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One of Spain's First Great Contemporary Restaurants to Close

One of Spain's First Great Contemporary Restaurants to Close

Santi Santamaria was born on July 26, 1957, in an old farmhouse called Can Fabes on the edge of a little town called Sant Celoni, about 30 miles northeast of Barcelona. He grew up to become an industrial designer, and got his culinary start cooking stews and other simple dishes to feed his friends at community political gatherings. When the company he worked for as a designer went out of business in 1981, he used his severance pay to open an informal bistro in a corner (racó in Catalan) of the family home. That bistro, El Racó de Can Fabes, grew slowly but steadily, with Santamaria honing his craft along the way, into a serious restaurant, earning first one, then two, and finally, in 1994, three stars from the Guide Michelin. This made the place the first three-star restaurant in Catalonia, and only the third in Spain (Ferran Adrià had to wait three more years to earn a third star for his legendary elBulli).

Santamaria's cooking was contemporary, sometimes with French accents, but it was purely Catalan at heart. He was fanatical about sourcing the best raw materials from around Sant Celoni and off the nearby coast, and his creations were full of references to the region's traditional cooking, but always with an inventive twist. (His version of the definitive local preparation called mar i muntanya, sea and mountain — usually made with chicken and shrimp — employed pork belly and caviar instead.) He also set himself up as the anti-Ferran Adrià, criticizing the use of chemical additives in food and what he considered to be Adrià's disregard for local products and traditions. The so-called "feud" between the two great chefs was fodder for the Spanish press for years.

As the reputation of El Racó de Can Fabes grew, Santamaria went on to open an acclaimed restaurant in Madrid, Santceloni, and then exported his culinary genius to Singapore, joining chefs like Guy Savoy, Daniel Boulud, Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, and Tetsuya Wakuda in the restaurant portion of the massive Marina Bay Sands project. Tragically, Santamaria died suddenly of a heart attack while visiting his Singapore property in 2011. His wife and daughter made the decision to keep the original restaurant going, bringing back Xavier Pellicer, an alumnus of the kitchen who had been cooking in Barcelona, as chef. El Racó subsequently lost one Michelin star, but maintained its quality.

This week, however, Santamaria's family issued an open letter announcing that "after 32 years of a wonderful culinary and gastronomic adventure… we plan to close the doors of Can Fabes this August 31." The letter goes on to say that "Santi Santamaria taught us to be satisfied with a job well done. Two and a half years after his death, we are pleased that we have maintained the values and ideals instilled in us, even in his absence. But in these difficult times in our country for fine cuisine, Can Fabes has lost the economic viability necessary to continue an enterprise based on excellence, and for this reason we have decided to put an end to one of the brightest chapters in Catalan and European cuisine in the past quarter century." The letter concludes by promising that "[The story] of Can Fabes will not end on August 31st but will live on in the current and future projects of all the people who have passed through out kitchen and our dining room, and in the memory of the thousands of diners who have always been our reason for existing."


Óscar Velasco

When we talk about the great chefs, we often assume that they all had early vocations. But Oscar Velasco was an exception to the general rule. At 16, he had little choice when he grudgingly accepted a job as a kitchen porter in a small restaurant in Segovia (Castile-León), and could never have imagined that he would one day be collecting Michelin stars for his own cooking. Today we can imagine him, as he works at the Santceloni restaurant in the Hesperia Hotel in Madrid, looking back and smiling at the unexpected course his life has taken.

But those first four years gradually changed his aspirations. At the age of 20, someone who had noted his budding talent recommended that he sign up at Segovia Hospitality School. And he took the advice. Before three years were up, Zalacaín offered him a position on the team under the much-revered Benjamín Urdiain, his first mentor.

After just four months there, he moved on to take in the teachings of some of Spain’s top chefs, firstly Martín Berasategui , at the restaurant of the same name in the Basque Country. He gradually established his preferences and drew up a working philosophy based on product quality and quiet creativity. But the peak of his training was yet to come.

Can Fabes was the turning-point in his career. The controversial but always fascinating figure of Santi Santamaría was to be determinant not only for the three-year apprenticeship undertaken by Velasco in this 3-star restaurant, but also because of the support and advice he received later on when setting up the Santceloni project. "If this restaurant had opened up as 'Velasco', it would have died an early death", confesses the Segovian chef years later. During that period, Santamaría taught Velasco his keywords – market-based cuisine and local products, that is, the emphasis always on the ingredients.

