Jabi calls himself an experimental artisan. He has created Çukor along with Peter and Manu. Çukor is a craft sweet store and workspace in the Gotic neighborhood of Barcelona. They make sweets from around the world and teach workshops.
What are the key moments of your life that made you want to be an artisan?
I always loved drawing. After I finished school I studied architecture for two years. A project at the university made me realize I didn’t want to continue on that path. The aim of that project was to paint a drawing, make a sculpture, and design a building. All three parts of the project had to be inspired by the drawing of an artist. I enjoyed the project until the sculpture was finished. That experience helped me realize that I wanted to work with my hands. I then studied sculpture arts.
How did you get into sweets?
I’ve worked in many places. I was looking for a job and found an opening at a sweets workshop. I learned that ingredients are materials such as wood or iron, with some special characteristics like the smell or taste. Since then, I’ve been focused in sweets from an artisan perspective. Patisserie is very mathematic, but sweet making is pure craftsmanship. I think that’s what we reflect in our shop. Everyone that works here is an artisan.
Do you have a philosophy about sweet making?
We are interested in exploring sweet traditions in different cultures. We try to rescue ancient recipes that are not in use anymore, or that are made in other countries. It is beautiful to realize that everything comes from an artisan tradition. Each country has its own way of doing things and that is reflected in a recipe. These sweets sometimes are not made in bakeries, but they are part of the people´s culture. As you can image, many times this is not well documented. Our investigation process starts by putting a word in Japanese in Google Translate, placing it in YouTube and start going crazy. Many times we found ourselves exploring a recipe, and trying to think and act as Turks, Brazilians or Japanese people, depending on the recipe we want to make.
“The chewing gum we buy at the store is made of rubber and artificial gums. Natural chewing gum comes from the gum tree that grows in Mexico.”
Where do the recipes you make come from?
In our shop we don´t offer as much as we´d like to, but we do have sweets from Turkey, Brazil, Japan, North of Europe, Hungary, Venezuela and Peru. Besides the sweets we offer at the shop, we prepare special recipes when we go out to markets or set a stand in the street for a holiday or other events.
What’s the next recipe you want to make?
We are trying to find natural gum in order to make natural chewing gum. Artisanal and natural gum is something very difficult to find. What we normally buy at the shop is made of rubber and artificial gums. Natural chewing gum comes from the gum tree that grows in Mexico. The natives climb the giant trees through a rope system, and they cut the resin from the bark of the trees, which is the gum. This resin is slowly boiled in a tub, and turns into an authentic, natural chewing gum.
With such a wide variety we imagine that certain flavors can be controversial. Do you adapt the recipes to the local taste?
We always try to make the products as the original recipes. We don’t think it’s right to change such traditions that have been going on for ages. However, we are forced to adapt them when we don’t have access to a particular ingredient or the recipe is too old. For example, we are currently looking into Catalan medieval sweet recipes. We’ve realized that they where using some kinds of sugar that cannot be found today. We do adjust the recipe in cases like that, but always within some limits and respecting the original one.
Do you notice different taste preferences depending on the country of origin?
The preferences change depending on the nationality of the people. Local people love marshmallows, specially the ginger lemon ones. I’d say that it is the favorite product for locals. People from Norway love licorice and flavors that are not so sweet. Americans, on the contrary, love sweeter products.
Do you have a favorite sweet?
My favorite one is the Japanese Nokagua. I love to make the Turkish Pişmaniye although it’s very hard to make. When it turns out well we celebrate it!
Çukor is a very special shop, with a unique design and has an eye for details. Also, your store and workshop share the same space, which is not so common in Barcelona. Who is your typical customer?
Mostly foreigners appreciate our products. Usually people from the Scandinavian countries understand our concept because they´re used to it. The concept of young people working in a storefront workshop is very common in the north of Europe.
What differentiates your sweets from the conventional ones?
We encourage everyone to try our products and taste the differences. Once you try them, you simply realize that our products are better. Also, craftsmanship is infused into all the products we make.
People are very conscious of what they eat, and sugar in particular has a bad reputation. How do you manage that?
That’s normal since many available sweets have ingredients that are really bad for you. The sweet industry is a reflection of our society. We’ve seen crazy things in architecture, design, agriculture, and the sweet business is not an exception. In Çukor, we try to moderate our sugar quantities. For example, we use half the amount of sugar than the standard recipes for our marshmallows. We also use different kinds of sugar such as brown sugar or molasses, which is a non-refined sugar that tastes like licorice and coffee.
“Materials are alive and tell you things. They set a completely different pace.”
What do you enjoy most about your about making sweets?
I enjoy whenever I’m working any material with my hands. It’s timeless. Materials are alive and tell you things. They set a completely different pace. I also enjoy making a new recipe and tasting it. When it tastes good, it’s magic!
What have you learned from this craft?
Craftsmanship is a way of understanding life. Everything you make is a reflection of how you behave towards something. This craft gives you many lessons: the materials tell you to be patient and to be honest.
Peter and Jabi, can you recommend your favorite places to eat in Barcelona?
Cloudstreet: A bakery right next to Hospital Clinic. They use their amazing oven to bake delicious bread.
Betlem: Victor, the chef, is a great cook who has worked in France for several years at very well known restaurants. His concept includes a sophisticated cuisine based on traditional recipes.
Never More: A restaurant/bar whose owner trained at El Bulli. He cooks with a style strongly influenced by Ferran Adria at an affordable price.
Rooftop Smokehouse: They make all kinds of delicious smoked foods at a rooftop in Sant Antoni.
Their products can be also found at: