The sight of sauteed rabbit in his grandparents’ country tavern is Catalan chef Nandu Jubany’s earliest memory of olive oil.
“It was almost green in color due to the freshness of the olive oil and the parsley.”
Now 41, the third generation restaurateur is part of Spain’s culinary avant-garde and says olive oil “is the main ingredient in my kitchen and in my diet.”
With a Michelin star farmhouse restaurant – Can Jubany – in a small village in Osona, in rural Catalonia, and wider activities including lecturing at a Harvard “Science & Cooking” course, his impact on public awareness of the qualities of local extra virgin olive oils was applauded earlier this year with a Catalan Olive Oil Denominations of Origin Prize.
A joint initiative of Catalonia’s five DOPs – Siurana, Les Garrigues, Terra Alta, Baix Ebre-Montsià and Empordà – awards this year also went to doctors Maria José Motilva and Maria Paz Romero, from the University of Lleida’s antioxidants research group, which has more than 15 years’ expertise in studying virgin olive oil, and to Catalan journalist Lluís Foix, who said in a recent blog that olive oil, wine and grains were key to understanding Catalonia.
Often described as fusing tradition and innovation, Jubany told Olive Oil Times how olive oil features in his foods.
Q. What are some dishes in which you consider olive oil an essential or defining ingredient?
Nandu Jubany: A tomato from my vegetable garden with extra virgin olive oil ice-cream. In this case olive oil would be the most important ingredient, of course.
Then there are other dishes – such as dry rice with sea cucumbers, sauteed cuttlefish with artichoke, scrambled eggs with mushrooms and sobrasada (spicy sausage), ajoblanco (cold garlic and almond soup) with sardines and extra virgin olive oil caviar – that simply wouldn’t be the same without olive oil. That’s much the case for almost every dish from my kitchen.
Q. Are there any ways you now use olive oil that you wouldn’t have imagined not so long ago?
Yes, a good example is extra virgin olive oil caviar. Our air-baguettes with pancetta, pimentón de la Vera (a Spanish paprika) and olive oil caviar are amazing.
Q. What’s your advice to calorie-conscious home chefs worried about too much ‘drizzling’ and ‘splashing’?
In my restaurant I use a lot of oil, but always the best extra virgin olive oil made from arbequina olives with very low acidity. I think the use of good olive oils is much better and healthier than other fats, such as butter and other edible oils.
Q. What oils are in your kitchen?
I use four different varieties. An arbequina, with very low acidity; a picual that is more pungent, for other preparations; sunflower oil for tempura; and a very fresh extra virgin olive oil – with intense flavor and green color – for other dishes.
Q. Do you have any preference in terms of varieties or brands?
Without hesitation I’d say an arbequina olive oil from Catalonia.
Q. Do you ever use olive oil that’s not extra virgin?
I’ve become used to always using extra virgin olive oil, for almost everything, except I use refined when I want to make a vinaigrette without an olive taste. But it’s increasingly rare to find refined oils in my recipes.