Why are we doing this?
“We want to bring together the excitement and peacefulness to be found in moments in the mountains alongside what’s currently most delicious in a world-city-restaurant with the best produce of sustainable growing projects”
In creating Mendi we’ve tried to combine the best of our experiences in restaurants in London and Barcelona, working at retreat centres in the Pyrenees, ski chalets in the French Alps, growing food for veg box producers and off-grid community homesteads. We want to bring together the excitement and peacefulness to be found in moments in the mountains, with what’s currently most delicious in a world-city-restaurant and all the best produce of sustainable growing projects.
We come from the city originally but have drifted further into life in the mountains through our love of skiing, hiking, and climbing. The good times, peace and adventures available here are life affirming and something that we’re happy to share.
We’ve been guided by a desire to improve on what’s currently on offer in the mountains. We felt there was room for improvement. Many mountain chalets are based on cheap food, ‘traditional’ cuisine and wilful ignorance of regulations (hygiene, employment, taxation), existing as they do in a legal twilight zone inbetween different countries.
Showcase authentic local gastronomy
Firstly, we saw that on many mountains holidays, the owners and personnel can sometimes be quite disconnected from local culture and people, living in expat-like bubbles. Not terrible in itself but in terms of cuisine this means guests aren’t always being offered authentic food or local produce. In a country as diverse and rich as Spain we felt this was really missing an opportunity to explore a range of exciting food beyond the typical cliches.
Our ambition is to proudly showcase local Basque and Catalan cuisine through traditional dishes, or local and seasonal specialities. The Basque Country is a rich and fertile region close to the sea and across the early Pyrenees. Local culinary philosophy is often to honour the produce through minimal elaboration, showcasing natural flavours. We use seasonal produce, vegetables and fruits, meaning that food is nutrient rich and flavours are fully developed.
Fresh and ethical sourcing
Secondly, the food industry often has a damaging effect on the environment and many aspects of farming are outright dystopian. ‘Cheap’ food, grown overseas, plastic packed, shipped and transported around is unnecessarily carbon intensive contributing to climate change. Diseased animals are permanently fed antibiotics so that they can be grown intensively in close captivity. Soil is often effectively just a growing media bereft of nutrients or microbial life. Supermarkets dominate the food system, take the lion’s share of the profits (40% compared to the producers mere 10%) and subsidies encourage large scale industrial farms. Looking to the future our food system is actually wide open to shocks of climate change and oil price fluctuation.
The sourcing policy we developed for Mendi is informed by trying to offer people a healthier alternative to ‘cheap’ food. Our food is locally sourced and seasonal thereby reducing carbon heavy transport costs. It is organic, ensuring that pesticides aren’t present in the vegetables nor antibiotics in meat or fish. We try to buy direct from the growers and use artisan, local produce thus stimulating the local economy and helping to make farming a more viable way of life. Organic, local food isn’t just socially beneficial, it’s something anyone can immediately taste is better, fresher, fuller flavours and rich in nutrients. The most delicious fruits like mulberries, quince and loquats are popular amongst small scale growers in Spain but somehow never became commercially popular and rarely available on the mass market.
The reductionist approach to diet
After much deliberation we have decided on a ‘reductionist’ approach to diet. This means aiming to reduce the amount of animal products we consume, be it fish, meat or dairy produce. We considered running a full vegan menu but were concerned that we’d be preaching to the converted and miss the chance to support folk wanting to create a positive step. We’re not vegans ourselves but rather a vegetarian and omnivore trying to up our game.
Where possible we aim to replace animal produce for straight substitutes, such as oat milk or nut based ice cream bases. Caschew, hazelnuts and almonds are all high in fats, rich in Omegas and make very rich creams. Or we aim for equivalent flavours, such as our version of ‘Arroz negro/ Black Rice’ dish is made with a kombu seaweed base stock instead of the traditional (and endangered) squid. In our menus many of our dishes will be vegetarian or vegan and where meat is used it will be high welfare (ie. outdoor reared and organic).
As chefs we’re conscious of the flavours associated with meat and dairy (e.g fried, crunchy, smokey, creamy) and they’re loved by many foodies. For hundreds of thousands of years humans have burned meat as part of their diet and it’s a tough behaviour to challenge. So, in our cooking, we endeavour to mirror these delicious flavours in meat free dishes.
True tapas culture
In addition, we wanted to host a tapas tour so that our guests have a chance to taste
and experience them as they should be. Pintxo bars in the cities of the Basque Country tend to have their own speciality and compete with others over their take on the classics. It’s customary to enjoy just one or two tapas with a drink and move on to another venue. When we go out in Pamplona on the tapas tour we visit places that are full of locals enjoying authentic, modern pintxos.
If you’re the kind of person who finds this all appealing and you want to spend a week in the mountains then we’d be pleased to host your trip.
Laster arte and all the best,
Morgan and Maialen