Paul Schiff, the Belgian trained chef who has been transformed by the marvels of the Spanish cuisine, is lavish in his praise of olive oil.
"I have not learned to appreciate any Spanish product as much as olive oil which has become a passion for me," he says. "No other cooking oils can compare with it." He considers that the olive oil produced in the south of the country is the best.
Schiff, 56, is well qualified to talk on the subject. Since he came to Spain in 1969 when he opened his La Hacienda restaurant in Marbella he has been awarded the National Gastronomy Prize (1982) and represented the cooking of Malaga, Andalusia and Spain at several international gastronomic contests in France and England.
Although at first he concentrated on the preparation of international food in Marbella, he changed his whole approach in a couple of years, creating his own recipes based on the use of Andalusian products in general, but making particular use of ingredients found in Malaga. He believes that excellence of Spanish cooking has not yet been recognized internationally.
Exuding a joie de vivre Schiff's conversation is tinged with a subtle sense of humor. He attributes his success to hard work and "keeping all my five senses alert." He takes full advantage of the wide variety of fresh vegetables that are available in Spain and fine green beans, endives, asparagus, cauliflower and egg plants feature in many of his dishes.
Schiff is the consultant chef at the Hacienda Benazuza, a restored 10th century Moorish estate set in an oasis of centenary palm trees on a hill overlooking the sprawling Guadiamar river valley. This exclusive and stately hotel complex, complete with whitewashed turreted walls and fountain-splashing interior courtyards, is only 10 minutes drive from the center of Seville. The refurbished Hacienda is as luxurious, alluring and refreshing as any palace in The Arabian Nights.
Citing boredom with schooling, the chef says he started his cooking career at 14 when he entered the Hostelry School in Namur, Belgium. From 1955 he held various jobs as cook, waiter and head waiter at top restaurants in Brussels, including the Carlton, Savoy and Villa Lorraine.
Make 16 filets of duck breasts, after removing nerves with a cold knife. Flatten gently.
Roll each filet over two green olives and use toothpicks to keep round shape.
Fry in heated olive oil until brown, remove from pan but keep warm. Remove the oil left in the pan, and pour in the Muscatel wine, meat stock, nutmeg, salt-pepper and boil for 5 minutes. If sauce is too sweet add a drop of vinegar.
Serve with mashed potatoes and a gratin of onions, tomatoes and zucchini, or any other vegetables sliced into a julienne and fried in olive oil.
Provided by Foods From Spain
This page originally published as a FoodDay article in 1997.
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