A true lover of cuisine, Steve Anderson runs Seu Xerea, one of the city’s most renowned restaurants. We interviewed him recently to find out what he loves most about Valencia…
What brought you to Valencia?
I came here originally in 1991 to work as a teacher. I had previously been working as a physics teacher in a South London comprehensive school. Spain was on the map because it was the year before the Barcelona Olympics, the Seville Expo, and Madrid as European City of Culture. I chose Valencia because it was a city untouched by this wave of “Europeanisation”. It seemed quaintly provincial, very Spanish, and of course very Mediterranean.
Could you briefly summarize the cuisine that your restaurant offers?
We offer a Mediterranean-based fusion cuisine.
Which area of Valencia do you love best and why?
I have always enjoyed living in the Barrio del Carmen. The winding back streets where palaces are shoulder to shoulder with tiny workers houses and the street names hail back to the trades plied from them centuries ago: the street of the basket makers, the sweet sellers, the locksmiths…In spite of the gentrification of the last twenty years, the Barrio del Carmen conserves something of the decadent air it had when I first arrived here. And of course, at the heart of the old city is the Mercado Central, a village within a village, a feast for the senses.
What do you think is unique about life in Valencia?
The Valencians have so many catchphrases to describe themselves, but one I like best is “pensat I fet” which literally translates as “Thought and done”. People here are not great planners. They think up some brilliant (or crazy) idea and then just do it.
Do you have any special memories or anecdotes?
As an Englishman I could tell you quite a few anecdotes about my errors when using your language. This is a problem when you speak Spanish well, but not perfectly. I mix up words and sometimes the results are embarrassing, if not to say devastating. Cucaracha/Cucharada…I did an interview on the radio years ago in which I had to give a typical Seu-Xerea recipe. I went on repeating that magic ingredient was “a cockroach (instead of spoon) of peanut butter”
Has anybody ever shown you their best culinary secrets?
My mother who, in spite of working very hard, came home each night and cooked for her family. She’s a great cook but, more than that, she taught me the importance of gathering everybody around the table.
Which of your dishes would you recommend?
I’d strongly recommend the crunchy crayfish with celeriac remoulade. I buy the crayfish directly off the boat at the fish auction while they’re stll “alive alive oh”. The crunchy batter is a secret recipe, but I’m willing to divulge the secret to anyone who orders them!
If a visitor had just half a day of their stay left in Valencia, what would you recommend they do with it? Why?
I’d send them to the Mercado Central without a shadow of doubt. Ricard Camarena, one of Valencia’s top chefs is about to open a bar inside the market and everyone is already talking about it before it’s even opened.
So start with breakfast in the bar in the market: tortilla, buñuelos de bacalao, esgarrat. Then a stroll through the old town, passing the recently refurbished plaza redonda and ending up at the Micalet, the cathedral tower which offers a fantastic view over the city. On your way down take a peek at the “brazo incorrupto de San Vicente” behind the altar in the cathedral. A withered arm complete with rings on the fingers, it’s one of those gory catholic relics which the Spanish are so fond of. Ah…and don’t leave the cathedral without seeing the Holy Grail.
Pick up a rented bike from Valencia Bikes and ride down La Calle de los Caramelos (It’s really called Calle Navellos, the pseudonym comes from the sweet shops at the end), until you reach the river. The surprise here is there is no water! The river Turia was diverted around the city after a terrible flood in 1957 which left thousands homeless and many dead. The old river bed has been converted into a park, a green strip running through the city, ideal to explore on two wheels. Ride down to the city of arts and sciences, a stunning architectural project by local boy Santiago Calatrava that epitomises the new Valencia. Then ride back up the river, return your bike, and enjoy a lazy lunch at my restaurant Seu Xerea while pondering what to do on your return visit to Valencia.
What do you do when you have spare time in Valencia?
My job is very hectic, so I enjoy peace and quiet. I often drive out to the Parador at El Saler, discreetly refurbished by the designer Andrés Alfaro. The terrace looking over the golf course towards the sea is the ideal spot for a quiet breakfast with the newspapers. A dip in the sea afterwards is a great start to the day.
Describe the best memory you have of life in Valencia:
I came here in 1991 with the idea of taking a year off from my job as a teacher in London. I remember at the end of that year walking home one night after a few drinks in the Negrito bar, recalling the evening, the new friends I’d made in the city, the ease of life in Valencia, the beauty of the city, the sea…. and I decided to stay.
Where can you find the best view in Valencia?
The Micalet offers the best view over the city, but if you have time, a boat ride on the Albufera, at sunset is my bet for Valencia’s most romantic view. It’s 20 minutes by taxi to the South of Valencia.