Michelin stars

Then came the moment of truth. In 2001, the Santceloni restaurant opened with Santi Santamaría acting as adviser but with Óscar Velasco bearing all the responsibility for the kitchen. And he took up the challenge admirably, with the first Michelin star coming in the first year. And this was not just a matter of chance because the second one - which many consider more difficult - came in 2005, proving Velasco’s talent and rewarding him for his hard work. "But I would be disappointed if I don't receive a third one", confides Velasco.

Dishes such as his Knuckle of veal with potato purée, Monkfish with pig's ear and marrow, Confit of suckling pig with black truffle and zabaglione, all on the menu at Santceloni, speak for themselves of the Velasco style. Another of the distinguishing elements at this restaurant is its famous cheese trolley, with a plentiful display of well-chosen cheeses.

The Abadía de Retuerta winery announced in mid-2009 that it would be taking on Óscar Velasco to advise the kitchen staff of the new restaurant in the hotel and wine tourism complex named Abadía de Retuerta Le Domain. He was the ideal candidate not only because of the two Michelin stars held by Santceloni (Madrid) but also because of his roots in Castile-León and his thorough knowledge of the products of this region. Velasco combines his work at Santceloni with external advisory services at this new wine tourism center.

In 2017 Velasco presented a new restaurant in Madrid, called La Atrevida. This 86-person restaurant will not leave diners indifferent. This contemporary space offers a mixture of classic Spanish dishes and more creative options, all of which bear same marks of quality ingredients and cuisine that have made Óscar Velasco a reference on the Spanish culinary scene. 


A less intense version of the Negroni, gin is swapped out for sparkling water.

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Don’t leave Spain without trying…

1. Gazpacho

2. Paella

3. Tortilla Española

4. Gambas al ajillo

5. Tostas de tomate y jamón

Black pigs roam among the holm oak trees in western Spain in search of the acorns that give marbled magenta Ibérico ham its distinctive nutty flavour. Rub thick pieces of toast with garlic and tomato, pour on some olive oil and top with slices of jamón for a quick, delicious lunch.

6. Patatas bravas

7. Pollo al ajillo

Any Spaniard will tell you that the best garlic chicken ever is the one their grandmother makes. And of course they are right. Unpeeled cloves of garlic are fried in olive oil to flavour it, then taken out before adding pieces of chicken. When that’s cooked, the garlic goes back in with some rosemary, thyme and some dry sherry or white wine. But there is no definitive recipe for this much-loved dish.

8. Cochinillo asado

People might claim they are going to Segovia to see its astounding Roman aqueduct, fairytale castle or elegant cathedral, but really all that is just to build up an appetite for lunch. And in Segovia that means either roast suckling pig or lamb. The meat is cooked in huge wood-fired ovens and is so tender it is cut with the side of an earthenware plate.

9. Pisto

Try making our pisto con huevos – serve this traditional Spanish recipe with rustic bread and a fruity red wine.

10. Turrón

Spaniards devour massive amounts of turrón, or almond nougat, at Christmas, although it’s available all year round. Most of it is made in the small town of Jijona in the province of Alicante, using locally-grown almonds mixed with honey and egg white. There are two basic types – a soft, smooth version, called Jijona, and hard Alicante turrón, which contains pieces of almond.

Are you a fan of Spanish cuisine? Do you agree with our selection or have we missed your favourite? Share your must-try dishes below…


Patatas Bravas (Bravas Potatoes)

Patatas bravas is one of the classic Spanish tapas dishes and is served in bars all over Spain. Fried potatoes are covered in a tomato-based sauce which has a slight bite from Tabasco, hence the name bravas, which means "fierce" in Spanish.


Joan Roca

A family kept together by cooking. This is one of the main themes in the career of Joan Roca, head of El Celler de Can Roca. His family encouraged his first steps in the kitchen and today continues to be one of the keys to his culinary activities.

Joan Roca, and his brothers Josep and Jordi, were brought up in a setting in which the main stars were traditional Catalonian recipes, in the Can Roca restaurant owned by their parents. None of them could have imagined as they played in the nearby streets, that gastronomy was to keep the family so close over the years.

Joan, the oldest, was the first to show interest. He used to enjoy shopping with his mother in the market and watching her in the kitchen. He came to love the aromas, smells and sounds coming from the pans. "It was a small kitchen, but our hearts were in it", he says.

After his early, family-focused beginnings, he went to study at the Hospitality School in Girona, where he learned other ways of cooking and serving food that complemented what he already knew about Catalonian cuisine. Then he spent short periods with prestige chefs - first in Spain under names such as Ferran Adrià, with whom he developed the famous "deconstruction" methods, and Santi Santamaría with whom he learnt new versions of standard Catalonian dishes, then in France with George Blue, who taught him the "French" way of organizing a top-level kitchen.

