My humble recommendation to Jaén would be to invest more in R+D and less in the bulk production of certain oils
The majority of Spaniards discovered their disproportionate passion for gastronomy through the programme, Un país para comérselo. To date, Televisión Española has run two seasons of it. To deal with this professional challenge, Juan didn’t need to rehearse any role, although he is accustomed to doing so because of his profession as an actor. On the contrary, this time round he just had to be himself. Without any artifice. A task that was not particularly difficult for him, especially when we remember that he was the one to come up with the original idea, its director and the protagonist.
When Juan Echanove decided to embark on his latest television adventure, he couldn’t even begin to imagine the trail of awards he would soon receive for the same both in Spain and abroad. In reality, these well-earned prizes are not for his work alone. Imanol Arias, his inseparable travel companion, was also distinguished, as was the entire team accompanying them on their gastronomic trip through the various Spanish regions.
Episode after episode, they all made every possible effort to demonstrate that our cuisine still holds many secrets, hidden in the least expected nooks and crannies, and awaiting discovery through the warmth of their inhabitants.
Committed to the cause, Juan has never faltered in his determination to spread the peculiarities of our raw materials. Just a few months ago, he was named honorary ambassador for the centenary tree conservation project, Aceite y Olivos Milenarios del Territorio del Sénia, which we already described in detail in our last edition of OLIVARAMA.
Naturally, Juan was not chosen by chance for this role. Not by a long shot. Like us, this actor originally from Madrid, tries not to miss any of the gastronomic fairs celebrated in our country. Every time destiny has brought us together at one of these events, he has always shown his weakness for gourmet olive oils. So much so, that he didn’t hesitate to welcome our magazine and even pose with it. A detail we appreciate.
It would appear that Spanish gastronomy does not hold any secrets for you. This is so much the case that, among other things, you now have a personal blog dedicated to the pleasures of the palate, you have published your own book of recipes, Curso de cocina para novatos; and you have directed the hit TV programme Un país para comérselo… Where does this love of food come from?
Well, basically from the fact that since the age of 18 I’ve been journeying the length and breadth of the country with travelling troupes of players.
Thanks to this, I’ve had the chance to meet all classes of chefs, who have been revealing the secrets of their profession to me.
I imagine that when you were travelling with Imanol Arias and the rest of the team all over the country to reveal the typical gastronomy of each region, you came across new and tantalising surprises. If you had to choose one, which would you highlight?
The biggest surprise was to see how the passage of knowledge from generation to generation is so consolidated and the fact that the influence of the major international kitchens have already taken hold in Spanish cuisine. I would also underline the strength of contrasts existent in Navarre. Specifically, between the green Selva de Irati and the desert of Bárdenas Reales.
I’m not sure whether in Navarre or somewhere else, but I bet you came across some dish or other which because of its obscurity, or difficult preparation or production, does not have a guaranteed future ahead of it. Which dish to you think should be salvaged from oblivion for its gastronomic qualities?
In this case, I would choose the cod tripe and the filloas de sangre (blood crepes).
On your TV programme, when you visited Jaén some of the province’s producers did not fully identify with the dated image of the oil industry in the province that was conveyed. What is your real perception of olive oil from Jaén in the current times?
The first thing you learn when you start to make a TV programme is that you can’t always please everyone. Apart from offering Jaén all of my affection and recognising its efforts, I would humbly recommend they invest more in R + D and less in the bulk production of certain oils which, under the mantle of extra virgin olive oil, do not actually reach the minimum organoleptic quality required. This is a recommendation I would make to myself as well, as a Spaniard, in my field of work.
Changing scene and travelling to the Territorio del Sénia, you recently took on the role of ambassador for the thousand-year-old olive trees of the region, located between the borders of Aragon, Valencia and Catalonia. What does your role consist of specifically?
It consists of receiving all of the strength and history of these thousand-year-old olive trees and, therefore, promoting that unique beauty wherever I go.
What would you highlight about these majestic trees, their environment and the oil they produce?
