PROVINCIA DE VALENCIA – Not all influencers are young, hip people with tattoos. This is evidenced by the success of the Franciscan friar Ángel Ramón Serrano. He is the cook of the Santo Espiritú convent in Gilet (Valencia) and a big YouTube hit.
Since April 2020 he has been making a weekly cooking video on Youtube. In his own words, he started with it to “open windows”. He wanted to introduce the world to his monastery and the traditional monastery kitchen. He aimed for about 1,000 followers. Yet fray Ángel’s weekly cooking videos have become a true YouTube phenomenon in those few years. Furthermore, his channel now has more than 269,000 subscribers.
And that without any cooking training. Ángel once started as a cook because that position happened to be vacant in the monastery. Now he cooks seven days a week for his fellow brothers and the guests of the guesthouse. He draws his knowledge from traditional Spanish Franciscan cuisine, supplemented a bit with recipes from his own youth in Ciudad Real.
High cuddly content
Anyone who watches the videos immediately understands why they are so popular. Chubby, cheerful brother Ángel has a high cuddly content. His simple and affordable dishes have a nostalgic feel to them, like watching an old-fashioned cooking show.
He prepares traditional Spanish meals such as onion soup, chicken with garlic and aniseed biscuits. Moreover, there are now more than 100 different dishes in the Youtube channel. In his most popular video, he makes ‘pollo pepitoria’ – chicken with hard-boiled egg yolk and chopped almonds.
Paz y bien en zen
Brother Ángel’s calmness and clumsy presentation are a relief. No flashing images of dancing tomatoes or slow motions of a handful of salt whirling through the air here. Brother Ángel spends minutes peeling potatoes or chopping up a pumpkin. In the meantime, he tells anecdotes about his youth or edifying stories about Francis of Assisi, the founder of his order. You do have to be a little patient, but it will make you completely zen. He invariably ends his films by wishing the viewer Paz y bien: peace and all good, the traditional motto of the Franciscans.
Everything is characterised by simplicity. This not only applies to the dishes, but also to the videos. Besides Brother Ángel, only two people are involved. The videos are recorded by a girl who works in the guest house of the monastery. She also puts them on Youtube. Editing is done by a befriended IT person. The videos are no longer than 20 minutes.
Everything fits with the modest character of the monk. “My goal is to keep cooking simple. I want to put a great meal on the table with just a few ingredients,” he explains on the monastery’s website. His cooking tips are also simple. “Potatoes, for example, do not like very hot water. It is better to put them in a pan with cold water and then slowly heat that pan.”
Fray Ángel gets the ingredients for his meals from local bakers, butchers and grocers. Furthermore, all vegetables are seasonal as they come from the monastery’s own garden.
According to brother Ángel, his secret is “to achieve a lot with little.” His great example is Juan Altamiras, the Franciscan monk who in 1745 published the first cookbook about Spanish folk cuisine: Nuevo arte de la cocina (new cooking).
According to Brother Ángel, “Altamiras took the dishes of ordinary, simple people and made the most delicious meals. He turned poverty into wealth and he turned something simple into something spectacular. He wanted to make a great meal with everyday ingredients.”
Altamiras’ book was re-published in 2017 in a beautiful edition by the British historian Vicky Hayward. On her website, she refers to fray Ángel as a source of inspiration.
Pray, work and rest
However, fame has not gone to fray Ángel’s head. He still barely leaves the walls of the monastery. He still gets up first every morning to make coffee for his fellow brothers. For the rest, his day mainly consists of praying, working and resting. A new video appears every Monday and every day after lunch he replies to comments from his followers.
Love as motivation
Like Francis of Assisi, love is his greatest motivation. Love for traditional cuisine but also love for his fellow man. The dining table symbolises that love for him. “Loving and being loved is important to everyone. Also for people who choose monastic life and do not have a partner. Mealtime is then a very important time to show your affection for others. At the dinner table we laugh, feel comfortable, talk to each other and tell others what we have experienced.”