“We smoke chicken, gildas, butter, caviar, pork rinds, potatoes, butter, cheese and bacon. And, of course, salmon, trout, eels and duck breasts. Our pastrami is genuine, we make it with black angus brisket,” says the Englishman Buster Turner, the soul of the Rooftop Smokehouse, a quaint artisan grill semi-hidden in an urban courtyard in Barcelona that communicates with the street through a passageway of stones.

As soon as I arrived, my gaze wandered around the surroundings. Next to the entrance door, an ancient and imposing industrial brick chimney that was lost in the heights until scratching 35 meters. At the base, a sign blurred by time: “Forbidden day and night to park any kind of vehicle…”. “Where are we?” I asked in amazement in that dilapidated hideout. “In the remains of an old factory from the late 19th century, the Lehmann Factory, owned by a German who for years made porcelain dolls. The armed conflicts of the first half of the 20th century forced him to close it. The fireplace dates from 1890 and was abandoned when we found it,” Buster continued.

In full view, in the refrigerated display case of his tiny store, were stacked smoked and laminated packaged for sale. And in between, some cans, salmon plates and whole eels that Antonio Machado, head cook, was cutting at the customers’ request.

“Eight cooks help us,” Buster continued. “Smoking is equivalent to cooking with smoke. Deep down and in form we are a toy smoker. We do not have those industrial chambers in which times and temperatures are programmed. Hence our need to have professionals who give the point to each recipe. We have fun and work in complicity with great restaurants. We smoke duck eggs as well as wild mushrooms commissioned by famous chefs such as Albert Adria, Jordi Cruz, Oriol Castro or Martin Berasategui, among others. Each new smoked process forces us to meticulous R&D. Many of the tests we do are unsuccessful. We serve the hotel industry, individuals and gourmet shops in half of Spain”.

In the company of Buster Turner and Carla Rodamilans, his partner and companion, originally a professional photographer and fashion designer, I once again tasted some of their specialities. Some were familiar to me; others, completely new. First his famous bacon; shortly after, gently smoked chicharrones in the Cadiz-style at Taberna Casa Manteca; Immediately, the trout and the eel, and almost in parallel the Cantabrian anchovies in smoked butter, resoundingly good. The mini potatoes were presented to me with a smoked tomato chick; I found the pastrami sandwich succulent, similar to the genuine one at Katzs Deli in New York, and, as a counterpoint, smoked piparras and gildas.

“Don’t you put limits on your smoked products?” I insisted, surprised. “In addition to smoking, we cure, ferment and pickle. Some products lead us to others. We work with ingredients from farmers, peasants and fishermen who share our same philosophy. Pork derivatives come from Cal Rovira; duck breasts, from free-roaming birds that feed on acorns in autumn on a farm in Girona; our salmon, caught by rod for three months a year, are certified wild, and our trout, Asturian, from the Picos de Europa. There are no reasons to import what we have wonderful in Spain”, Carla Rodamilans stressed to me.

Are you not particularly daring when it comes to smoking different things? “Innovative spirit is etched into Rooftop Smokehouse’s DNA, prompting us to explore uncharted territory. Still, some things are impossible,” Buster chimed in. “Smoke fixes on fats. If it is about smoking tomatoes, rice, pickles or piparras, for example, the processes are complicated. We smoke very slowly. There are products that cost us weeks, even months. We need at least 30 days to achieve a good piece of bacon, a time that the industry reduces to less than a week. For eels and trout we need about five or six days. We pursue quality, never volume. The smoke does not always add up, it must enhance the flavors from secondary levels. If it’s invasive, you disfigure them.”

It remained for me to find out the origin and the soul of the craft practices of this friendly team. “We started smoking for fun a decade ago on a rooftop in Barcelona. We had nothing but a wood stove and an empty wine barrel,” Buster recalled. “We were so successful that we ended up inaugurating this smokehouse in which we keep our primitive wood stove, whose fumes we make flow through the Lehmann chimney. Of course, with hatches that we open and close as we think”.

And the day to day? “There are two ways of cooking with smoke: cold between 15º-20º C, or hot, where temperatures reach 90ºC or even 120ºC in specific cases, such as pastrami. For butter, however, we do not exceed 10 degrees. 100 years ago, perishable foods were smoked intensely as a conservation method in the absence of refrigerators”.

“Our system is rudimentary. The most important thing is the combustion of firewood, the quality of the smoke, which makes the difference. If it brings bitter or aggressive nuances, everything is spoiled. We use hardwood trunks, oak, beech and holm oak that we let dry for up to two years. Every half hour our cooks and I keep an eye on the stove. Fire is something alive in constant evolution”, Buster explained to me. “We have had a hard time adapting our tiny stove to a gigantic chimney like Lehmann’s, something we achieved thanks to fire evacuation experts who helped us control air flows. A good smoked can be summed up in a few points: quality products, salt, adequate curing and controlled smoke”.

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