Searching the perfect way

On returning from France aged 22, he decided to open a new establishment, El Celler de Can Roca next to that of his parents. That was when he started to develop his own personal approach to gastronomy - starting out with tradition and adding know-how learned on his travels and from personal reflection.

Joan Roca and his team take their inspiration for new menus from three sources - the search for the perfect way to cook food, the roots of regional cuisine, and the aromas provided by nature. On a technical level, Joan Roca has studied the ins-and-outs of sous-vide cooking, his aim being to preserve the maximum original flavor by carefully controlling temperatures. Sous-vide cooking is much less aggressive than traditional cooking, and guarantees texture while altering foods as little as possible.

This technique first appeared on the menu in 1995 with a dish that was to bring him fame, Warm cod with spinach, cream of Idiazabal cheese, pine nuts and a reduction of Pedro Ximénez. He subsequently perfected the technique further, bringing out creations such as Foie gras with honey, citrus fruits and vanilla and saffron-infused milk, and Breadcrumbed dewlap of pork with green pepper samfaina.

At El Celler de San Roca, while the main emphasis has always been on the quality of the raw materials used, technical innovation has also played a star role. In parallel with research into vacuum cooking, R&D activities also took place in other areas of interest, such as the use on the desserts menu of the aromas to be found at the high-end of the perfume market ("Adaptation", in 2002), how to obtain distillates and use them as flavor enhancers (Oysters with the aroma and flavor of earth, 2004), how to use smoke in recipes (Baby octopus with green pepper perfume, 2005) and cooking with wine, going to the extreme of offering bites of red wine (2006).

Joan Roca participates in everything that goes on at El Celler de Can Roca. He is convinced of the importance of the synergies created in the kitchen with the work done by his brother Josep as sommelier and maître, and the sweet delicacies devised by younger brother Jordi at the head of the desserts station. The three boys who used to play at the door of their mother’s restaurant have now joined forces, creating a fine-tuned operation. And mention should also be made of their sister Encarna, who deals with the banqueting division at the Mas Marroch establishment.

In September 2007, they transferred the El Celler de Can Roca operations to the Torre de Can Roca, just 200 meters away, to gain more space in the kitchen and in the dining area. More space, and more freedom to work with quality. And, above all, says Joan Roca, "I want to cook like my mother, with my heart".

One of the features that best defines the work of the Roca brothers and their restaurant El Celler de Can Roca is their zeal for culinary research. They actively collaborate with the Alicia Foundation (Science and Food) and one of their research projects has enabled them to carry out an in-depth study on issues such as cleaning oysters under high pressure. They published their research at the Barcelona Vanguardia conference (as part of the Alimentaria 2010 fair), where the entire Roca family received a heartfelt tribute for their dedication to the food profession.

In 2013 Roca brothers launched two establishments in Barcelona’s stylish Hotel Omm. On the one hand, there is Roca Moo, a re-launched version of the hotel’s Restaurante Moo. Although the Roca family has consulted on this former establishment for some ten years, they have now reopened with a new concept.

The new re-vamp includes an open kitchen, a bar for dining or watching the chefs in action, and the following three tasting menus based on modern Catalan cuisine: Vegetarian, Seasonal and the special, eight-course Menu Joan Roca. Despite the ongoing involvement of the Roca family, the force behind the three-Michelin star restaurant El Celler de Can Roca in Girona (Catalonia), the Roca Moo kitchen is under the command of chef Felip Llufriu.

 
On the other, thirsty throngs and diners looking for a more casual gastronomic experience can visit the new Roca Bar, located in the hotel lobby. Open all day with a menu given over to the concept of street food, the Roca Bar offers dishes like tapas, sandwiches, regional pastries, artisanal cheeses, a breakfast buffet and different plates for sharing.

In April 2013 El Celler de Can Roca was named Best Restaurant in the World by Restaurant Magazine.


The Spanish food tradition has varied ancestry, though most Spanish dishes have rather humble origins and are the result, over time, of ingredients put together by poor peasants, farmers or shepherd families many times using leftovers, or at the very least products from their own farms and orchards.

So how come Spanish cuisine is so diverse? The answer is simple, and it's all related to history and location. First of all we must consider that being in central Europe Spain had great Roman and Greek influence think only of olive oil and wine, then the Moorish influence in the Spanish cooking tradition produced marvels such as gazpacho and nougats and the Jewish gastronomic tradition contributed to the preparation of stews known as olla (pot).

However it was Christians who began with the tradition of one of Spain's most notorious and sought after products: Spanish ham, which is not only consumed as tapas in bars, but also accompanies many dishes. Unquestionably pork is par excellence the favorite Spanish meat: everything is used, nothing is wasted. However, the Spanish like to make use of all of the ingredients they can and often include a number of different meats in the same dish.

