I’m very excited to share that the article I wrote about Casa Lestón as well as my interview now posted on the Delicooks site! Delicooks is a foodie website based out of Barcelona and it was an honor to have my writing and food illustrations highlight the 100 year anniversary of such an amazing restaurant! If you are interested in reading the English versions of each of the articles – I have included them below!
Casa Lestón: the oldest restaurant in Galicia turns 100 next year
Morriña is a Gallego word that describes a very particular kind of homesickness. La morriña can be described as a deep longing for the land of one’s birth. When I first heard this word it was used to describe the sentiment that Gallegos immigrate, but after a time, they always want to return home. I don’t know if this is 100 percent true, but I have nary a drop of Gallego blood and Galicia continually draws me back to the Northwest corner of Spain. I have become enamoured of its history, its landscapes and of course, its food. Many people first discover the beauty of Galicia when they walk the Camino de Santiago.
I was one such person, as my sister and I completed our own Camino in 2013. I had lived in Sevilla for a year in college, but knew next to nothing of Galicia. As we drew closer to the end of our journey, I was continually surprised and delighted by my lush surroundings and the variety of the terrain we passed through. After reaching Santiago, many pilgrims continue walking to the coastal town of Finisterre. They celebrate reaching ‘the end of the world’ at the well known lighthouse overlooking the Atlantic ocean. If you ever have the chance to sit on these rocks and gaze out over the endless horizon and ever changing blue spread of ocean, you will understand what a magical place it is.
The last town on the Camino before reaching Finisterre is the tiny village of Sardiñiero. Only a few meters away from the shell marked path is the doorway to a restaurant called Casa Lestón. Most pilgrims walk right by it, their eyes fixed on reaching their intended destination. If they do, they miss experiencing something very special.
Casa Lestón is the oldest restaurant in Galicia. It is celebrating its 100 year anniversary in 2017 and preparations are already underway to mark such a noteworthy occasion. When Manuel Marcote Lestón decided to open a small supermarket and restaurant in his hometown in 1917, I wonder if he had any idea of the legacy he would leave. The restaurant has always been a family business, and four generations of his descendants have now been part of its extensive history. Although Manuel’s son Bautista silhouette is etched on the windows overlooking the street, Alberto, his great-grandson, is the current face of Casa Lestón. I had a chance to visit the restaurant for the first time with my friend Cheri after we walked the Camino to Finisterre last August. We enjoyed sitting in the spacious outdoor patio, sipping white wine as a cool breeze tempered the heat of the afternoon. I chatted with Alberto about his quintessential family restaurant and how it first began a century ago.
At the end of the 1800’s, Alberto’s great grandfather had immigrated to Argentina. He did well in business, but returned every four to five years to Galicia. Even though Manuel wanted his wife Maria to come with him to South America, she refused to leave Sardiñeiro. Manuel’s eventual decision to return home permanently in 1915 to build a home and a business might have been due to his wife’s stubbornness, but Alberto thinks it was la morriña. Galicia called him back.
In the year 1920, the main road along the coast was built directly in front of Casa Lestón, just as Manuel had predicted. His savvy location choice enabled the business to grow and after his death in 1940, Maria and Bautista, continued running the restaurant and market. When tourism began to arrive in the 60’s, Casa Lestón started to function exclusively as a restaurant and began operating much as it does today.
The interior of the building has a vintage feel, but with a fresh face lift from a recent renovation this past year. In the bar area light grey walls form the perfect backdrop for large arrangements of black and white photos all in matching crisp white frames. Sepia snapshots of the family and community provide a unique glimpse into the history of Sardiñeiro and its inhabitants. In the dining room large and small canvases of original art grace the walls. Alberto’s younger siblings, Julio and Palmira, are among the artists featured.
In the evening we had the chance to try some of the restaurant’s specialties. Casa Lestón is known for its unique tortilla. Classic Spanish tortilla is made with eggs and potatoes, but I had never eaten a tortilla made with eggs, onion, red pepper and razor clams before. No potatoes! It was delicious! Thinking of the combination of the sweetness of the red pepper and the briny texture of the fresh clams makes my mouth water.
Galica is well known for its array of tempting seafood and Casa Lestón does not disappoint. The second plate I was served was their famous Calamares in su tinta (squid in it’s own ink). I had never tried this dish before and Cheri was rather intimidated by the whole prospect. You can order the calamares served with potatoes or rice and we opted for rice. The rich dark sauce complimented the juicy squid perfectly and we finished off the plate in no time. We also sampled their succulent Pulpo á feria which is octopus tentacles boiled and then sliced into small round medallions, topped with smoked paprika. This traditional dish is very popular in Galicia and graces most restaurant menus.
I spoke to Alberto about the ingredients in his dishes and learned that 90 percent are from local providers, farms and fisherman. If the ingredient is not in season, the final dish does not go on the menu. I had the chance to peek behind the scenes in the kitchen and was able to see the fresh seafood being prepared for the night’s menu. The stunning octopus caught my eye and I decided to sketch it.
