Juanjo Ramírez, pioneer of vegetarian cuisine in Mallorca, Spain
Juanjo Ramírez, pioneer of vegetarian cuisine in Mallorca, Spain
By Fabiola Gálvez
Juanjo Ramírez was born on 25th September 1961, in Mallorca. He is a vegetarian for the love for animals and the owner of Bon Lloc, the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Mallorca. It opened in 1978.
Since 2014, Toni Rodríguez has joined in this adventure as head chef. He is famous for being an expert in vegan pastries, but in the kitchen of Bon Lloc, he also cooks salty foods. Today, Bon Lloc is a must-visit restaurant on the island’s veggie route. Also recommended by El Comidista from the newspaper El País, in Spain.
Juanjo is a pioneer of vegetarian cuisine and has been in the kitchen since 1986. He tells us that, 33 years ago, learning the trade was different “with the few vegetarian cookbooks on the market”.
In the 1980s, being a vegetarian was almost like coming from another planet, says Juanjo, but times have changed for the better. If you used to have to make your own tofu at home, you can now buy it made in speciality food stores, just like the restaurants. They have been opening up more and more proposals. Let’s take a quick look at the big picture, “in 2011 there were 353 veggie restaurants throughout Spain compared to 703 in 2016, that is to say, the number of establishments has doubled in just five years. In Spain, almost 8% of the population is veggie”, according to The Green Revolution report 2017 from Lantern.
Juanjo now has the challenge of getting non-vegetarians to go eat, and we have taken advantage of his recommendation to enjoy Bon Lloc. We can’t miss: the vegetable curry and tofu, the raw zucchini cannelloni and cashew cheese, or the beet ravioli. And for dessert, “La Avellana”. In the following interview, let’s get to know a little more about his story.
As a child, your mother used to call you “The king of fried chicken”. Tell us about that
As a child, I used to love fried chicken the one that I’ve only eaten made by my mother and it was one of my favourite dishes. It was a must at any party. Afterwards, I earned that nickname by listening to Ramoncín and his famous song with that title. My mother was very happy with it.
When did you become a vegetarian?
It was in the spring of 1980. I was invited to a party at a country house, and one of the ¨dishes¨ to cook was lamb. What I didn’t know was that we had to slaughter the animal right there. That day I became aware of the animal suffering and how unnecessary it was. We had tables full of great foods, there were cakes, salads, different types of bread, olive oil, cheeses… It was totally unnecessary that sacrifice. When I arrived at the farm, I found a scene that I will never forget. A baby lamb didn’t want to leave its mother, scared to death, because it had one leg tied to a tree and without stopping shaking (for me, it was so sad). What happened next was something that marked my life. I didn’t only feel that killing for food, in our culture and lifestyle was totally unnecessary. I felt compassion to animal suffering, I felt that it was the same as human suffering and that there was no justification other than merely gastronomic. From that day on I stopped eating animals, I began to take interest in Buddhist philosophy and the non-violence movement inspired by Gandhi. I learned a lot at that time about humanity, those were years of spiritual growth and approaching to nature from respect.
Why did you open a vegetarian restaurant in Mallorca in 1978?
The restaurant was opened by a group of friends including Mikel Mantxola, Aina Clar, Macia Bibiloni and others. They were people, just like me, looking for a spiritual path based on non-violence and compassion towards all beings.
How did you become chef de cuisine in 1986?
Thanks to two good friends, Tolo Ferrer and Rafa Bermejo. We had been wanting to have a project together for a long time. Of the three of us, I was the only vegetarian and the one who liked cooking. We decided to embrace the adventure. Rafa hung in there a few months and Tolo, three years. I will never be grateful enough to them for having dragged me into that adventure that still continues.
What did people say to you when you tell them you were a vegetarian, at that time?
At that time I was “suspicious”. The family was afraid that I would get sick, that I would be brainwashed by a cult (it was a time when the Hare Krishna were in the cities explaining their mission on earth), and I usually ended up arguing my ideas between arguments and different points of view.
How do you become a vegetarian chef?
I kept experimenting, reading the few vegetarian cookbooks that were available on the market. The Internet had not yet reached our lives, and mainly, enjoying cooking for friends. They were my teachers.
What is your mission with the vegetarian message?
Today, 42 years later, that message has already taken root in our society. It is based on respect for life while enjoying food.
What is the concept of Bon Lloc?
Well, I would say that cooking dishes based on vegetable ingredients for non-vegetarians. That’s my challenge.
The restaurant is not only vegetarian but also vegan?
The truth is that it was a change that came little by little. On the one hand, the possibility of a diet without animal protein was no longer questioned in such a harsh way and on the other hand, the industry started to ease a simple way to eat high protein products of vegetable origin. It was no longer necessary to make your own tofu at home, you could buy it in speciality food stores. Nowadays, you have it at any local supermarket. The knowledge we have on how the dairy industry works and the arrival of vegetable alternatives ended up helping us to make a decision.
What is your favourite vegetarian dish and how do you like to cook it?
I don’t really have a favourite dish. I’m more likely to have favourite ingredients: avocado, artichoke, mushrooms, broccoli… From that point on, it’s time to create. Herbs, spices, oils, seeds. One product has a thousand versions. For me, that’s the magic of cooking. But if I had to surrender to one dish, it would be my mother’s French fries. That’s love in its purest form.
What alternatives to meat can we find in vegetarian cuisine?
If we assume that the consumption of meat is based on its protein contribution, and taking into account that protein is the combination of a series of essential amino acids, any combination of a legume and a cereal could give us a high-quality protein. It’s true that it doesn’t reach the same level as meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. But it is exempt from its risks and covers the nutritional needs of our way of living.
On the market, we find tofu (soy cheese) in many formats, seitan (kneaded and cooked wheat gluten), tempeh (fermented soy), textured and dehydrated soy, and from two years now, a product whose commercial name is Heura, based on soy.
Bon Lloc is a restaurant of reference in Mallorca. It is always on the ranking lists of good vegan restaurants. What star dishes can we find in Bon Lloc?
When making fresh market cuisine, we stick to what we find in our daily shopping. Every day of the year we change the midday menu trying to create new recipes, shapes and textures. At night there is a menu that we change twice a year.
For a first time visit, I would recommend you to try our vegetable and tofu curry, the raw zucchini cannelloni and cashew cheese or the beet ravioli. And of course, our star dessert “La Avellana”.
When you are not a vegetarian or vegan and you go into a restaurant of this concept you think you are going to be still hungry. What would you say to these diners?
That’s an experience I lived for many years. I tolerated the joke every day that ¨after we leave, we’ll have to get something to eat¨ … I have to say that that comment has always been from male costumers. The important thing is that after lunch, they leave surprised and become regular customers.
Chef Toni Rodríguez, a specialist in vegan desserts and executive chef, since he joined the team, what did he contribute to Bon Lloc?
For me, talking about Toni is not only talking about a great professional, but it’s also talking about his humanity, his overflowing creative energy and especially his immense heart. His arrival in the restaurant marked a milestone. He brought brilliance, creativity and enthusiasm to the team. He spreads vitality and knows how to bring out the best in each person that collaborates with him.
What is the future of vegetarian cuisine?
The growth of plant-based food is guaranteed. There is a growing awareness of the relationship between health and food. Awareness of sustainability and ecology, awareness of the right to animal welfare beyond our pets. In conclusion, the word is awareness. From then on everything grows.
Thank you very much for the interview, Juanjo! We wish you all the best from CookConcern
Bon LLoc Restaurant
Sant Feliu 7
Palma de Mallorca