Tomeu Arbona

The cooking of our great-great-grandparents

Chef and pastry cook Tomeu Arbona recovers ancient Mallorcan recipes at the legendary Forn des Teatre.

I have always been a fan of the anthropology and the whole socio-cultural side of Mallorca. And I also love eating and am always interested in the gastronomy part.

When I began my research on ancient recipes, I came across the encylopaedia Die Balearen, by the Archduke Ludwig Salvator of Austria. The archduke gave extremely good explanations of the different dishes that people used to eat back then. Above all, the names that were given to them caught my attention, many of which have been lost forever.

Afterwards I found the book Cocina Selecta Mallorquina, by Madò Coloma, published in the 1960s. She was the first woman on the island to write a cookbook – and yet she was completely illiterate!... Coloma worked in the stately homes of Palma and created a list of recipes from the period, adding in other popular recipes.

The study of traditional cuisine by Pedro Alcantara Penya is also interesting. But for me, the definitive text is the one by brother Jaume Martí, an Augustinian monk who drew up a list of recipes and made a compilation of dishes from convents and stately homes in the 17th century.

Rich and poor

In that day and age nearly everything that was consumed was produced and grown on the island - everything was “zero kilometre” food. Very few things were bought outside the island, spices and little else. There were rich people who died due to excess uric acid due to high consumption of meat. Whilst for the poor, meat was a seasoning. The same was true of sugar. The rich ate sweetmeats on a daily basis, whilst the lower classes could only afford them on feast days.

Ingredients that used to be very popular, like lard from the porc negre or black pig, pebre bord or black pepper and certain indigenous strains of wheat, are seen as very exotic now. Finding porc negre lard is a heroic deed today. The advent of the tourist boom in Mallorca brought with it a break with the land and livestock husbandry. Which was how products began coming in from outside that replaced our own ones.

Since then, there have been two sides to Mallorcan cuisine: the one that has been preserved better, in the villages, and the other one that has been contaminated with products from outside the island.

Nowadays, it is difficult to find authentic, traditional dishes being cooked in Mallorcan homes, except on special occasions. In the bakeries, or forns, we always find the same products as well: ensaimadas or empanadas. There’s little else to choose from.

All of the cultures that have passed through Mallorca have been very important and influenced the local gastronomy. Personally, I am passionate about the mark left by Jewish cuisine. I am currently studying this influence, and working with a list of recipes from one of Palma’s stately homes.

Ours is empirical work: we place creations that people think are impossible to make on the counter of Forn des Teatre. But for us, quite the contrary is true. When you transmit things with pride and certainty, you are bestowing a very significant value on them. People get excited about that”.

Life’s little coincidences

“It was something of an accident that led me to devote myself to gastronomy. I used to be a social worker and street educator. I worked in neighbourhoods of Palma like Es Jonquet, Son Banya and Polígono de Levante. And I was a specialist in psychoanalysis. When the crisis came, I started to lose patients and was left unemployed. One day, walking around the city, I found a small shop – very lovely – in Carrer Santa Clara. It was called Es Rebost. They sold artisanal products there. I went in and after talking to the owner, I offered to take her one of my plaited ensaimadas, which incidentally we still make today. The day after I took it in to her she called me because people were asking questions and stopping to take photos of it. She asked me for more and I started making ensaimadas and other products for her, until I set the oven at home on fire. I saw that it was successful and decided to embark on the adventure on my own. I didn’t have any money. I had to break into my pension fund and used it to open Fornet de la Soca, in Carrer Sant Jaume. I bought a small pizza oven and we decorated the space with the furniture we had at home, from the dining room, an old glass cabinet…

I worked the whole night before the opening. On the day we opened, the reaction we got from people was stunning. At 11 am I had run out of all the merchandise. All I could do was burst into tears, from the emotion and fear of thinking I wouldn’t be able to cope with it all.

I was on my own back then. The first month was very good, and within a year there were six of us working there, although later the crisis began to really bite and we went back down to two people. The truth is we didn’t have any ambitions, all we wanted was to do things well, like you do at home.

With the recession, instead of being intimidated, we sat down and thought, “if we’ve done things well up until now, now we’re going to do them even better”. We redefined the concept and became radicalised to do everything 100% Mallorcan. I won the competition for pastry chef of the year in 2014. That helped make us well-known.

At present, we have [...]


Read this article in full in IN PALMA 58. And if you like, subscribe to IN PALMA for 1 year and get the next 4 issues of the magazine delivered to your home.

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