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Yaiza Socorro - Photographer

Canarias Chef Select: green shoots in the southeast

Editor @loretosocorro

Behind some walls in the southeast of Gran Canaria is located «Canarias Chef Select». From the street they are just walls next to the asphalt, but in reality they keep a lot of life full of pure flavor,

Our guide is Carlos Hernández, the young businessman who has opted for some original crops.

Carlos, are sprouts and sprouts the same thing?

There is some confusion with these terms: the sprout is grown in the ground and the sprout is not planted in the ground or left in the sun, but is grown at a controlled temperature, in the dark and with water.

Carlos started in a small warehouse in Agüimes, using lights and growing trays, until demand increased and they looked for the farm where they are currently installed, in Santa Lucía de Tirajana.

After three years we moved here in March 2022 -While he speaks, he caresses the shoots with both hands and it shows that he likes to see them strong and healthy- Before this he was a cook. I was lucky enough to work in good places where the plating was very careful, flowers and other things that were brought from the peninsula were used. While I continued working I wanted to try with little seeds on the terrace of my house. I saw that they were given and I was encouraged to take the leap.

So you jumped from cooking to farming…

I wanted to start distributing only flowers because I was in Fuerteventura and there the flowers moved more than here, but here we had problems: they couldn't supply us with the quantity that was needed and I said to myself "Well, we planted them ourselves and in the end we got to try it".

How did you learn so much about these crops?

Based on testing, investigating and with a lot of error. We had to throw trays and start over. There are no courses in the Canary Islands or in Spain; all the training I have seen is in English and in Latin.

Did you start the project with flowers?

No, with buds. We started with six or seven productive and simple varieties: radishes, sunflower, peas, arugula... We toured the island with the samples and, from there...

Was the idea to supply only hospitality?

Yes, although shortly after some herbalists also asked us for them because their clients value them for health reasons and, today, we offer them to individuals, both as sprouts and in packs to plant at home.

During our walk around the farm we passed the pea shoots.

This is a luxury: the aftertaste of the pea remains intensely. And, it brings a touch of pea to any dish without having to use it much. We want to offer 'tear pea' sprouts soon.

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Of the sprouts you have, which one provides more nutrients?

The properties of all sprouts are amazing. Of those that we have here, the broccoli is the one that has the most nutritional contribution. Studies of broccoli have come out that say that the sprout has twenty times more nutrients than broccoli itself: although apart from the nutrients, we also value in the sprouts everything that has to do with the color and flavor they provide.

Does a healthy diet have an ally in sprouts?

They complement a lot: the sunflower sprout has 18 grams of protein out of every 100 and so many more sprouts such as soybeans, chickpeas... We have a client who loves healthy food and eats a kilo of khale sprouts every week and also leaf sprouts from other salads. Consuming sprouts is a new world that has a lot to contribute.

Are they suitable for all ages?

In addition to being suitable, it is that when a child eats vegetables, it is not the same to eat them as they are than to camouflage the sprouts between the ham of a sandwich or in a salad.

He gives us a taste and we guess: buds from different aromatic ranges of basil, others of radishes with a spicy aftertaste, even flower buds with citrus flavours. It is a game and a pleasure.

There are more than 20 varieties of shoots and, among the ranges of green, some orange flowers that we have seen before decorating areas of the island countryside: nasturtiums. There are people who know that I grow them and send me photos because they see these plants in the ravines and never thought of eating them and they take advantage of both the leaf and the flower. It has an indescribable flavor: it is sweet at the beginning and spicy at the end. When the leaf is large, it is used as a taco, for plating.

Do you grow Canarian varieties?

It is complicated because the seeds come from outside. Here I have watercress, but it is not a seed or nasturtium. All crops are tested. I don't try new things.

Did our ancestors taste the buds when they tasted clover in the field?

Sure, we sell it too. The curious thing is that the trebolinas came out wild, just like the cornflower, we don't have it here, or the barilla, which is an incredible plant.

We will have to dedicate a number only to this plant: the barrel (mesemryanthemum crystallinum), which has already been appearing in several articles: creator of honey coveted for appearance and taste, seeds that were protagonist of stories that killed hunger and that we met between crops and spicy food from the south of Gran Canaria. And for many other uses such as a medicinal plant or soap...

Buttons for restoration are sold from the barrel. They come out very well and it is that when you try them it is as if you were drinking sea water.

Some shelves full of black trays are the cradle of the shoots.

The seeds are in the dark for a while, until the sprouts come out, around three days the majority. And then they go out into the sun. There are stacked trays, if you look…-Carlos explains to us and transmits to us the care he gives to his shoots- …it is that the radishes like to grow with weight, that is why they are below and we place the arugula on top because it does not like the weight…

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Do you plan to hold meetings with tastings of the shoots?

One of the things we want to do is bring chefs and create beautiful things and with time. Make them collaborative pop-up meetings. The advantage we have here is that it is a central location and where you can park well.

Speaking of collaborations, what types of synergies are there with other agents in the area where the farm is located?

