Chef Supplants Rice With Marine Grain to Make Gourmet Dining Eco-Conscious

Ángel León has been cultivating a kind of sea grain in order to use it in his award-winning restaurant.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Ángel León is an award-winning Spanish chef who is known for fashioning delicious meals out of discarded fish parts. His restaurant won its third Michelin star in 2017. Now, León is promoting another type of food that comes from the sea, according to The Guardian

This plant is called Zostera marina and, according to the chef's research, it is gluten-free, high in omega-6 and 9 fatty acids, and contains 50% more protein per grain compared to rice. It consists of the small green grains that cling to the base of eelgrass.

“In a world that is three-quarters water, it could fundamentally transform how we see oceans,” León told The Guardian. “This could be the beginning of a new concept of understanding the sea as a garden.”

This, said León, is why he started his restaurant: The Aponiente.

“When I started Aponiente 12 years ago, my goal was to open a restaurant that served everything that has no value in the sea,” he continued. “The first years were awful because nobody understood why I was serving customers produce that nobody wanted.”

But the chef persisted and in 2010 came his first Michelin star. To check if his new source of food could be viable, León did some research and came across an article that stated that the Seri, an Indigenous people living on the Gulf of California in Sonora, Mexico, used the grain as food.

That's all the motivation the chef needed to begin producing the grain. He formed a partnership with a team at the University of Cádiz to cultivate the grains. But he did not yet know what they would taste like. He soon sampled them himself.

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“It’s interesting. When you eat it with the husk, similar to brown rice, it has a hint of the sea at the end,” León explained. “But without the husk, you don’t taste the sea.”

It may be a while longer until he is serving the grain in his restaurant, but he has come a long way into ensuring it is seen as a viable food source. This is great as the grain is capable of capturing carbon 35 times faster than tropical rainforests, meaning that any reason we have to protect and nurture it is very much worthwhile.

“In the end, it’s like everything,” León added. “If you respect the areas in the sea where this grain is being grown, it would ensure humans take care of it. It means humans would defend it.”

The chef has great passion for this sea, he told Time that the sea even saved him.

“I was a terrible student. Couldn’t sit still, always in trouble,” he said. “But when my dad took me out here on his boat, everything changed.”

Could León now use the culinary arts to inspire others to feel the same need to protect the sea? If marine grains grow in popularity he would have done exactly that.

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