Santiago Lastra, a translator of flavors in the kitchen

Santiago Lastra, during his presentation. / Rodrigo Diaz

The Mexican chef, from the London restaurant KOL, recreates experiences of flavors from his country with British products and claims that eating “is not changing ingredients but translating flavours”

Javier Varela

Madrid Fusión Food from Spain is smell and taste. And if there is a chef who knows how to exploit these two qualities in the kitchen, it is Santiago Lastra, from the London restaurant KOL. This Mexican chef “recreates experiences of Mexican flavors with local products” activating memories through food and exploiting this interaction in his restaurant, where he has managed to build a bridge between Mexican and English cuisine.

With reference to the taste experience of eating a specific product, Santiago Lastra and his team work to translate or recreate a similar sensation using local ingredients based on our memory and experience. “I like to cook with memory and transport people to the place where the product comes from,” says Santiago. «I want people to travel with me and through the dishes to remember stories, flavors and moments through my kitchen». A complete declaration of intentions that he experiences in Kol, «Mexican soul, with British products».

Santiago Lastra was clear that “to make Mexican food abroad you have to understand it and know how to translate those flavors when you don’t have the original ingredients”, a reason that led him to travel throughout Mexico to discover them and know how to export them. “There are different parts of Mexico where they cook differently and when you cross the border it no longer tastes Mexican,” he says with a laugh, claiming that “there are different flavors of the Mexican flavor.” Because Lastra is a defender of tradition “which was innovation at some point” and what we cooks must do is “find those ways of innovating traditionally and always if you use culture as an ingredient”.

To do this, cook the parsnip as if it were a plantain, the celeriac as if it were a pineapple or the squid as if it were a coconut, “carrying out the same preparations, but translating the flavors thanks to research work that allows us to have a taste memory,” he explains. Santiago. This is how he gets the diner to travel to a Mexican beach to have a coconut with lemon juice and chili pepper. “We cook the squid for 100 seconds and put cashew mole on it, which gives it a creaminess and nutty notes similar to those found in coconut. Then we add some beach flowers that have a coconut flavor and when you eat them for texture, flavor and experience it seems that you are in a hammock on a Mexican beach », he says with a mischievous smile.

Another example of his cuisine is the cigala tacos made with sourdough tortillas inspired by Baja California. “We cook the crayfish in smoked chili cream and with a reduction of sea buckthorn berries -which gives it notes of tamarind- and mussel powder. We infuse the heads and inject them with the fresh juice of the berries and then squeeze them over the taco as if it were a lemon and thus give the taco a touch of acidity.

And it is that Santiago Lastra’s cuisine is a constant sensory journey, of flavours, smells and textures. “Eating is a taste experience, it is not changing ingredients but translating flavors,” she says.