An overview of Spanish haute cuisine: reflections on the journeys and individuality of its creators. A look at the profiles and dishes of some of the most renowned chefs on the Spanish culinary scene.
Spanish haute cuisine is at the forefront of global creativity; the richness and variety of Spanish raw ingredients, together with the talents of a diverse group of chefs, has given rise to a sensational gastronomic offering of the highest quality.
Following in the footsteps of the maestro Ferran Adrià, head chef of elBulli, each of these chefs has found their own style. This is reflected in their cutting-edge cuisines, full of their own identity, that honor produce whilst paying tribute to tradition and the land.
Paco Morales learned the basics of traditional cookery while helping his parents at Nati, their diner in his home town of Córdoba. He immersed himself in the avant-garde at Mugaritz, spent a brief period at elBulli, and left his culinary mark on various restaurants in Madrid, Valencia, and Menorca.
In 2016 he opened Noor, where he recreates the cuisine of Al-Andalus, the part of the southern Iberian Peninsula that was under Muslim rule between the 8th and 15th centuries.
Morales astounds his guests with dishes that are not just thrown together, but are the result of studying the ingredients and techniques that were used in cookery during that period, as well as long sessions in the restaurant's research and development department.
"Karim" pistachio cream, apple with desert spices, bottarga, and fresh oregano.
Now the restaurant's signature dish, the first version of this cream was made with pine nuts. The current version is made with pistachios. "The nuances of the bottarga add a saltiness to the dish, and clove dominates the green apple with desert spices."
Morales took the 10th century as a starting point for the research into and production of his culinary offerings. He presents his creations on dishes and plates with Moorish designs on them, which are made by Cordoban artisans.
In the 1990s, Andoni Luis Aduriz worked in the restaurants of the big names in New Basque Cuisine and at elBulli. In 1998 he opened Mugaritz, 6 miles from San Sebastian, set among hundred-year-old oaks. There, he and his team come up with daring creations to astound their guests.
To do this, they challenge "the logic of the culinary world, rethinking social norms and preconceptions."
The aim is to create "a context in which to exercise sensory freedom in order to overcome the imposition of tradition; to discover the flavor of histories, the importance of textures; to defy taboos, to reengage with the most basic habits."
Dried hydrangea of cocoa.
This dish is the end product of a research process in which Mugaritz teamed up with the world of science, driven by Andoni Luis Aduriz's team's obsession with "lightness or airy exuberance." The challenge was to create the largest bubbles possible.
In order to do this, they worked with physicists who helped them to adapt the idea of producing the bubbles with the machines that create bubbles in aquariums.
One decade, several bubbles of all different kinds (chocolate, honey, beetroot, etc.), and one scientific article later, they managed to set the bubbles to make them stable, and freeze-dry them to create the delicious, delicate "dried hydrangea of cocoa."
Ángel León learned to fish with his father in the Bay of Cádiz. His love for the sea has become the trademark of his cuisine, earning him the nickname "Chef of the Sea."
In 2007 he opened the first Aponiente, where he began researching uses for discarded fish (he makes seafood sausages with them), seaweed, and plankton.
Since 2015, Aponiente has been located in a tide mill on the outskirts of Cádiz. As well as cooking, they also work on recovering the estuary and the surrounding salt pans.
Rice with plankton, sea snails, quinoa, and aioli.
In 2009 Ángel León discussed edible plankton in a presentation given at the Madrid Fusión gastronomic conference, and ever since it has been an essential ingredient in and one of the hallmarks of his cuisine.
Eneko Atxa isn't from a family of chefs, but food was always extremely important to them.
In 2005 he opened Azurmendi (in Larrabetzu, in the province of Biscay), a sustainable architectural project in which renewable energy, reusing rainwater, and growing some of the vegetables used in their cooking are key elements.
Its cuisine is the perfect combination of flavor, texture, and aesthetics, firmly rooted in traditional dishes. Home cooking, stews, and his own roots are evident in every dish as the solid foundation on which he builds textures and creates the finished product.
"British pirates entered Spain on the coast of Bakio; they looted the town and the neighboring towns and took all the lemons to prevent scurvy on the rest of their voyage. It's for this reason, among others, that the Bakio lemon is on the verge of disappearing."
In a bid to recover and pay tribute to the lemon, at Azurmendi they have come up with lemon grass: a scooped out lemon shell is filled with homemade foie gras from local birds and covered with a layer of lemongrass. The dish is decorated with different flowers from the restaurant's garden.
At 15, Albert Adrià started working at elBulli, where his brother Ferran was head chef at the time. First he specialized in desserts, later taking over the management of elBulli Taller (the workshop). He left the restaurant 3 years before it closed.
It was then that Albert came up with the idea for elBarri, a global gastronomy project in Barcelona comprising 2 Mexican restaurants—Hoja Santa and Niño Viejo—and one Peruvian one, Pakta. It also includes Bodega 1900, which serves updated versions of traditional recipes. Alongside all of this are culinary stars Tickets and Enigma, dedicated to contemporary haute cuisine—the former in the form of tapas and the latter an amazing, intimate gastronomic experience.
