Unless they turn up on Netflix or HBO, we don’t get to see a lot of UK TV programmes. But friends gave us the heads up about an episode of Celebrity Masterchef this week being based on Tenerife so we went out of our way to watch it.
From the opening scenes of Anaga to the second the celebrity chefs (I only knew one of them, Neil Ruddock, and even then it took a while to recognise him) touched down on Tenerife and set up their kitchens in the Mercado La Recova (aka Mercado Municipal Nuestra Señora de África) in Santa Cruz, it became apparent the foodie focus was going to be very much on the Tenerife which exists outside of the resorts.
The two local chefs on hand to assist the celebrity chefs at the Recova Market were Mario and Fabian Torres whose family own a trio of restaurants in the north of Tenerife – El Lagardo Mario, La Bodeguita de Enfrente and El Calderito de la Abuela, the latter managed by Mario and Fabian. Apart from serving excellent Canarian cuisine, El Calderito de la Abuela, perched on the hill between La Orotava and Santa Ursula, is perfectly located for sunset dining.
The dishes chosen to test the chefs’ skills were all classic Canarian ones.
Most visitors to the island will have encountered the spicy mojos (sauces), verde and rojo and papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes). Possibly fewer will have tried queso asado – grilled goat’s cheese which is drizzled with mojos and also honey. I recently read a travel blog where the author criticised the queso asado she’d eaten for being rubbery and not particularly nice. It’s a dish that’s not to everyone’s liking because the texture of the cheese might not be what queso asado virgins expect. One of the presenters nailed it when he likened it to halloumi.
Another distinctly Canarian dish included was one that is given away (thrown to be exact) at romerías – gofio amasado, a mix of gofio flour, sugar, nuts, honey, dried fruit, cheese (ingredients can vary from place to place). It’s another Canarian dish that can be an acquired taste. We’ve tried the gofio amasado at El Calderito de la Abuela, served with crispy onion rings as it was in the programme, and it’s definitely one of the more flavoursome ones we’ve tasted.
Main courses included conejo en salmorejo (rabbit in a savoury, slightly spicy sauce), and cherne (wreckfish/stone bass) which is a tasty, fleshy white fish and a good choice for people who don’t like tackling bones when eating fish. The other main course was one whose name we didn’t recognise arroz amarillo (yellow rice) but which is basically seafood and rice. It could easily be mistaken for paella. In the programme it was served with French fries, making for a seriously hearty dish.
All in all it was an interesting representation of traditional Canarian cuisine and both presenters and celebrity chefs were impressed by the variety of dishes and range of local flavours.
The final section of the programme turned the spotlight on the more contemporary side of Tenerife’s gastronomy. Erlantz Gorostiza (chef at 2 Michelin star M.B in the The Ritz-Carlton, Abama at Playa San Juan) tutored the celebrity chefs in the art of avant-garde cooking to help them prepare a meal for the island’s president in the Hotel Mencey, Santa Cruz. The results might have been creative and artistic, but the ingredients used remained Canarian favourites – these ranged from banana to cochino negro (Canarian black pig).
Erlantz Gorostiza is the only Michelin star chef on Tenerife whose food we haven’t tried yet, but after seeing his culinary creations in the programme that’s something we have to rectify.
As well as being an entertaining watch, the programme showcased why we’ve been banging on for years about how good the gastronomy on the island is. It is wildly diverse, with a range of contrasting styles and dishes, featuring good quality local ingredients, to suit a wide variety of culinary preferences.
If you want honest, good quality home cooking and dishes which represent the cuisine of a unique set of islands, then you’ll find it in traditional restaurants across Tenerife. If you want a more sophisticated version, rebooted for 21st century palates, then, thanks to a new generation of Canarian chefs who have injected new life into old favourites, that’s also easy to find.
If you get the chance, watch the programme. It’s tasty stuff.