The kitchen also revealed a big crate of pimientos de Padrón. Padrón is a small town to the south of Santiago that has become famous for their tasty green peppers. These bite sized peppers are seared at a high heat in olive oil and served with coarse grain sea salt. They have become my favorite Spanish tapa. Every so often, you will realise mid-chew that you have stumbled upon the rare hot pepper in the batch and it can be a bit startling. The peppers at Casa Lestón were delectable; salty and perfectly cooked. We munched away with abandon and did not find a single spicy one in the mix. I drew them in their original state, so I could capture the vivid shades of green and smooth texture with my paint.
As we enjoyed our meal, I watched the locals eat and drink around the marble topped wood bar. There was an easy, intimate feel as wine was ordered and steaming plates of food were served. At Casa Lestón, guests are not just clients; they are treated as family. Alberto shared with me he feels he has “the most beautiful job in the world.” Watching him interact with staff and clients in the restaurant, it’s easy to believe. It’s clear Casa Lestón is an integral part of the life and community of Sardiñeiro. Alberto’s great-grandfather didn’t just leave his family a business; he left them a vibrant and thriving way of life.
As you make plans for travel in 2017, be sure to put Sardiñeiro on your list. At Casa Lestón you’ll get a chance to celebrate 100 years of history, eat some delectable food and probably make a few new friends. The only downside is that once you leave Galicia, you may encounter la morriña. I am confident it’s worth the risk.
How did you become an illustrator?
Art has always been a part of my life but until just a few years ago, it was something I only did very occasionally. After going through a difficult divorce, I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago in 2013. During my 800 kilometre journey, I documented each day in my journal with ink and paints. It was the first time I had been creative every day and it was a revelation to me. Through the process of publishing these drawings in my first book “The Art of Walking,” I realised that I wanted to leave my corporate job to travel and pursue illustration full time.
How do you define your style?
Whimsical is the word other people use when describing the style of my paintings. I love color and I adore crosshatching and both are used without restraint in my work. When I paint I want my shapes and textures to evoke the feel and energy of a place or an object rather than communicate the exact technical details of perspective or reality. I really enjoy drawing ‘plein aire’ and have cultivated a drawing process that allows me to capture the main elements of a scene very quickly. I can then finish the painting at a later time, which works well when I am in the midst of travel or hiking…or eating!
What things inspire your work?
Travel, food and being outdoors are the things that inspire my work the most. I love seeing new places and especially experiencing different cultures. I carry my pens and miniature watercolour kit everywhere I go so I can draw anywhere I am. I am interested in capturing small intricate details just as much as large sweeping cityscapes. I have been traveling and living in Spain, Portugal, France, England and Scotland for the past year and it has been an incredible, rich time of learning and evolving as an artist. I blog every week and have come to enjoy the process of writing just as much as illustration. I delight in telling stories and feel honoured when I get the chance to to share someone else’s story through word and image. My article on Delicooks this month on Casa Lestón is the perfect example of that.
How did the Camino de Santiago inspire you to create a book?
When I walked the Camino de Santiago, it was the first time I created art in a journal format. I found myself delighting in the process of creating rather than worrying about the end product. I couldn’t wait for the end of the day when I could sit down to draw. A year and a half after walking the Camino, I realised I wanted to share these drawings as a body of work and complete the journey that had started years prior in the midst of my divorce. When I began to share my book with family and friends, it was so inspiring to find that many people, even those that hadn’t walked the Camino, could relate to my story and found joy and encouragement in my drawings and journal excerpts.
Why is there so little illustration in the kitchen in general, in recipes or in books?
I think in the past, people wanted to see exactly how their recipe was supposed to turn out, and therefore, photography was the ideal vehicle to communicate the end result. In the past few years, we have began to embrace the maker culture more and more. ‘Handmade’ is back in vogue and as a result, art and illustration is also being appreciated in a fresh way. In the world of ‘the kitchen’ this creates a need for new ways to represent food and recipes. As illustrators we can be playful and fun, differentiating an article or a book with a unique point of view or stylistic representation.
What do enjoy most about your work?
When I slow down to draw, I find that every object, especially things that most people view as ordinary, become extraordinary. Drawing teaches me to be in the present moment and to notice and truly see the beauty that is around me. I think that is why I like drawing food so much. We rarely notice the intricacies of something as simple as a red pepper or an onion. Illustrating food gives me a deeper appreciation for these ‘ordinary things’ and that appreciation translates to gratitude, which I think is the key to experiencing joy in life.
Indispensable ingredients for your life:
Pen, paints and journal
Red lipstick and red wine
Walking shoes and passport
Open eyes and heart
Confidence and character
Grace and gratitude
The best moment of the day….
It depends on the day, but I am a huge fan of sitting down at a table with a dear friend enjoying a glass of wine and a delicious meal. Sharing good food and good conversation fuels my life.