In all of them, Adrià displays a talent and a culinary versatility that is reflected in dishes that show a dazzling creativity in all of their formats.
Bundle of avocado with cilantro jello, stuffed with crab and chipotle mayonnaise.
An elBulli classic, reinvented at Tickets. "At elBulli, we used to make avocado cannelloni with baby sweetcorn but it was hardly ever on the menu because we didn't know how to stop the avocado from browning."
"It was on a visit to José Andrés' restaurant, Bazaar, that we found the solution, and we immediately made our version of the famous avocado cannelloni and crab which, years later, became this complicated lattice of avocado and crab on a base of crispy chicken skin."
Having taken his first steps as a professional in the Basque Country, Navarre, and Madrid, in 1975 Pedro Subijana arrived at Madrid's Akelarre restaurant, of which he is now the owner.
In his kitchen overlooking the Cantabrian Sea, Subijana and his team continue to research, create, and innovate. His signature style is deeply rooted in a natural, authentic, and native cooking style with the rich flavor of the sea.
His burning creativity is based on outstanding raw ingredients that shine through his dishes, which are the result of his refined technique and are strikingly presented. "I can be happy but never satisfied," is his motto.
A proponent of academic training, he was the driving force behind the Basque Culinary Center, an institution located in San Sebastian.
Gin and tonic dessert.
"Desserts have always been very important at Akelarre. And this gin and tonic dessert is one that has been on the menu the longest: since 1998."
To turn the popular drink into a dessert, they solidified a gin and tonic using gelatine, and added juniper sauce (juniper being the main aroma in gin), lemon sorbet, and lemon peel.
"In transforming the drink into a dessert, we wanted to break up the sweetness of the jelly with a few pieces of caramelized sugar, finishing with another aromatic touch: lemon thyme."
Trained in the family restaurant, Bodegón Alejandro in San Sebastian, Berasategui spent his days off traveling to France, soaking up the gastronomy of the neighboring country. It was here that he took various courses in modern patisserie. At 33 years of age, he opened the restaurant that bears his name in Lasarte, Gipuzkoa.
Berasategui describes his cuisine as "complex but familiar, capable of opening up new paths for future generations, with the associated difficulty of getting people to understand that we have to add lots of details to make everything work at the level that we require. It is deeply rooted in my land, in my roots, but open to the world. Ultimately, it is a reflection of what I am."
Truffle with fermented mushrooms and collard greens with "Alma de Jerez" olive oil.
"This dish was created in 2015 thanks to the fact that in recent years we have been able to find excellent quality truffles, cultivated in the north of Spain, which go wonderfully with other local produce."
"It is a false truffle with a powerful flavor, with a black truffle-based jus that evokes the forests of the Basque Country. Every season, the dish takes on a different shade because of the difference in the truffles."
David Muñoz—or "Dabiz," as he prefers to spell it—fell in love with cooking at Viridiana, Abraham García's restaurant in Madrid, where he used to go with his parents as a child and later did work experience as a teenager.
It was while working in London that he discovered international cuisine, the influence of which—in particular the food of Southeast Asia—is a running theme in his dishes.
In 2007 he opened DiverXO in Madrid, and since then he has continued to amaze with dishes that are sheer explosions of color, flavor, and textures which pull the guest into a unique, dazzling gastronomic game that's both dreamlike and theatrical.
Spider crab: Galician sea spider and spicy tomato.
At DiverXO, the canvases on which these culinary creations are presented evolve and vary depending not only on what a guest has ordered, but also on the advice of the front-of-house team, working with the team in the kitchen.
The canvas "Spider crab: Galician sea spider and spicy tomato. 'French tradition' with goats' butter, 'bienmesabe,' and black olive" consists of a spider crab with a hollandaise sauce based on goats' milk butter, along with the ingredients in the dish's name.
Carme Ruscalleda started out making dishes to take away in the family delicatessen. In 1998 she and her husband opened Sant Pau, a small restaurant which slowly began to make a name for itself in gastronomic circles.
Self-taught as a chef, her cuisine is loosely based on Catalan culinary culture, mainly using local produce from the Maresme region.
Although she has just closed down the restaurant for "reinvention," far from retiring she will remain active in her other professional commitments, such as Sant Pau in Tokyo.
King of the Skies.
"Suquet is a really interesting seafood stew, which can be made with any type of fish or seafood. I love this technique because the produce deserves to be treated with respect and because it forms part of my lifelong memories of food."
"Throughout Sant Pau's history we have made thousands of suquets: we've used prawns, sardines, monkfish, and scorpion fish. One of our most recent versions is with lobster: the dish features on the menu "Inspired by the Universe" menu and is called "Astro Rey" (King of the Skies)."
