The weight of the world, communicating through gastronomy
Head chef at prestigious restaurant Iradier, Laura Veraguas is all about the pure product, playing with textures, flavours and finishes. Everything is made close to home and close to her heart. Using a daily menu format, Laura conveys the weight of being human, through transparency and a mixture of produce from her prefered element; the earth. The result is a conceptual interpretation of three of DOIY’s products, the Saguaro glass set, the “Unboring” paper weight and, finally, the terrazzo cheese board.
With a flourish of imagination, we get a deep understanding of Laura’s way of communicating and telling stories through her work. She uses what nature provides in new and interesting ways, but the product always remains the protagonist. It’s with a deep emotional relationship to nature and with a sense of existentialism that she delves into the responsibilities of feeding people.
A leek becomes translucent, showing a hint of what’s behind it; a lasagna of leaves reflects the weight of humanity on the earth; and a desert turns into a discourse on chaos and the toxicity of society. In this moment we realise, that food is all about communication, the story you chose to tell, and the tools you need to accomplish it. With complete absence of hierarchy, Laura and her team collaborate to reach a new dimension in the field of gastronomy.
In the restaurant where you work as head chef you have the opportunity to create and give free rein to your imagination, always looking for the organic, the natural, the pure. Have you always wanted to dedicate yourself to the world of cooking?
No, not at all. I studied a university degree. I started doing economic sciences, but I did not identify with this world so I left after the first semester. Then I worked as a waitress at the Arts Hotel, looking for external resources while studying. I started to connect with the hospitality industry and to see a kind of sensitivity that really attracted me. I did cooking studies at a school called Bellart. Then I was offered a way in to a Michelin star restaurant and everything just kicked off. I detected that I needed to do something with my hands or something that involved a very active role, which would allow me to express myself and to develop all my senses. Cuisine gave me that opportunity – and I’m glad I took the chance.
What inspires you when you are creating your dishes? Where do you get your inspiration from?
I am not only inspired by my work, but by everything that happens to me in my life. All the people with whom I surround myself, my experiences, and also my objectives as a person and as a human being. I’m focused on the value of the human being and this is what I want to communicate. I want to build myself as a person. I want to take care and I want to feel taken care of. This is the objective, the goal that I have right now.
“I needed to express myself and to develop all my senses. Cuisine gave me that opportunity – and I’m glad I took the chance.”
We can tell stories through dishes. What’s your story? What do you want to tell with your dishes?
I guess, transparency. What you see is what you get. Our main objective is to feed people, to make them feel good at an accessible price. Simplicity is another story I want to tell, through the values that are integrated into the dish itself. Behind the creation of a plate there is a methodology, there is a study, a liberation, a bit of me and a bit of everyone. Because one of the most important things in the management of my kitchen, is to completely flee from the hierarchical structure typical of most restaurants. I am the same as the others. This makes people aware of their own value and they and end up collaborating in the project rather than feeling like an employee.
This also results in something more human which makes it easier for people to identify with, right?
Exactly. That’s it!
We’ve seen that on more than one occasion you have said the kitchen has saved you. Can you explain to us a little more about the role of cooking in your life?
There was a time when I was dealing with a complicated emotional process and I used gastronomy to get through it. By focusing on cuisine I started exploring. And I loved it. The products that I use in the kitchen have a life. This started to make me passionate. How could you transform something into something new, you know? And what happened is that I focused so much of my energy on something external, that in the end it was something retroactive. It gave me a lot. It was like walking along a path until you find the exit. And the exit was amazing. From there I have never stopped doing things. For example, now I’m focusing on the issue of values. Because in today’s society, I think many things are being lost. That’s why I always want to go to the simplest form. It’s like removing something layer by layer, getting to something more pure, step by step.
And this helps you a lot more to connect as well, right? Because after all, values are a universal thing that we all have and with which we all can identify with.
Absolutely. It’s like returning to the origins, to what we are. That’s exactly it.
With your creations, you want to get to the origin of the dishes to make the product shine by itself. Can you tell us a little bit more about this philosophy?
The ability to observe a product as it is, in its natural form. In other words, being able to work it, forming it without radically modifying it. What I want is for people to recognize the ingredients of the dishes as they are. I do not want foams, I do not want to hide the product. I want people to say ‘Is this a leek?’ Yes, it’s a leek. ‘Well, what a versatility this leek has!’ This is going back to the origins, to the origins of the product. And not only the origin of the product but what surrounds it.
“This is going back to the origins, to the origins of the product. And not only the origin of the product but what surrounds it.”
Your dishes respect the purity of food and that is why this it is so important to take care of them from the beginning. What does this purity mean for you and how do you integrate it in your daily life, beyond Iradier’s?
In recent years, nature has been a model and a source of inspiration for me. In some ways it seems really intelligent to me, very wise. Nature has a huge capacity for expanding, adapting to changes and mimetising.
This theory about vegetal intelligence is really interesting. Could you expand on it?
Yes. I am a fan of this theory, it effects all the dishes I create. What I’m doing right now leads us down two paths: one is ‘natural agriculture’, which makes reference to this system of wild crops, where a specific ecosystem is generated, an ecosystem which is regulated by itself in a natural way. In this system of agriculture we don’t need to use chemicals as everything regulates itself. This is where ‘vegetal intelligence’ comes in. As you can see, ‘natural agriculture’ and ‘vegetal intelligence’ are the two main topics in my work.
“Natural agriculture and vegetal intelligence are the two main topics in my work.“
imperfect and defected. Taking this into consideration, how do you manage a balance between aesthetics and origin?
Well, the truth is that the aesthetics are not the most important aspect in my cuisine. I don’t modify dishes to make them look better. It simply flows. In the end, what I do is put all the elements together on a white plate. Why a white plate? Because for me, the most important thing is what you are going to eat. It’s a way of highlighting the product and giving it the value it deserves. Then the white plate, simple and flat, becomes the basis of a scenario. I want to give the sensation that the product is still alive on the plate, that it continues living. I think that nowadays, particularly with social media, people give more importance to aesthetics than ever, and they think less about the product. I think it should be completely the opposite. The product should be the most important thing.
And this is also very much in line with climate change and all the debates that are happening now.
Exactly. It’s all about cycles. I enter the natural cycle, but not in a perverse cycle of manipulating nature according to selfish interests.
Could you tell us about the menu you created from your interpretation of DOIY’s products?
I have chosen three products, and the first one is the Saguaro. I wanted to focus on the texture of the object, on its rugosity, on the material. Moreover, this object is translucent and made of only one material. This material is moddable, which means that by applying temperature there is a reaction that affects its shape. I only worked with one product: the leek. I wanted to highlight its texture and its form. First I confited it at a low temperature and then I dehydrated it. As you can see, it is translucent and imitates very well the material from which the DOIY piece is formed. It also has certain imperfections that make it perfect because you see it as humanized.
The second product that I chose is the Unboring Sock. Finally, this is a more conceptual take, I wanted to flee the obvious and work with its weight. I want to talk about the weight of the human being on nature: how much we are pressing and exhausting it with this weight. The dish is a lasagna of shisho from our garden. In this lasagna I generated several layers of these flowers.
The third dish is the desert, inspired by the terrazzo cheese board. I wanted to focus on the material, on terracing products. In this very same gesture as a builder would construct something we built a mosaic of different flavours of chocolate, because in the end, chocolate refers us to the earth.
Now that you mention the earth again, with which of the four elements do you feel most identified with?
Of course with the earth, I’m 100% sure!
What do you want to emphasize with each of the dishes?
The limitlessness of food and the capacity it has to not only feed on a nutritional level, but also at another level: intellectual and social.
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