus help small and medium towns to also grow. I feel that commitment to my region.”
The best mentors
From that teacher at catering school that taught him that the restaurant business wasn’t just a business model and a way of life, but also a language to express feelings with; to the three great chefs he did his apprenticeship with and whom are his role models today. “From Eneko Atxa I learnt the sensibility with which he captures his environment, Basque culture, in each dish; from Dabiz Muñoz, the creativity to make dishes using crazy ingredients that actually go together; and from Mario Sandoval, his connection to family traditions”. The result are dishes full of flavour that dazzle thanks to their aesthetics and mise en place.
“We’re a generation that likes to share knowledge, we don’t have typical cooking secrets like my grandmother did”
What’s remarkable is that Alejandro isn't looking for fame alone, he shares his discoveries with his colleagues: “I love sharing what I do at my restaurant with other friends within the field. We’re a generation that likes to talk and share knowledge, we don’t have typical secrets like my grandmother, who was also a chef, did and loved keeping to herself,” he remembers fondly. His haute cuisine journey has only just begun, but everything points towards a path full of success. “The Michelin star means that there are people who believe in us and allow us to carry on dreaming, offering hope, and expanding our concept of cuisine giving our all every day.” What a declaration of intent.