The son of a farmer and grandson of chefs, de la Calle studied at the School of Hotel Management in Aranjuez and combined both facets of his family background by creating the concept of "gastrobotanics," together with Santiago Orts. This discipline researches new plant species, recovers lost or forgotten varieties, and studies their culinary uses.
In his Madrid restaurant, El Invernadero (The Greenhouse), he creates "a rich, tasty, succulent, healthy, emotional gastronomic experience," based on fruits, nuts, roots, stems, leaves, pods, mushrooms, fungi, flowers, and seeds.
In 2012 he launched the concept of a "Green Revolution" in the form of a menu based on fruits, vegetables, and mushrooms, limiting the use of animal products to seasoning only. Ever since then, he has continued his research into vegetables and the numerous ways in which they can be served.
Essence of beetroot.
This is one of the dishes that has been a feature of the chef's repertoire throughout the history of gastrobotanics, in various different incarnations that have included dessert and an appetizer.
"It's a clear example of the fact that eating vegetables is not only healthy, but can also be fun and lighthearted. Trying it transports us back to the garden and the land, a sensation that comes from the flavors of the beetroot which, together with the apple and the avocado, give the dish its texture and creaminess. It's an icon in our recipe book!"
Bittor Arginzoniz opened Etxebarri (in Atxondo, Biscay) in 1990, where he took on the role of head waiter, not yet knowing how to cook.
In 1998 he put a charcoal barbecue outside the restaurant where he cooked some chops that were a great success. That sowed the seed for the restaurant Etxebarri which, 20 years later, would be highly acclaimed in international guides and listings.
Over the years, Arginzoniz has substituted charcoal for different types of wood, updated the kitchen to make room for brick ovens, and has not stopped searching for the best raw ingredients to be cooked on the grill.
He grows vegetables in his garden and believes in using local produce, although if he believes that best ingredients can't be found locally, he will source them from outside of the Basque Country, such as Palamós red prawns or Galician meat.
The eels that are served at Etxebarri mainly come from the Basque coast. Bittor installed his own fish hatchery to ensure a supply of them all year round.
He cooks them on the grill, in a mesh pan, which ensures that they retain their smooth texture and their flavor of the sea.
Diego Guerrero, born in Vitoria in 1975 and trained in places such as Martín Berasategui's flagship restaurant in Lasarte, launched the restaurant DSTAgE in Madrid in July 2014.
DSTAgE exemplifies Guerrero's own personal definition of a contemporary haute cuisine restaurant in which closeness and informality are the main features. It is a space that "aims to be honest and authentic, and to entertain, surprise, excite…"
Everything that is put on a plate, openly and in full view of the guests, is there for a reason and has a story behind it that Diego will gladly share, since the kitchen is open to the dining room. This brings guests closer to everything that goes on in the kitchen, in an industrial setting, with no tablecloths or formalities.
"This is a reference to memories of food and to my roots, in which we recreate a typical Basque dish, pantxineta (a puff pastry bun with a cream filling). In the DSTAgE version, we replace the puff pastry with cured carrots."
Originally from Extremadura, Quique Dacosta has adopted the region of Valencia as his own. He began his professional career as a chef in 1986. In 1988, he began working at what is now his restaurant, El Poblet (now called Quique Dacosta Restaurant) in Denia in the province of Valencia.
Dacosta takes his inspiration from the culture and land in which he lives and works. The Mediterranean Sea and the Montgó Natural Park are places that have been fundamental in his cooking, with the endless wealth of the sea and its specific geographical location.
His cuisine has evolved to the rhythm of his profound culinary curiosity, becoming a whirlwind of flavors, textures, emotions, and surprises, with a strong sense of aesthetics.
Slice of dried tomato.
This is one of the dishes from the Quique Dacosta Restaurant's 2018 menu: La Evolución y El Origen (Evolution and Origin). Its origins lie in the action of the salt which, together with the air, cures vegetables as well as meat and fish.
The concept for this dish was a taste reminiscent of a slice of Valencian tomato. "We sprinkle dried tomato powder over a smooth cream also made from dried tomato, evoking a thick "salmorejo" soup on a kind of crunchy biscuit. The drops are a reduction of rice vinegar, like dew drops on a fresh tomato."
Cuisine Without Limits
This is just a small sample of the wealth of haute cuisine in Spain today.
The path to freedom forged by Ferran Adrià, in combination with a respect for tradition, has opened up a world without limits which allows chefs to shine and to express their talent in their own individual ways.
Text: María García.
Image: Noor Restaurant / Mugaritz Restaurant / Aponiente Restaurant / Azurmendi Restaurant / ElBarri / Akelarre Restaurant / Berasategui Restaurant / DiverXo / Sant Pau Restaurant / El Invernadero Restaurant / Extebarri Restaurant / DSTAgE Restaurant / Quique Da Costa Restaurant.
Acknowledgements: Rafael Ansón, president of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy; Elena Rodríguez, director of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy; María García and Caroline Verhille, contributors to the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.
This exhibition is part of the Spanish Gastronomy project jointly coordinated by Google Arts & Culture and the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.