“The kitchen is inseparable from who we are as people”



‘Animal cook’ It is the book, and the author. Although his thing is to direct the Gastronomy area of ​​Vocento, of which he is president and under which important events such as San Sebastián Gastronomika or Madrid Fusión operate, among other businesses linked to this sector, it is in the word where Benjamin Lana He is also revealed as one of the best gastronomic journalists in Spain, a superb pen applied to investigate among saucepans and recipes to be a convinced chronicler of the intimate relationship between man and food, a link from which he knows better than to extract meanings, truths and reflections.

The Biscayan journalist (Zalla, 1968) has compiled in this volume that he has just published with Abalon Books his best columns appeared in different media between 2014 and 2020. Throughout these years, mainly in the regional newspapers and magazines of the group, he wrote almost 600 articles on gastronomy, of which he had to choose about 150 for his ‘Animal cook’. The method was, as he likes it, unusual. «I asked my friend José Luis Corrales, playwright and teacher, to rate them and from then on we were left with only those with the highest marks. I wanted it not to be done by an expert in gastronomy but in literature, to string together the texts with a slightly more open look to all audiences ”, Lana tells ABC.

And looking at your best columns all together, what do you think they are looking for in unison?

Show a vision of gastronomy a little against the current of what is now the majority, more related to chefs of less weight, with something that transmits love, that we all live every day and that has to do with socializing, with lost jobs and with antiheroes . In many parts of the book gastronomy is understood as an important tool that has made us men, there is even a chapter that speaks precisely of that historical experience, because it is about showing that this is much more serious than just a fashion of famous chefs, that belongs to all of us and that we are all protagonists.

Cooking is one thing, eating is another, and researching and writing about gastronomy is another. You do all three, are you just as convinced?

They are different trades, but in the end it is easy to participate in all of them if you are curious, because all our daily reality is filled with food. You cannot understand the human being without eating. In this part of the world we do it at least two or three times a day, and specifically in this country there is no social activity in which food has no role. That is why it is possible to analyze who we are through what we cook, how we eat and what we preserve (traditions and cultural heritages. You understand a culture through what it eats, how it does it and where and with whom. Along with the drink, the Food is a ritual for all cultures and in the western case even the most transcendent, religion, is linked to it, I try not to understand gastronomy as a fashion that will be out of fashion in a few years.

However, right now it is experiencing a boom, with its celebrities, its products and its trends like all fashion.

Food has characteristics that have made the great audiovisual movements pay attention to it, it has to do with its character of white, transversal content, accessible at any age and type of training. Food is more interesting than football because we all eat, at different levels but we eat, and that has led TV to focus on gastronomy and build entertainment programs on it and that on some platforms it is the most abundant non-fiction content . And then something that is key: gastronomy does not generate rejection by origin, when on other issues the nationality is delicate. Probably in some countries we would not even consume books, but food does get in. This uniqueness of the kitchen has been a discovery in recent times, and it has made something that is gastronomic but not eaten into a global consumer product, it does not have much to do with the real experience of eating. The pure senses for gastronomy are taste and smell, not sight or hearing, and those have not yet traveled.

However, those shows and characters have turned the spotlight on kitchens and food.

I am not saying that everything is negative, but I intend to show an alternative perspective, to point out that there are many more things, prior to this fashion, that have to do with ideas and identity and that they are tools of social transformation. The kitchen goes along a path that has a crossroads, on one side is that part linked to ‘show business’ and entertainment, and towards the other are all those possibilities of which I speak of being a tool to sensitize people on issues very important, as now are sustainability, the planet and the seas, or defending rural society. I feel much more comfortable defending this aspect than the neon lights or the celebrity.

Vocento has clearly positioned itself in the gastronomic area, leading the information and organization of the most important events in the world, and shortly until training.

We saw that there was a large gap in terms of gastronomic content. We know how to generate content, tell things, and we are applying that to the sector to make it grow more, something from which everyone can benefit. We want to help give it greater visibility, continue to push, and that Spain undertake an internationalization process so that the weight of national cuisine continues to increase. All this linked to the great chefs but also to the primary sector, the reason for being of our group, and the industrial sector. The new rurality can make use of gastronomy, for example.

How is your relationship with the column, with journalism and with writing in general?

