Ghost kitchens, tortillas and giant greenhouses - Spanish gastronomy on show at the Venice Biennale

The Foodscapes exhibit at the Pavilion of Spain
The Foodscapes exhibit at the Pavilion of Spain Copyright © Pedro Pegenaute
Copyright © Pedro Pegenaute
By Graham Keeley
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Food is an essential ingredient of Spanish life but how it arrives at people's table is the central theme of the country’s Pavilion at this year's Venice Architecture Biennale.


The doors to the Venice Biennale for Architecture only opened a few days ago but several visitors are already beating a path to Spain's showcase that marks a unique line between how what we eat goes from farm to fork. 

Tthe ‘Foodscapes’ exhibition explores the ‘agro-architecture’ of Spanish gastronomy, exploring how tortillas, wine and jamon de croquetas are produced - and the social costs of that process.

Focusing on integral parts of food production in Spain, from the huge greenhouses in the south of the country, where vegetables and fruits are grown and sold to the rest of Europe, to supermarkets and restaurants which utilise the produce, the exhibition looks at the work of architects and filmmakers who play a part in the industry.

The show, which runs until November 26 and is curated by Eduardo Castillo-Vinuesa and Manuel Ocaña, also focuses on the controversy surrounding plans for the world’s first commercial octopus farm in the Canary Islands. The discussion comes as Spain suffers with a prolonged drought, with some farmers reporting crop losses of up to 80%.

Manuel Correa and Marina Otero
One of Spain's vast greenhouses - this example grows tomatoesManuel Correa and Marina Otero

Eduardo Castillo-Vinuesa, curator of Foodscapes, said Spain chose to focus on the importance of the country’s role in the food chain amid the challenges of climate change.

“We have a strategic role to play. We are one of the countries most exposed to the climate crisis. This has an impact on the disappearance of soil or the exploitation of labour,” he told Euronews Culture, adding, “People are going to associate Spain with gastronomy, but this is a good way to focus on where the food has come from”.

Five short films playing at the exhibition shed light on the lesser-known – and less glamorous - aspects of Spanish gastronomy. They take a look at issues including the journey of food waste, soil’s part in growing food and the role of kitchens in political and social change.

Ghost kitchens

In one exhibit, Ghost Tortilla, Lucia Tahan, an architect and augmented reality software designer, traces the link between an egg farm and the data farm to explore this iconic Spanish dish.

Tahan, who is Spanish and regularly cooks up tortillas at her home in Los Angeles, explores how, in modern society, the dish often moves from a ‘ghost’ or ‘dark’ kitchen to our home by way of technology.

Pedro Pegenaute
A Madrid 'ghost' kitchenPedro Pegenaute

Ghost or dark kitchens are those which produce food not served in restaurants but instead transported directly to the homes of clients who order via mobile phone apps.

Tahan told Euronews Culture, “(My study) is about dark kitchens and the impact they have on a city. It tries to draw a line between all the agents which [sic] intervene when someone orders take out from an app”

She also explained the technological process behind ordering a humble tortilla, saying, “From the moment you order there is data passed through the cables under the ocean [which] goes all the way to the servers where images are stored. Once you have placed the order there is something called a state machine which controls which state it is in. Information is shared to the kitchen and the rider”.

In Spain, some ghost kitchens choose to specialise in tortillas - and tortillas only. The reason behind this is that their product will appear higher up on search engines results, as many people search for the type of food they want to eat as opposed to a specific restaurant.

© Pedro Pegenaute
You can't make a tortilla without...© Pedro Pegenaute

Tahan warns that these ghost kitchens are not entirely positive - and their existence can negatively impact local communities.

“They produce noise, smells, and they have a lot of garbage. They have the riders coming in,” she explains, adding, “They need regulating. It becomes a very tangible urban phenomenon that can be influenced by a seemingly simple design position on an app by designers sitting in an office in San Francisco”.

Foodscapes’ curator Eduardo Castillo-Vinuesa agrees that not all technology plays a positive role in the food industry, telling Euronews Culture that he hopes the exhibition will inspire people to investigate ways to produce food in a more sustainable way - and soon.

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