It’s a gleaming piece of high tech stainless steel that lies at the heart of some of the most modern kitchens in Spain and around the globe yet harnesses the Stone Age power of wood fire. From it comes some of the most talked about food in the restaurant business but its background is humble traditional home cooking. It’s the Josper, a beautiful and stylish wood-burning oven that reaches temperatures in excess of 500 degrees Celcius yet imparts the most subtle smoky flavours. It is an amazing blend of modern engineering and the simplicity of traditional Catalan cooking over hot coals.

Thanks to the creativity of chefs such as Ferran and Albert Adrià, the Roca brothers and Carme Ruscalleda, Catalonia has become a reference in the culinary vanguard, positioning itself at the forefront of a gastronomic movement that has shaken the stoves around the world during the last decade. Notwithstanding that, behind this conceptual and technical revolution full of spherifications, foams and sous vide preparation, Catalan cuisine hides a much more humble origin with rustic and popular flavours. Real Catalan cuisine tastes like fire, smoke and the warmth of the grill.

Today, after years of idolising superfluous eccentricities, some snobs celebrate the return of traditional Catalan cuisine when in fact, it never left us. In the Basque country, for instance, Bittor Arginzoniz of the legendary Etxebarri has been using ancient techniques of grill cooking for a long time. They also know it in Catalonia where the legacy of a rich recipe collection born from the grill, plus the late impulse of gastronomic culture, have allowed haute cuisine to recover, step by step, some of the most archaic essences. And one of the best contributors to the phenomenon is Josper. You’ve never heard of it? Just have a quick look in Albert Adrià’s kitchen at Tickets in Barcelona, or Peter de Clercq in Belgium, La Petit Maison in London or St Betty in Hong Kong. In Australia, take a look at at Frank Camorra’s MoVida. The Josper name features in all these kitchens. Ask those chefs and you will understand why these charcoal-fired ovens from Barcelona have become a fixture in quality kitchens around the world.

In 1964, Josper became the first company to conceive of, build and patent a charcoalfired closed oven. It may not, in principle, sound extraordinary, but it has won the recognition and respect of renowned chefs. And there is a reason for that, a really good one.

‘Today, a chef is a heat manager. Josper, being a grill and an oven at the same time, allows simultaneous roasting, grilling, pan-frying, smoking, etc,’ explains Manu Yebras, sales director of Josper.

The breakthrough though, is that you can use it to finish rice dishes, bake a full fish with onion and potato, grill a steak, smoke some eels, cook mussels, prepare a full rack of ribs, sear some prawns and even prepare a Crema Catalana (a Catalan crème brûlée) while panfrying a pineapple or watermelon for a creative desert. All that, Senor Yebras adds, while keeping always ‘the original aroma and texture that results from treating the best products with natural wood charcoal’.

It’s an enthusiastic vision now shared by all the chefs who have found in Josper the perfect tool. Víctor Lema, who is in charge of the stoves of the popular Bar Mut in Barcelona, puts it simply: ‘Thanks to the total control on the oven temperature, the charcoal would ignite very quickly, and for short cooking time preparations, it contributes with some aromas that no other grill or oven can provide you separately.’

It’s a versatility praised also by Pedro Asensio, Albert Adrià’s right hand at Bodega 1900. ‘We can reproduce the most pure flavours. It also achieves some interesting textures and succulent tastes. It does not dry the products, which is the biggest danger when working under these circumstances. And on top of that, we save energy. We start very early, when the Josper is not at its maximum temperature, to grill some vegetables and to smoke and to finish some chicken or fish stock. In addition, quite often we would use the ashes to create some smoked vinaigrettes. With the Josper we can enhance the natural characteristics of the grill.’

The success of this pioneer product lies precisely in that ability to reclaim and amplify the magic of cooking by using a grill. In the end, Josper is just jogging our memory, helping us recall half-remembered ideas, tastes and smells to reconcile us with our past. It brings us a primitive cooking process that, whether in Catalonia or Australia or anywhere else, is full of flavours and aromas that some believed were forgotten. This native, primitive and simple cuisine conjures a time, not so long distant, when we sat close to a big fire, near incandescent charcoals. It evokes, from the deepest recesses of our souls, the inexplicable passion we feel for the grill.

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