angel lion was born in Jerez; however, he is one of the chefs who best works with seafood. Not surprisingly, it is known as ‘The Chef of the Sea‘, and his restaurant, aponiente, located in El Puerto de Santa María, has been recognized with three Michelin stars and three Repsol Suns. At 43 years old, he is one of the most renowned masters of the kitchen in Spain. It uses ingredients with low environmental impact, creating a diet that respects biodiversity. In addition, it has revolutionized cuisine worldwide, discovering new ingredients and superfoods such as plankton, olive bone charcoal and marine sausages.
A figure that rarely brings out the man behind the chef in the media.
He has had to travel 7,000 kilometers, to Dubai, to display his most intimate facet and his sense of humor. angel lion is the new guest of ‘Alley Planet’, a trip that has started with an unexpected setback for the chef: when launching himself down the longest urban zip line in the world, between the skyscrapers of the spectacular Dubai Marina district, he has encountered a problem: due to excess weight, He has been able to, so Calleja has had to launch himself. “It’s the first time in my life that I’m glad I’m a little chubby,” he confessed with his ‘joke’ from Cadiz.
Ángel León talks about how his life has changed: “When I traveled so much I was colder with my people”
– Planet Calleja (@Planeta_Calleja) February 7, 2022
Although to compensate and give him the adventure bug, the presenter has proposed an expedition to his guest with a multitude of sports activities. A tour of the Al Qudra cycle route; running through the dunes of the desert and the beaches of Dubai; an original dive with sharks and manta rays in the aquarium of the Hotel Atlantis; a jeep and camel route through the Al Marmoon desert, where he had the opportunity to improvise a barbecue; and an ascent on ‘mountain bike’, with a bath in a lake included, in the mountains of Hatta, have been some of them.
The superfood that can change the world
Before, the travelers have made a pact: one teaches him the secrets of his profession while the other serves as a personal trainer to help him lose a few kilos. A goal in which the chef has not put too many expectations. “I’m screwed already. I’m going to stay for September ». In innovation, which is the most important thing, he has gotten outstanding. León has discovered a superfood that is grown at the bottom of the sea, which can even end world hunger. “There is still a lot to work on, but it can be a window that opens to other ways of feeding ourselves,” he clarified.
At a stop along the way he has pulled memories of Vietnam, delving into his childhood. «I was hyperactive, and I am today. But I was lucky enough to fall in love with cooking by preparing fish with my father. My mother didn’t like to clean them, so I was the one who cleaned them, looking at what each one ate. And it is that, “what normally disgusts human beings, which is touching the inside of animals, freaks me out”, because he understands that there is all the flavor and all the truth of a product.
As a young man, he was lucky enough to go to France to study in a three-star Michelin restaurant in Bordeaux. «There they put me to wash dishes and I already thought I was a cook. I remember it as a stage in which they taught me the most important thing in my life: I didn’t learn cooking, I learned discipline,” he recalled. He stayed in that restaurant for three years. «When I came back, I already thought I was a chef, so my parents took a place. I told them it would be called Aponiente. The work begins, but suddenly one day I see that it has stopped. In my house, my father throws me a letter on the table. 92,000 pesetas of telephone bill. You are a child and you are not prepared to open a restaurant, he told me.
After that, he ended up in Toledo running a restaurant that fused the three cultures. «It is surreal that they invited me to Madrid Fusión for the first time there, because a madman who used all the fish scales that nobody wanted and began to have a language with the sea had attracted attention. That was me”.
Aponiente’s lucky break
In time, he finally returns to Puerto de Santa María and with his own money opens Aponiente. But, he has admitted, it started badly. «When I decided to start the restaurant I wanted to cook everything that the human being does not see from the sea. The third year I even had to shut up; I owed a lot of money.” His luck came after reflecting: “human beings are afraid of the sea, so their reference is the earth.” Thus, it occurs to him to take proteins from the sea that nobody wants and turn them into things from the land that the human being knows. «Everything that the human being does with the pig, I did with the fish. That is my stroke of fortune, everything changes there.
So much so that it has garnered the maximum number of Michelin stars. «For me the most beastly star was the first. I never imagined that the kitchen we were doing would aspire to that recognition, by concept. The Michelin Guide is looking for hedonism and the product, and suddenly a guy shows up giving the no product. The product that the sailors do not want, putting it on the table”, said the chef.
Our guest is a CRACK 👨🍳 Bravo, @chefdelmar!
– Planet Calleja (@Planeta_Calleja) February 7, 2022
He has also emphasized that the secret of his success lies above all in the restaurant crew. Although all that glitters is not gold. “We give a maximum of 30 covers per meal, and I have 70 people on the payroll.” With which, the accounts do not come out. “I’ve only made money out of it for a year in my life. That’s why I leave Aponiente to earn a living. Lots of bowling, going to TV, up, down…».
It will not be a profitable business, but it will be prestigious even internationally. Among its guests is, nothing more and nothing less, than the entire team of ‘Game of Thrones’, to whom he gave supper. Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) said that he had gone crazy, because the man was a bit agnostic, he claimed that he did not like fish. Well, with those people I succeed more than with another who comes believing that he likes the sea. And the luck is that the Lannisters always pay their debts, “the Cadiz has revealed.
He has also detailed the secret of his very personal kitchen. “The concept is to imagine that we don’t have the land and there is only sea water to feed our customers. In my restaurant there is meat, but it is marine. Likewise, vegetables are halophilic plants. We were lucky enough to discover one called a rupee and with it we express the sweetness of the sea as well».
In a world where three quarters of the land is water, it made sense to base his creations on water. With everything and with that, “at first everyone thought I was going to drown.”
Nothing could be further from the truth, because, aside from his prestige as a chef, he has made incredible progress in terms of innovation. For example, together with the University of Cádiz, the scientific research team at the Aponiente restaurant has been able to cultivate, for the first time in the world as certified by the FAO (the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization), a marine plant that produces grains similar to those of terrestrial cereals, but with an even higher nutritional potential. “For me, the true revolution is being able to plant and irrigate the land with sea water, because in the end if we cultivate seagrass meadows, we will make people take care of the environment, since it will generate an economy. Above all, we have a way of understanding and dialoguing with the sea in a different way».
Despite his achievements, angel lion he has his feet on the ground, and even recognizes a certain deification towards haute cuisine. “I don’t see any logic in being continually in the press, while my father, a doctor who has helped thousands of families and has saved lives, did not even have a farewell the day he ended after 40 years dedicated to the sick. We have a very weak society. There are people much more transcendent than a cook.
In his own way, yes, he has also helped those who have needed it. In fact, one of the most beautiful experiences of his life was giving free food during the pandemic. “They were all volunteers, who came to work from sunrise to sunset without asking for anything at the worst moment of fear. It was so beautiful that I forgot about my problems, “said the chef, who has said that he had closed his business for six months. “I have been losing almost 60,000 euros per month,” he revealed.
Even so, he has been very positive about the future. “Of course we will recover. Me, the one from the cafeteria, the one from the beach bar… All the hoteliers in this country. Because Spain needs joy, and we make people happy.”