If you’re looking at the plate before you and flowers have replaced fruit, vegetables or meat, it’s likely that you’re in Girona. The city is abundant in flowers, so much so that if they bottled its air, you’d be buying little vials of the scent by the cartload. Although it’s not uncommon to see blossoms in the food here, La Calendula is special, the restaurant gives ‘flowers in food’ a new meaning; they aren’t merely used as garnish, but also for flavour.
Peering out of her open kitchen, Chef Iolanda Bustos’s smile is as welcoming as the cozy eatery with its flower-painted walls. “I’ve always cooked with wild, edible flowers; it’s what I’ve eaten since childhood. My mother cooked with flowers, because they were healthy and tasted good.
Taking her laywoman’s approach further, I studied botany, ethnobotany and phytotherapy.”
“Cooking with flowers is not as effortless as it appears; it’s key to discern which ones are toxic.
Fragrant flowers like Jasmine, don’t necessarily taste good. Usually the nectar of most flowers is sweet, but the petals are bitter or astringent.”
As she talks, I’m steadily demolishing a plate of flower and herb tempura, and fresh pasta with marigold pesto. It’s clear from the number of marigolds gracing the open kitchen, that they are Bustos’ favourite. “What delights me is their spicy, citrus flavour, and how well they blend with varied dishes. While everything tastes unusual and heightened, nothing tastes overtly flowery or like something I’d want to partake of only as an exotic novelty.”
As we go deeper into the merits of particular flowers, Bustos shares, “Buds of the Acmella oleracea, known as paracress or buzz buttons, have a grassy taste and leaves a cooling sensation in the throat.” I stop taking notes when the salad brimming with rose petals, herbs, apricot and cottage cheese arrives, accompanied by an aromatic homemade beer with infusions of hibiscus, marigold and elderflower. “Go ahead,” Bustos says with a twinkle in her eye, “Eat and drink the landscape.”