We collaborate whenever we can. The neighbor has chickens and he brings them to eat the weeds and that way we help each other. There is another who has horses and leaves us the manure. On the other hand, there is the idea of ​​making hydroponic fodder in collaboration with the Agüimes Town Hall, so that farmers can make their own fodder.

Water in the Canary Islands is a scarce resource, although around here it must be from a desalination plant...

Yes, it is desalted and goes for hours. The theme of water is a singular world here. One of us has to leave the farm and open the ditches, due to the issue of the estates. It is still the same as it has been since 1617. We are talking to the rancher who manages the water, to see if this is modernized.

How have the heat waves affected?

This summer we have reached up to 50 degrees. So we have watered and monitored more frequently in the two greenhouses and thanks to the fact that we have a pond. The irrigation we do of the trays has been daily, by flooding, and what is drained is recycled: it goes into a drum that has a pump and thus the water returns to the pond.

From what you tell me, the sprouts are organically grown…

Our land is organic, the seeds are organic or untreated, the only thing is that we do not have the Eco certificate because tray cultivation is not considered such, only if it is planted in the ground. We know that our buds and flowers are organic and we explain it to our customers.

How do you avoid pests?

The good thing is that this type of crop does not have pests, although it can be affected by some fungus due to humidity, but not pests. This tray has been planted for five days and I harvest it in three, so it doesn't have time to catch pests. When it gets very hot, we water more times, so we watch so that fungi do not enter.

What do you do with the soil in the trays when you cut the sprouts?

The land is not discarded either. Worm is inserted and thus the land is fertilized. This way you don't have to throw it away but reuse it.

Strolling through the farm we see the flowers that will decorate dishes in exquisite restaurants: tagetes, Chinese carnations, borage….All flowers cannot be eaten?

No, you have to know which is yes and which is not. The eggplant flower, for example, is toxic. In addition, we cannot eat the flowers from the nursery or from the florist because they may have phytosanitary products and that is a danger. The flower that is used for cooking and consumption must be a controlled plant: not only from the transplant and growth but from the seed itself. We make the seedbeds, transplant them to the ground and monitor the entire process.

When did flowers start to be used in the kitchen?

Flowers were in fashion fifteen years ago, but our grandparents already ate flowers, included in some traditional foods. I remember that my grandmother put flowers to some food. the borage flower -brings it closer to us: it has an aniseed flavor and smell of cucumbers-, stews were made with borage flowers.

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Has your experience as a cook helped you choose the types of buds and flowers to plant?

My experience as a cook gives me the opportunity to advise clients. The electric flower is a flower that puts the mouth to sleep and, in addition, it is a flavor enhancer, so it serves to give game to the final customer, the one who tastes it at the table.

Which of all the edible flowers do you think is the most original?

Not because it is original, but I like the zinnia (mystic rose) because it was the first one that has grown outside of Earth. It is grown in the spaceship, with artificial lights. My weakness is the tajete petals and the smell they give off when they are removed. I love that orange smell. Then, they say that the aroma of alisum is like that of honey, but the truth is, I have never caught it.

Do you recommend the flower for sweet or savory dishes?

It depends, nuances are still being discovered. There are flowers that taste like garlic and there are others that decorate more than add flavor. Saffron comes from a flower, it is the pistil of the flower.

How do you find out if a flower is edible?

Putting money to investigate. As a farmer I don't have those means. You have to know if each flower may or may not have contraindications. That is found out in laboratories. At the moment we use what is already proven.

Carlos stands in front of a vine and confesses that this bet was a whim...

These that grow here are small cucumbers but they look like dwarf watermelons. They are eaten raw, with skin and everything... It is a new crop and I liked this watermelon-cucumber when I saw it, I wanted to have it and I took a risk.

What do you take into account when choosing a new product to grow?

Especially that it has an outlet in the restoration. That they are products that are already worked in the kitchens but that the client buys outside the islands.

While we talk, he has to answer a call because the work never ends: there are works on the farm, a delivery man with green leaves for customers all over the island... How can we get to know your products until you can have visits to the farm?

We have the web, social networks, herbal products and soon we will be at the "Km 0 Fair", on September 15 and 16, in the Plaza de los Algodoneros (Santa Lucía de Tirajana). There we will take some trays of sprouts and, in addition, we sell kits for people to grow at home. It is a bag of soil and seeds

What seeds are in the kits?

We put six to seven varieties that are easy to grow, but if someone wants another variety, we add it too... There are clients who ask us for more complicated seeds, but it is better to start with those that give sure results.

Apart from the distribution in Gran Canaria, do you export to other islands?

We sell to Makro in the Canary Islands and with the online store for all consumers on all the islands. It is a consumption that, at the moment, is more focused on the hotel industry but that is opening up to all people with an interest in innovating, also at home. And, of course, herbalists to offer more and more variety and health.

Those who know Canarias Chef Select at any Km 0 Fair will be lucky to exchange words and savor the shoots that it grows with love and trims with that naive, which is the company's logo. Carlos, as a cook, will be able to make visits and tastings that they will not forget. Until then we can say that we left happy of the farm.

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