I try to write whatever it is, it is a kind of exercise that is not always comfortable, but I have committed myself and I do it even if it costs me to find the time. When I started with my columns I thought that the problem was going to be the lack of topics, but the years go by and I always have something to talk about or ask myself about, because I like that in the end there is a doubt, to be a surprised citizen , and I ask myself questions and share them so that I have to think a bit. In the case of the XL Semanal column, it is very short and it was difficult for me to learn to write like that, but now I like to say that it is a dueling pistol that only has one bullet. Sometimes it is correct and sometimes it is not, but it does not admit that you get carried away by flowery verbs, you must be precise and therefore they have that point of purity and simplicity. The other columns allow for more development, they need context and time to bring readers to my site. They end with an open point to think, I am not very doctrinaire.

You approach texts with melancholy and sensitivity, but also with humor and irony, something difficult to reconcile in writing and in life in general.

It is true that I have a certain melancholic look, but it is that as you get older you have experienced more good things and you miss them. In the case of humor, 20 or 30 years ago it existed in Spanish gastronomy, but now it is practiced little, it is not necessary to write with a humorous vision and a touch of irony in the style of Cambas and other greats who used to do it that way. The digital possibilities of recent years lead people to judge and be very emphatic with adjectives and opinions, without using much argumentation. Humor helps you say important things without making people upset. The sly look comes naturally to me.

It is a privilege to be passionate about gastronomy and to live in a country like Spain, do we value it in its fair measure?

Yes and no. It is known that here you eat very well, but sometimes that makes you think that “mine is better”, an attitude that I do not like, instead of looking with curiosity at what is different with a desire to learn. At the same time, yes, we have a geographical and climatic diversity that offers us a very rich pantry and then, as Spain is an old territory, the cultural influences that we have received are enormous and the mixtures of one and the other are incredible. Along with man their food has always traveled. That awareness that here no one is pure and we are all a hybrid of ancestors, cultures, thoughts and ways of eating, is the first thing to look at the world of cooking with clean eyes and heart, and realize that everything is enriching. As much as the cuisine is sometimes very local, deep down it is talking about something universal.

The current stars are the chefs, but in ‘Animal Cook’ you write more about product and memory, traditions and home kitchens and grandmothers, small producers and flavors. Why are you so fascinated by this aspect?

Great chefs do not need help, wonderful things have already happened to them in the last forty years since the French ‘Nouvelle cuisine’ and the concept of author chef is general, equated with other artists. Until the 60s the star was the maitre d ‘and the chef performed in a dark and hidden place. The chef who owns his home and a big star is recent. That is why I say that the history of gastronomy is very long and very tender. I am interested in all those other stories related to her in the families and in the daily life of the cooks that never appear in the magazines, that group of the ‘curritos del menu’, an army of white jackets that cooks every day but it has no visibility, although it does have interesting stories. The kitchen is not what you eat, but how it reflects what is boiling in society. He always works in parallel with these social drives, very rarely do things come up against the current, except perhaps in the case of Ferrán Adriá.

We are experiencing the rise of social networks, home delivery, the global market, the abundance of information, common trends. How to stay still creative, faithful to ideas and ways of eating and seeing life?

It is time for reflection, to see where all this is going. The very concept of the restaurant as it has been understood in the last 150 years must be reviewed. The consumption of gastronomy of a higher level in homes is changing and we have to see how much of all this we have left after the pandemic, if people continue with the ‘delivery’ or not, although I think that in some countries they will not have as much success because it also matters where you eat and with whom, the context. As for creativity, it is one of the most significant elements in the kitchen but now it is questioned that everyone should be creative, that they have the need to create as in the 70s, in fact classic restaurants are returning, traditional and there are those who already claim the food from home taken to a restaurant or models more linked to what the Saxons call ‘comfort food’.

You go to a desert island and you can only take a recipe, an ingredient and a flavor with you. Which ones do you choose?

Something linked to my childhood, like a hake in green sauce like my mother’s. As an ingredient, cheese. And a taste, that of a vintage port.

And a last supper, what would it be and where?

In my house with my family, maybe I cook.

A chef or a gastronomic movement that interests you especially at this time in Spain.

I steal from Jordi Vilâ the expression that at the end there is a singular point that is the hand of the cook. I have dubbed that ‘doll’s kitchen’. Cooks are beginning to appear who have gotten off the pedestal on which they had been raised and are cooked at the height of their guests. They stop claiming their creativity in pursuit of the customer’s pleasure.

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