Ana Garcia Cortés

My name is Ana Cortés García, originally from Baños de la Encina, a little village in the countryside of my beloved Andalusia and where I lived half of my life.

I’m a bit of a globetrotter and always enjoyed travelling and discovering new places, new friendships and the best part eating new food and learning the different cuisines and traditions of every place I have been. How did I end up here? If it does not work, neither adventure.. The one left is love, my partner is Aussie and the possibility of life here came up and to be honest sounded pretty good. Australia was always a place on my bucket list and I finally got to see in person some of the amazing landscapes that my Dad and I used to see on the documentaries we used to watch after lunch. I have made Melbourne my new home since 2019.

I am a chef, and after finishing my culinary studies spent 8 years working and travelling across Spain mostly with Paradores Nacionales de Turismo and a couple of independent businesses. I then packed my belongings for a further destination and bigger challenge this time, the Greater City of London was awaiting and I stayed for almost 5 years, made wonderful friendships, ate incredible meals, worked crazy hours and slept very little but developed my career at very cool places under the direction of top chefs such as Nuno Mendes and Iñaki Aizpitarte, and had my first role as a head chef at Craft London, a beautiful project where only British ingredients composed the menu and everything was house-made, from sourdough bread to vinegars to cured meats, cultured butter, we even harvested our own honey… The joys of any chef. Okay enough with the past!

 

PRESENT

At the moment I’m a sous chef at Lee Ho Fook a hatted modern Chinese restaurant in the CBD and where I have learnt a lot about Asian cooking and discovering new ingredients every week. Of course, there is also a project behind the scenes but this covid thing has made it very difficult for it to happen and I’ve had to push back the date, but hopefully next January my ideas can come to life… Stay tuned!

 

WHAT I LOVE FROM AUSTRALIA

Oh, the landscapes! I have never seen anything similar to Australia’s landscapes, all of them are unique! As mentioned earlier I used to watch Australian documentaries, I would stare and look at everything in detail, but the TV screen didn’t give any justice compared to seeing it in person. I just love how different and peculiar everything is here compared to what I have seen before.

The variety and authenticity of cuisines in every city, that’s what got my attention at first. Since Australia is packed with different nationalities and their ingredients, my pantry has never been this big! It also has a huge network with small farmers delivering top quality products to not only restaurants but markets or even to your doorstep.

That brings me back to childhood to when my grandparents would tell me everything about when they used to do “matanza” at home, where they cured “jamones”, how they made “chacinas” and how every bit was prepared for the rest of the year, sadly I never got to see it at home but growing up in the countryside allowed me to join a few of them, helping with the easier tasks but always curious for what was going on around me.

 

WHAT I MISS FROM SPAIN

This is the easiest one to reply EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL!! I’m from Jaen and grew up having the best (in my opinion) EVOO the one from my hometown which is made with picual olives, giving an intense green colour and characteristic bitter flavour packed with floral notes. As I said, the best haha. And obviously family and friends, those are always the most missed but technology makes it easier. I have a very close relationship with my parents and brother and we can easily video call 5-6 times a week. We are all chatterboxes!

 

A BIT OF BACKGROUND

My first job was at home, making sweets with Mum and Grandma usually during the Easter holidays. But my first real job was the summer prior to starting my culinary studies. My parents weren’t very happy with my choice and the idea of becoming a chef so they let me take a job at the hotel in my hometown as a waitress for the season with the hope that I would burn out and change my mind… Well it didn’t go as they expected, haha. Then I kept working FOH for a little while combined with my studies and finally got into the kitchen, washing up dishes and helping with preparations until one day when one of the chefs called in sick and I took over her section for that day. The chef was very happy with the outcome and gave me a promotion.

My Grandma from my Dad’s side made the best-pickled eggplants “berenjenas en vinagre o de Almagro” they are called and I could eat a kilo in a blink, still one of my favourite bites to this date. My Grandma from Mum’s side has a very good hand for sweets and always made the best “flores manchegas” which is a deep-fried batter, shaped with a cast-iron mould then rolled in ground cinnamon and granulated sugar mix. I would go several times a day to the pantry where they were stored until I felt sick or they were gone.

Even though she cooked the best legumes stews (one of my favourite things to eat) her lentils were and still the best. They were packed with enough cumin and garlic to avoid getting a cold in the whole winter season. Also her roasted chicken with potatoes marinated overnight in “adobo blanco” a sour garlicky herby paste. We would have this on Sundays after our weekly shopping at the Sunday farmers market or how we call it “el mercaillo”

If it was at Grandpas from Dad’s side it would be a carnivorous type of day. Around midday Grandpa would start grilling milk fed lamb cutlets and Grandma deep frying hand cut chips until late noon. Adults would have “ponche de fruta” a cold fruity mulled wine and “mosto” for the youngsters, a non alcoholic grape beverage made in the town next to mine.

When at my grandparents from my Mum’s side , usually for Christmas dinner or NYE, there would be a huge table set up full of everything that you can imagine,  cured meats, nuts, tinned shellfish, prawns, crab, “mojama” Tuna ham, “al ajillo” prawns,..and the list goes on and on. We would start dinner around 7 and keep going for a good 3-4 hours, finishing with the traditional tray of “polvorones, mantecados and turrones” that you can find in every single spanish household around this time of the year. That was always my favourite time, so much food, all different, so many flavours!

Besides the “flores manchegas” and always helping to make Easter sweets I wasn’t a big fan of eating sweets. Bitter vinegary flavours were my joy but sometimes in summer if we were quiet during “siesta” time (no way Mum or Dad would let us go outside with 40C or more) Mum would reward us with a few frozen profiteroles stuffed with milk ice cream and chocolate syrup that I never ate because it was too sweet. But those profiteroles tasted amazing in the middle of the heavy heat of a regular summer in Jaen.

My parents back then didn’t have olive trees and I never went picking but always jumped in on the brining/cutting/marinating process. But my best asset was and still is to eat them at a speed for the Guinness records book. I love them and my parents made them incredibly tasty so you would understand why I can’t stop eating them.

My heart belongs to the south and can’t stop recommending it. From all the places that I have lived (believe me the list goes on and on) Cadiz kept a bit of my heart. The people are so friendly and kind; the food is so good; the beaches are amazing such as Bolonia, la Barrosa, the coves of Roche and last but not least la Caleta which is like the pool of the hood where all the neighbours meet for a swim and share delicious bites playing bingo; the sunsets oh the sunsets! You haven’t seen a sunset until you see it in Cadiz; and the wines, a glass of Manzanilla or Palo cortado or Oloroso with chicharrones; Los carnavales chicos (the little carnival) where the amount of tourists are reduced and you can really enjoy its beauty; And of course the best place for flamenco, and lots history in this tiny city.

 

MY FAVOURITE DISH

My favourite dish with no doubt is a sala called “ensalada de naranja y escabeche” Orange salad with escabeche, don’t let this simple name foolish you it is composed by preserved tomatoes, orange segments, tinned “agujas en escabeche” and the escabeche (very important), sliced scallions, lots of EVOO, pitted olives, white wine vinegar and salt. It is a “wet salad” and is eaten with a spoon and bread to soak it up. Packed with flavours, vitamins and so tasty that my mouth is watering now just thinking of it.