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Tips & recipes

Portrait of Florence Châtelet, Le Monde

Florence Châtelet Sanchez created Maison Dehesa in 2011. An upscale online grocery store specialized in Iberian products. She sells smoked sardines, one of her flagship products, which she proposes to taste in the Japanese style.

"Born in a French-Spanish family of artisans and farmers who produce wine and raise pigs, I was immersed from an early age in the culture of taste and traditional craft practices. I grew up between Paris and El Puerto de Santa Maria, in Andalusia, at the bottom of the Bay of Cadiz, where we lived for almost six months of the year because my mother did her business there. As a child with Asperger's Syndrome, I communicated very little, and my parents thought that my mutism was due to the fact that we were constantly moving from one country to another.

My passion for good food comes from my father, a French Lebanese who grew up in the Maghreb and who cooked a lot. He liked to mix cultures in the plate and the French, Lebanese and Moroccan cuisines. Everything was homemade, food was sacred in our house. For my father, who also expressed himself very little, taste was a form of communication, of gift, of transmission. I had incredible combinations of flavors in my mouth from a very young age and it is thanks to him that I can conceptualize the different tastes and to know what the combined ingredients will give on the palate. It is also this sensitivity that brought me to this profession.

I studied at Sciences Po Paris, did political activism in France, did war reporting in the former Yugoslavia, and then had a career in ethical finance in Geneva. At the age of 30, I had a serious ski accident that left me almost disabled. I went to do my rehabilitation at my mother's, in Andalusia, in the region of my childhood, in the heart of a dehesa.

The dehesa is an area of communal exploitation in the forest zone where local farmers can come to cultivate and graze their herds in the middle of the undergrowth. It is a traditional system, based on Mediterranean ecosystems, which has a great social importance in Spain because it allows many peasant families to subsist. During my recovery, I rediscovered the richness of this environment and met a family of pata negra producers - artisans who preserve the soil and plant and animal biodiversity while producing healthy and tasty food - on the verge of bankruptcy. I then became aware of their importance, of the urgency to preserve these traditions and artisanal products. I decided to dedicate myself fully to them by founding Maison Dehesa, to promote their products to top chefs.

Today, I work with 16 micro-producers, and I offer a hundred or so products: black pork sausages, Iberian ham, but also bottarga, olive oils, vinegars, black garlic, garum, marinated anchovies... Not forgetting smoked sardines, which are one of our flagship products. In pure sashimi, or in sushi on a small ball of soft rice, it is my favorite dish, and a nod to my passion for Japan and to the great Jiro Ono, nonagenarian and starred sushi master in Tokyo, whose work I adore."

Sardine sushi by Florence Châtelet Sanchez

Ingredients for 8 pieces

1 small glass of round rice for sushi,

1 small glass of filtered water,

1 tablespoon of aged balsamic vinegar,

1 pinch of fine salt,

2 or 4 (depending on size) smoked sardine fillets preserved in oil.

The preparation

Rinse the rice with clean water. Pour it into a saucepan or pressure cooker, cover with water and cook (over low heat if using a saucepan) until the water is completely absorbed and the rice is soft and sticky. Stir in salt and vinegar and let cool.

Cut the sardine fillets into 2 or 4 beveled pieces (oblique size).

When the rice is at room temperature, make 8 small balls by quickly shaping them in the palm of your hands, without pressing too hard. If the rice sticks, wet your hands with cold water. Place a piece of sardine on each rice ball and eat immediately with a little soy sauce.

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