Regarding the trees and their setting, I would emphasise the wrinkles that mark the olive grove which remind us that history is the end result of human suffering. Regarding the oil, I would focus on its purity and Mediterranean aroma.
Do you use these or other olive oils in your kitchen? How do you use it in your everyday life?
Yes of course. Every day I have toast with oil for breakfast, and sometimes I repeat the same as a snack. I almost always use oil from the Territorio del Sénia for this.
At present, it seems that if the Spanish tortilla is not “deconstructed” or if the ice-cream we have for dessert does not taste like black pudding from Burgos and brim with liquid nitrogen, then gastronomy cannot awe us… Do you agree with this ever-more frequent perception? Is the traditional, everyday cuisine at risk?
I have the soul of a child and have always adored surprises. There is as much risk in flying too high as there is in holding too tightly to tradition.
In your blog, I read that the episode of your TV programme dedicated to Madrid regional cuisine was one of the most complex to make. In reality, many believe that this region has little to offer apart from its traditional stew or offal. As a native of Madrid, how would you describe the cooking of your hometown? Does it use sufficiently high quality raw materials to compete with other regions?
Madrid, since it is the most obvious –and unfair- image of centralism, runs the risk of taking on the role of becoming solely a great central market. Madrid is more than just a city with an airport. It is an autonomous region replete with districts that produce excellence.
Knowing that we are a magazine that specialises in olive oil and gastronomy, what recipe would you surprise the OLIVARAMA team with if you had to arrange a dinner party?
I would make some cod fillets cooked at a low temperature and I would place a bottle of olive oil from the Territorio del Sénia in the centre of the table. A guaranteed hit!
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
An extra virgin: Rincón de la Subbética, by Priego de Córdoba.
An olive varietal: Farga.
An olive grove landscape: Territorio de Sénia.
A restaurant that takes a special interest in olive oil: Hispania (Arenys de Mar, Barcelona).
A dish with extra virgin olive oil: Summer tomatoes.
A wish for olive oil: Presence in the world.
Born in Madrid on 1 April 1961, Juan Echanove is a renowned film, theatre and television actor, as well as a proven gastronomist. Proof of this lies in his nomination this year as an Academic of the Spanish Royal Gastronomy Academy and his distinction with the award, Premio Conde de los Andes 2011, which he received in July from this same entity together with the Cofradía de la Buena Mesa for his role as the best artistic creator in the field of gastronomy.
In theatre he has shone for his roles in El Cerdo, by José Luis Castro; Alrededor de Borges, by Jorge Eines; Como canta una ciudad de noviembre a noviembre, by Lluis Pasqual; El Verdugo, by Luis Olmos; Plataforma, by Calixto Bieito; or Desaparecer which, also directed by Bieito, was played in both Spain and abroad.
He has participated in over 30 films, under the direction of some of the most prestigious Spanish directors. To mention but a few, he has worked on Tiempo de silencio, by Vicente Aranda; Divinas palabras and Siempre hay un camino a la derecha, by José Luis García Sánchez; Bajarse al moro, by Fernando Colomo; Madre Gilda, by Francisco Regueiro; Mi hermano del alma, by Mariano Barroso; La flor de mi secreto, by Pedro Almodóvar; Sus ojos se cerraron, by Jaime Chávarri; and Alatriste, by Agustín Díaz Yanes.
He has also worked on a number of hit TV series, such as Turno de oficio, by Antonio Mercero, Manolo Matji and Echanove himself; Chicas de hoy en día, by Fernando Colomo; Hermanos de leche, by Carlos Serrano; Pepa y Pepe, by Manuel Iborra and Un país para comérselo, together with Imanol Arias. At present, he is working on Cuéntame, by Tito Fernández, Agustín Crespi and Antonio Cano.
In the course of his career, Juan has received numerous awards, such as the Spanish Goya for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, the Silver Shell at the San Sebastian Film Festival, various Fotogramas de Plata awards, the Vanity Best New Artist Award, various MAX awards, the Premio Valle Inclán de las Artes Escénicas or the Herald Angel Award at the Edinburgh Festival, among many, many more.