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Fine dining in Spain - beyond El Celler de Can Roca

Fine dining in Spain - beyond El Celler de Can Roca

by Nancy Anne Harbord 15 July 2015

Spanish and Catalan cuisine are riding high internationally. We took a closer look at some of our favourite chefs, instrumental in bringing about this culinary revolution, their restaurants and their remarkable food.

Specialising in vegetarian food, Nancy has cooked her way around Europe and now writes full time for publications and her blog, Delicious from Scratch.

With El Celler de Can Roca in Girona named the world’s best restaurant this year, Spanish and Catalan cuisine once more represents the very best of modern culinary achievement. Beautifully crafted tapas and revered jamón ibérico are now enjoyed all over the world and other less well-known ingredients and dishes are having their moment in the gastronomic sun. With the country’s fine dining worthy of pilgrimage and San Sebastián one of the world’s great Michelin-starred cities, we took a closer look at some of the region’s greatest chefs.

Andreu Genestra

Andreu Genestra’s career began when he was sixteen, on the island of Mallorca where he grew up. After studying at some of the island’s best hotels, he spent time working in Barcelona before returning to the Balearic Islands to train with mentor Marc Fosh in his kitchen at Hotel Reads. Several positions in the region followed, including stages at Mugaritz and Arzak, as well as a season at Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli. In 2011 he opened his own restaurant, Andreu GenestraRestaurant in the Hotel Predí Son Jaumell in Mallorca. He was awarded a Michelin star in 2014, with his second restaurant, Aromata in Palma de Mallorca, opening the same year.

An avid traveller, his food is inspired by his experiences overseas; during the winter seasons he has taken in destinations as disparate as London, Stockholm, Brazil, Moscow, Paris, Miami, India and Kuwait. He defines his food as ‘cuisine of the land’ and produces much of the restaurant’s supplies in the 6000 square metre organic gardens that surround the establishment. Fruits and vegetables are harvested daily, oil is pressed from their own olives and soon there will be wine from their vines. The restaurant is known in particular for reviving the low-gluten wheat variety, xeixa, which they use to make bread, cakes and even their own beer, Talaiòtika. Coupled with local meats and fish from the nearby coast of Cala Ratjada, offerings such as Coconut rice with brown crab, anchovy dough and Kuwaiti black lemon sauce sit alongside plates like Rabbit tartare with smoked grilled figs, caper leaves, sautéed radish slices and wheat; his cuisine incorporates tradition with creativity and gentle fusion.

Andreu Genestra
Andreu Genestra
Andreu Genestra's food
Andreu Genestra's food

Elena Arzak

Aged eleven, Elena Arzak became the fourth generation of her family to work in their legendary restaurant, Arzak. Owned by the family for the past 118 years, it was the first Basque establishment to be awarded three Michelin stars, which it has held since 1989. Although she was only allowed to work for a couple of hours a day in the summer holidays, she knew this was the path for her. She spent many years abroad and in other parts of Spain, working and training in Switzerland, France and the UK under greats such as Albert Roux, Alain Ducasse, Pierre Gagnaire, Michel Troisgros and Ferran Adrìa. Returning to the fold in 1996, she eschewed favouritism to work her way through the parties like the other chefs in the kitchen, but within two years was on equal footing with her father, head chef Juan Mari Arzak – one of the founders of New Basque Cuisine (Nueva Cocina Vasca).

In 2012, Elena Arzak was named Best Female Chef in the World in the San Pellegrino awards, recognition she proudly accepted on behalf of her mother, aunt and grandmother, who all helped make the restaurant what it is today. Her cuisine has its roots in the ingredients and flavours of traditional Basque cookery, but continues to evolve, with avant garde creations developed in her ‘laboratory’ – a small kitchen and workshop where she conceives new recipes and combinations. The result is dishes such as Monkfish with sea buckthorn, crispy lobster roe, roasted garlic and puffed rice and seaweed ‘cloche’, and Pigeon with grape sauce, pumpkin seed purée, seeded caramel, apple and almonds – dishes that are born of the region and its history, but with wide creative scope and progressive technical execution.

Paco Pérez

Paco Pérez started in the kitchen of his parent’s tapas restaurant aged only twelve, going on to study under Michel Guerard in France and undertake several stages with Ferran Adrià. On returning to his hometown, Llançà near Girona, he opened the now famous Miramar restaurant with his wife Montse, which currently holds two Michelin stars. Enoteca, located in the Hotel Arts in Barcelona, came next and was also awarded two Michelin stars, with his latest restaurant, Cinco in Berlin, gaining its first star in 2014.

His menus, which regularly feature extraordinary tasting experiences of 25 courses or more, are a riot of colour, texture, flavour and innovation, with modernist preparations spectacularly framing the signature fresh seafood. Plates such as Sea cucumbers with summer truffle, spinach, sweet almond and Iberian bacon, and Sea “Odyssey” with tuna, sea urchin, shrimp, caviar, seaweeds and avocado showcase the produce of the fertile region. His food is theatrical and multi-sensory, without experimentation for the sake of novelty – contemporary cuisine with soul.

 
 
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Paco Pérez
Shabu Shabu
Shabu Shabu. Food photography © 2015: tommas@foodphotography.cc

Jordi Cruz

At fourteen years old, Jordi Cruz began working at the restaurant Estany Clar in Cercs, Berga (province of Barcelona). Ten years later he became the youngest chef in Spain (and second youngest in the world) to be awarded a Michelin star for his work at the restaurant. His first cookbook, Cooking with Logic (Cocina con Lógica), details the techniques and concepts he learnt and applied in this kitchen. His next venture, L'Angle de Món Sant Bene (in Sant Fruitós de Bages, province of Barcelona), was awarded a Michelin star within a year of opening, then in 2010 he took the helm at ABaC Restaurant and Hotel, which went to gain a coveted second Michelin star in the 2012 guide. The same year he also opened Ten’s Tapas Restaurant, a more casual small-plates offering with the same culinary philosophy of ABaC. He has also reached a wider audience of late, with his appearance on Masterchef España. Jordi Cruz is another Catalan chef whose food reflects and builds on the traditions of the region, breathing new life into the cuisine with creativity and technical advances. Building on the remarkable produce of the local area, he describes his food as evolutionary, evolving and enquiring with signature dishes including Smoked steak tartare with beef ‘snow’, cooked yolk, mustard veil and pepper bread brittle, and Mediterranean tuna belly with ponzu macaroni, kumquat skin, mizuna, crispy artichokes and spicy roots purée.

 
 
 

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