María José Orero and Tomeu Arbona, founders of Fornet de la Soca, about gastronomic archaeology, an ensaimada for Rossy de Palma and the inspiration of a children’s book.
There is a chance in every crisis. In the wake of the financial meltdown 2008, Tomeu Arbona lost his job as a psychotherapist. And so, together with his wife María José Orero, a Waldorf teacher, he turned his lifelong passion for cooking into a new profession. They revived traditional Mallorcan recipes and opened their own bakery and pastry shop in Carrer Sant Jaume. Their Fornet de la Soca became so successful that the couple took over Palma’s traditional Forn des Teatre.
Now, in the middle of another slump, María José and Tomeu are taking the next big step. The second Fornet de la Soca recently opened its doors in one of Palma’s most striking Modernist buildings, Can Corbella. The architecture alone had made it a popular photo spot but now it’s also the displays in the shop windows that attract people’s curiosity. Bread, cakes and all kinds of delicious pastries magically draw them inside.
I met María José and Tomeu in their bakery at Forn des Teatre.
How did you come up with a plan to open a bakery in the middle of an economic crisis?
María José: In our family there has always been a passion for cooking and baking. And we noticed that over the years many dishes and particularly baked goods disappeared from the local stores because they tried to adapt to an international mass taste. But the customers didn’t want these cheap and often prefabricated products, and eventually more and more bakeries closed down. So our idea was to revive the traditional Mallorcan recipes.
Tomeu: Our concept is driven by a reconciliation with our landscape and history, one which provides creativity to original recipes from a cultural point of view and not from a folkloric one.
But how did you know how to do all this?
Tomeu: A lot of recipes have been passed down in our family from generation to generation. And my search took me to family kitchens, monasteries and manor houses, where I came across old cookbooks and baking books. Now, it’s even customers who bring along suggestions and recipes from their own grandmothers. I learned a lot from the women chefs in my family, but beyond that I am completely self-taught.
María José: And in 2010 we took the opportunity to rent that small corner store on Carrer Sant Jaume. We started with only very few baked goods, but everything was sold within a couple of hours. It was then that we sensed we were on the right track with our radically traditional approach.
Eight years later you took over traditional Forn des Teatre. And recently, you gave a surprising encore at the performance of Rossy de Palma in Teatre Principal. How did that happen?
Tomeu: Well, a few weeks before, we had met Rossy when she came to our bakery with her brother. Of course, this was a very special visit for us. She told us about her show and suddenly came up with the idea of a huge ensaimada. So we made this special ensaimada for her. And I actually handed it over to Rossy at the end of her show.
I’ll never forget that moment when Rossy walked barefoot through the rows, offering pieces of ensaimada to the enthusiastic audience. Is ensaimada your most successful product?
María José: Ensaimada goes very well, yes. But our empanadas are even more popular, particular the one with llampuga.
Absolutely. And I remember that Santi Taura once told me there were only two places on Mallorca where you can still get them. His own restaurant and Fornet de la Soca. Where does the name of your bakery come from?
María José: When our kids were young they loved us to read from a children’s book called “La Bardissa Secreta”. About a world of its own that exists in a tree trunk (soca), inhabited by small mice that live in cozy and lovingly furnished homes. So we imagined our little bakery being part of that world and called it Fornet de la Soca.
There is one last question I would like to ask you, one I always ask in this series of interviews. What’s your favorite place on Mallorca?
María José: There are many, actually. But one place that we particularly like is the Ermita de la Trinitat in Valldemossa. The peacefulness, the marvelous view of the coastline and the sea and the beautiful small garden make it a very special place.
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