Of course there are many other meats served in Spanish tables including lamb, beef and chicken. But Spaniards are not exclusively carnivorous, there are many vegetarian stews and other dishes that are enjoyed from North to South, from East to West. Vegetables are grown throughout the country, and the varied climates and terrains in Spain mean that a variety of different vegetables are grown. As a result, the vegetable dishes in Spain tend to vary from place to place.

Along the way a new continent called America was discovered, which brought not only gold and precious gems, but something that would one day save the Old Continent from famine: potatoes, the main ingredient of Spanish tortilla, tomatoes, some pepper varieties and many other vegetables.

But what makes Spanish food so popular is the quality and variety of the ingredients used. For instance, it was the same Romans that imported rice to Spain, giving way to the creation of the Valencian paella and many other rice dishes. Since then, these dishes have come to form part of the typical, if not iconic, dishes of Spain and are a definite must for any travelers who are planning on visiting Spain and doing a bit of gastronomic tourism.

There is also a great variety of seafood, including fish, mollusc and crustaceans from the coast areas, which are used in the preparation of many delicious dishes. The fish industry in Spain is extremely important and forms part of the livelihood of many of the population. Furthermore, Spain is a country that is blessed with such a large and varied coastline, including the Bay of Biscay, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. This gives rise to a whole manner of different species of fish and seafood being available for Spanish chefs. Therefore the range of Spanish seafood dishes is endless!

Many typical Spanish products have denomination of origin such as ham, cheese, fruit and vegetables, seafood and sausages. These are some of the most common ingredients found in Spanish cooking and can add a touch of Spain to any other dishes you may decide to make. However, many of them go well by themselves, and they make perfect tapas.

When it comes to sweet things, Spain has a very rich dessert tradition. On one hand it was also influenced by the Moors, and on the other many of them are centuries old creations from nun convents. If you have a sweet tooth we recommend you to sample some of the many deserts Spain has to offer.

And sangria? Of course, we also give you the recipe for this emblematic Spanish drinks and many others.


VIEW OF THE ROCK

THE city of Algeciras, above, has a sleepy charm, with little squares, quiet cafes and tiny tapas bars tucked away down alleys.

You can catch a ferry to Morocco from this old port, and the Moorish influence is strong. Hookah pipes are smoked and at times you have a feeling of having crossed to North Africa. Bargain hunters will enjoy the dockside shopping centre.

The 63-mile train ride from Ronda takes 85 minutes. See andalucia.com.


Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine

The Copenhagen restaurant Noma threw Nordic cuisine onto the global stage when it won top spot in the World 50 Best Restaurants in 2010. This cookbook was published on the back of that extraordinary achievement and offers an insight into the working mind of the genius behind it, René Redzepi. Redzepi is obsessed with championing Nordic produce and goes to great lengths to accentuate it in his presentation. He served food on pebbles found in the same fields as the produce and sourced the purest possible water from Greenland. The cookbook includes 90 of Redzepi’s recipes for you to try at home, none of which required pure glacial water from the Arctic Circle.


TRADITIONAL LATIN AMERICAN FOOD

Chiles en Nogada (Mexico)

Although not officially the national dish of Mexico, Chiles en Nogada is one of the most iconic traditional dishes of Mexico for two main reasons.

First, because its colors mimic those in the Mexican flag, with white sauce, red pomegranate, and green parsley. And secondly, because it is usually prepared around Mexican Independence Day , which is September 16th.

Chiles en Nogada is originally from Puebla, and stands out among the unique dishes of Puebla’s delicious cuisine for its peculiar taste, seasonality, and historical importance.

In truth, the reason why it’s only prepared from July through September is that the dried fruits it’s made with are only available at that time of the year.

The traditional Chiles en Nogada recipe combines different flavors and textures, with a breaded sweet pepper stuffed with a mix of meat, dried fruits, and lots of spices. The white sauce (made with nuts) entirely covers the pepper, and the entire dish is decorated with pomegranate and parsley.

Because it’s an elaborate dish that requires costly ingredients and at least 6 hours of preparation time, it should be fairly expensive.

So stay away from cheap restaurants if you wish to savor an authentic Chile en Nogada. Among the most highly rated restaurants in Puebla are Porfirio, Casareyna, and Casa Barroca.

