The plant-based paella Heura by Michelin-starred Jordi Esteve

By Fabiola Gálvez

It’s not the usual paella. Nectari’s paella Heura is made with plant-based chicken, it’s full of vegetable protein. And it’s one of the dishes on the menu prepared by Michelin-starred chef Jordi Esteve for Environment Week.

The plant-based chicken is from Heura Foods, by the Catalan company ‘Foods for Tomorrow’, which imitates the taste and texture of real chicken but, in fact, its main component is soy. According to the food technology company, each menu prepared with these ingredients means saving the water consumption of 20 showers per person and the savings in C02 emissions equivalent to driving a car for 10 kilometres.

The Michelin plant-based star menu consists of 4 dishes and a dessert: Heura’s fingers, Mexican taco with Heura and vegetables, Heura’s cannelloni gratin and Heura’s paella. And for dessert, stuffed Éclair.

How was his experience with plant-based chicken in haute cuisine? That’s what we asked chef Jordi Esteve in this interview. But we also wanted to know a little more about his history. 32-years-old, awarded with a Michelin star in Nectari (2012-2018), his own restaurant, famous for its Mediterranean cuisine and seasonal products in Barcelona, chef Jordi graduated from the famous Hofmann cooking and pastry school. And he has worked in haute cuisine restaurants in Spain such as Martin Berasategui in San Sebastian, or the two-star El Girasol in Moraira (Alicante), as well as in Paris, in the three-Michelin-starred l’Ambroisie.

When you were younger, at 32 years old, the Michelin guide awarded Nectari with one star in 2012. How did you live this moment? Do people always surprise that, at your young age and managing the restaurant, you received this award?

The truth is that it was a very pleasant surprise and an indescribable emotion, I was always working in prestigious restaurants but this was mine, and thanks to the perseverance, my passion for the product and of course, my team, I achieved my own goals, now in my own project.

 

What are Nectari’s specialities?

Without a doubt, the product of each season in all its splendour, without detracting from its merit. Our cuisine is a Mediterranean signature cuisine.

 

Jordi, this isn’t the first time you have presented a different Michelin star menu, as you did in 2007 with the gluten-free menu. Now, you propose a menu with chicken meat, which isn’t chicken but made with plants. How did you come up with this proposal?

Well, we started to receive different requests from clients, and I’m a person who is especially attracted to challenges and new things, so we started to try different vegetables and proteins. During this process, we discovered soy protein and its great potential flavour, where we discovered very firm textures, similar to animal protein, we were very curious and it was an impulse to be able to make a thousand recipes with this product with different preparations, with spices, at low temperature, stewed to make cannelloni au gratin with truffle, etc.
This protein helps us a lot in the tasting menus and allows us to go much further.

 

What sensations did you have with your first bite of vegetable chicken meat?

Well, as I said it was something surprising if we think that it’s actually something vegetable, coming from soy.

 

When did you first hear about plant-based meat?

It was about 5 years ago, but we started working on it and improving the flavours and textures 2 and a half years ago.

 

Nectari’s vegetarian menu has paella with veggie chicken. Why did you think of this recipe? What was the personal touch you added?

Actually, we’re very rice/paella lovers in Barcelona and I thought why don’t we make traditional paella style rice with protein and add different herbs like la Vera paprika that reminds us of chorizo? And that was the result: Arroz de montaña (mountain rice) without animal ingredients, with an incredible taste and texture, where a large percentage of our customers, when they tried it, didn’t notice that it didn’t contain chicken or sausage, and were immensely surprised to find it out.

 

Any culinary tips for cooking the vegetable chicken?

An important tip is to season it with different herbs depending on the preparation, for example, we can make fingers by seasoning the protein with rosemary, garlic, coriander and mustard, then we bread it with panko or breadcrumbs and fry it. We can also season it with soy, coriander, lime juice, red onion and some kind of chilli or pepper, some avocado cubes, and we’ll have some very refreshing and summery tacos.

Due to the pandemic, you’ve been temporarily closed, how can we visit you in Nectari? Are you giving take away and delivery services? Is it possible to visit the restaurant now?

You can contact us by phone or through the web, where you can also see our ‘Nectari at home’ section and see the different takeaway menu proposals. We have a tapas menu for 25 euros, a soy protein menu for 35 euros and a gourmet menu for 50 euros, which can be delivered or picked up at Nectari, from Tuesday to Sunday.

Nectari is also open for tasting menu and the a la carte menu, from Tuesday to Saturday.

Click on “Nectari at home” at www.nectari.es/nectari-en-casa/