Tenth winner of global award makes waves with its sea pantry

And the winner is…Aponiente. Congratulations to Ángel León and his team at their restaurant near Cadiz for beating off stiff competition from more than 30 of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, to win the Flor de Cana Sustainable Restaurant Award at this year’s celebration of the globe’s glitziest gastrodomes this year, hosted back in London for the first time in years.   

More precisely, the best chefs gathered at Old Billingsgate, which was London’s main fish market, for younger and international readers. A more fitting venue for this year’s Sustainable Restaurant Award it’s hard to imagine as chef Ángel León has created a restaurant that is synonymous with sustainable fishing. In fact, that’s selling Ángel and his team short. And, this being the tenth time we’ve partnered with The World’s 50 Best to judge this category, it’s fascinating to look back and reflect on past winners and see how, going back to the very first winner, changing the behaviour of fishermen, the wider chef community and diners, was high on the agenda, remains so today and is likely to for some time.  

It may not be realistic to expect every chef to emulate the work of Ángel. Perhaps his approach can serve as an inspiration and raise awareness of the role and responsibility of the world’s best chefs.  

Not only is cooking with commonly discarded species Ángel León’s speciality, he is also passionate about discovering and developing new, unknown ingredients from the huge ‘sea pantry’, such as sea rice and plankton. Aponiente want to highlight the huge potential the sea holds in terms of climate and diets, introducing people to new products. Their dream is that one day people will be able to feed themselves exclusively with marine products that are not necessarily fish.   

Ángel León tasting one of his ‘sea pantry’ specialities

Aponiente also built its own research lab where they have achieved the cultivation of Zostera marina and its seed – a marine grain. For the first time ever, controlled crops have been successfully grown. The project was launched in 2017 – the first of its kind in the world.    

As well as celebrating the success of Aponiente, the time feels right to recap some the highlights from the previous nine winners (well, it’s actually fewer, as there have been two, two-time winners.  

Starting with the most recent – Borago, in Chile. Rodolfo Guzman has taken celebrating local and seasonal produce to a whole new level. He and his team have sought out and supported a network of 200 farmers, foragers and fishermen who hundred supply the restaurant with, among other things, dozens of seaweed varieties, fermented Espino seed coffee and Patagonian spring water.  

Chef Eneko Atxa values and champions Basque produce and food heritage just as passionately – helping him and his restaurant Azurmendi win the award in 2014 and 2018. The menu is effectively planned months in advance when he sits down with local growers to map out the upcoming crop cycle and as much attention is afforded to ‘humble’ ingredients as turnips, fava beans and maize as to more expensive items.  

Another double winner was Relae in Copenhagen, where Christian Puglisi created the first 100% organic Michelin star restaurant and put his heart and soul into the soil and the dishes he presented on the pass, understanding the true meaning of the expression ‘from field to fork’.  

And let’s not forget the inaugural winner of the Sustainable Restaurant Award, back in 2013 – Narisawa, where chef Yuko Narisawa blazed a trail, making the case in Tokyo for encouraging sustainable fishing methods.  

Ten years from now, when we post a blog about the 20th winner of the Sustainable Restaurant Award at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, let’s hope more chefs, fishermen and diners are thinking harder about the seafood they catch, cook and consume and there really are plenty more fish in the sea. 

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