Just make sure you plan your visit to Puebla, Mexico during the right months! -Isabella Biava of Lets Travel To Mexico

Cuban Flan by Ayngelina Brogan

Flan Cubano (Cuba)

There’s no official national dish of Cuba. But if there’s one dessert you’ll find on every menu in the country, it’s Cuban flan. Every Cuban grows up learning how to whip up this easy recipe.

Flan Cubano is different from other recipes you’ll find in Mexico, Latin America, or Spain because of Cuba ‘s unique challenges regarding access to a steady supply of ingredients.

So while other flans may call for fresh milk or cream cheese, Cuba’s version uses canned ingredients and sugar (which the country depended on for many years prior to the Cuban revolution).

Some people think fresh is always best, but this flan de leche uses canned condensed milk, canned evaporated milk, eggs, and sugar to create a creamier, sturdier flan. And with the caramelized sugar on top, it feels more unctuous, almost like a creme brulée or cheesecake.

Everyone in Cuba eats flan. And while you can go to a high end paladare (private restaurant) in Cuba, one of the more unique places to experience the dish is a local Cuban cafeteria.

Cubans always try to reduce waste by reusing anything they can, and this dish is a great example. Instead of expensive ramekins, they cut the tops off beer or soda cans and cook flan in it. To serve, they simply turn the can upside down onto a plate! -Ayngelina Brogan of Bacon is Magic

Chicken Pepian by Michele Peterson

PEPIAN DE POLLO (Guatemala)

One of the most popular traditional dishes of Guatemala , pepián de pollo (chicken in red sauce) originates from the indigenous Maya peoples in the country’s cool, misty highlands.

While other hearty stews (including pulique, subanik, and kak-ik) can only be found regionally, pepián de pollo is available throughout the country. Widely considered the national dish of Guatemala, it draws its name from the word pepitas (squash seeds), which is a key ingredient.

To make pepián, squash and sesame seeds are toasted on a traditional clay griddle until deep brown. Then they’re ground into a fine powder and combined with charred peppers, chiles, onions, tomato, and other ingredients according to the cook’s personal recipe for pepián de pollo.

The mixture is then pureed until velvety smooth. The fragrant, lightly spiced sauce is then simmered with chicken in broth and served with rice and corn tortillas.

Since it is somewhat laborious to make, pepián is often enjoyed on weekends or special occasions.

However, it’s possible to find tasty versions at traditional restaurants in Antigua , the colonial capital, or Huehuetenango, a city in the western highlands that is home to diverse Maya peoples. -Michele Peterson of A Taste for Travel

Argentina Chimichurri Sauce by Authentic Food Quest

Argentine Chimichurri Sauce (Argentina)

Move over, BBQ sauce… In Argentina , it’s all about chimichurri. The Argentines have mastered the art of barbecue, and chimichurri sauce is the go-to companion for their fabulous grilled meats.

With beef being a national specialty, chimichurri sauce is found at every steakhouse, asado (barbecue), or wherever meat is grilling.

This simple sauce combines parsley, oregano, garlic, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. Red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper give it an additional punch. The sauce gets better with age: In Argentina, they say “today it is good, tomorrow it is even better.”

The historic origins of this South American grilling staple are not known. It has been attributed to an Irish or English soldier, and even Basque settlers in Argentina. Another version credits Argentine cowboys (gauchos) for concocting the sauce while grilling outdoors.

Regardless of how it came to be, chimichurri sauce is really the only acceptable sauce for grilling. Ketchup, mustard, and BBQ sauce really have no place at any Argentine barbecue.

The recipe for authentic Argentina Chimichurri is quite simple to make, and this versatile sauce enlivens any dish. –Rosemary Kimani & Claire Rouger from Authentic Food Quest

Peruvian Ceviche by Sean Lau

CEVICHE (Peru)

When it comes to sampling Peruvian food, you mustn’t miss ceviche, the national food of Peru. While there are many kinds of ceviches in the world, none is as tasty as the Peruvian variant.

Due to the abundance of high-quality seafood available on the country’s Pacific coast and the native green limes (known as limón), Peruvian ceviches bring forth a robust freshness and flavor that would make Gordan Ramsey forget all his profanities.

Though delightful, the traditional recipe for Peruvian Ceviche is not at all difficult to make. The main ingredients are fresh fish, limes, onions, spicy peppers, and fresh cilantro.

The fish is marinated in fresh limes: Their acidity essentially “cooks” it, killing the bacteria and anything harmful in the fish. That’s why the freshness of the seafood and the quality of the limes are so essential in making the perfect Peruvian ceviche.

If you’re looking to try the best Peruvian ceviche, you really must visit Lima, the capital of Peru. Its geographical location on the Pacific Ocean virtually guarantees that all its seafood is top-notch. -Sean Lau of LivingOutLau