The gastronomy of the Vega Baja is well suited to the «diamond in the rough», while its deep culinary tradition, with a pantry of the most diverse, has not yet translated into a haute cuisine with its own identity. The trend we have come to call «neo-traditional», based on the adaptation of traditional dishes to the techniques and aesthetics of today, has dominated many of our most celebrated restaurants since the mid-nineties, but has no parallel in this region, although there is something of that in the cuisine of El Buey in Almoradí or Casa Alfonso in the Dehesa de Campoamor. In any case, it is not comparable to the implantation that Miquel Ruiz or Dani Frías and their respective legions of disciples have given to this style in La Marina or Alicante, without forgetting the contributions of Kiko Moya in Cocentaina, Susi Díaz in Elche or Quique Dacosta himself in Dénia.
So, what «the magician» Aurora Torres Mora has now pulled out of the hat is not exactly «neo-traditional cuisine from the Vega Baja» -there are no spherifications or deconstructions, nor other technical and conceptual pirouettes of the usual in that way of cooking, which is evident and eminently Adriatic-, but it brings a new look on the gastronomy of the region. The owner and head chef of La Herradura, in Los Montesinos, marks differences between the new proposal and the rest of the restaurant by assigning it a differentiated name and a defined space. If there can be a «hidden restaurant» in a decoration store or a drugstore, why not in another restaurant? Thus, Lula is like a different restaurant within the restaurant La Herradura, in a dining room that does not share customers or proposals with the others and that from the decoration itself -for example, a whole and real lemon tree on each table, as a floral justifypiece- claims the Vega Baja from a sensitivity as rooted as contemporary.
The flavors of childhood
Lula’s first tasting menu is entitled «Flavors of my childhood» and is full of nods to the popular cuisine of the region, starting with an appetizing crispy rabbit with tomato that vindicates domestic and shared food. In the absence of any technical boasts – a foam or vacuum cooking are the only traces of molecular cuisine – another sign of the times appears: exoticism. Indeed, the tomato handkerchief with capellan and pickles becomes a Mexican taco, while the prawn carpaccio with broad beans confronts the local beans with tonka beans or edamame in a powerfully umami dish, where the touch of Iberian ham brings a touch of «sea and mountain». Between one and the other, the cook goes out to the dining room to finish off at the table, blowtorch in hand, a top dish, brimming with emotional and gastronomic connotations: artichokes – homemade preserved – with bacon on lemon tree embers.the fish dish is pure «story».
Aurora evokes the «llandas» of pumpkins and sweet potatoes that her mother used to take to the oven in Formentera del Segura with the occasional mullet. The creaminess of some and the toasted touch of the others -in the form of chips-, with a sea bream much less well done than that fish from memory should be, harmonize in a dish where the licorice from the family garden adds another sweet and endearingly integrating touch. The culmination of the savory part is a hymn to the neighborhood: a duck confit sweetly immersed in accompaniments based on dates, fig bread or grapes from Vinalopó -things from Elche-, as well as rum and beet. In the same line is the wine pairing proposed by Francisco J Paredes, husband of the cook who operates from the thinking room, from the test bench or from the cellar: wines from the Comunitat very well chosen, including a magnificent fondillón for dessert starring lemons from Los Montesinos. This menu costs 50 euros -the pairing, 20- and is available from Wednesday to Saturday.
The landscape of the Vega Baja
Restless and charismatic activist of diverse causes -from the solidarity mobilization in favor of the restaurants of the Vega Baja damaged by the DANA to the Spanish Selection of Professional Cuisine-, Aurora Torres Mora has made of La Herradura a restaurant with its own personality, from a business opened in 2000 by a society in which her husband participated and whose administration she joined in 2007, a couple of years before becoming its head chef from a domestic and self-taught formation. Without ignoring a large clientele of European residents -including dishes to the «international» taste, but initiating them in the traditional cuisine of the Vega Baja with menus tailored to their needs-, she bets on rooted and gastronomic proposals, where the chup-chup over low heat and vacuum cooking coexist with an outstanding presence of local raw materials – artichokes, citrus fruits, ñora, sweet potato, dried tomato- and the very landscape of the region: wild licorice, fennel, «blea», lavender and even the yellow-flowered agrillo that grows spontaneously in the family garden where many of the ingredients in the pantry come from.
The menu of La Herradura and its menus compose a vast repertoire of allusions to the Vega Baja, its gastronomy and its products, sprinkled with examples such as the capellán with «partías» olives, the broth with ball, the rice with anchovies, beans and artichokes, the rabbit with tomato or the milhojas of orange textures. The restaurant is located in a 19th century manor house that is an authentic ethnographic museum. In our brilliant list of outstanding female chefs, the profile of those who have entered the profession through family or business circumstances and ended up reaching a stellar level is repeated. With Lula, Aurora Torres Mora, a young woman in her forties, gives her career another turn of the screw.