Spain has long been at the epicenter of the global foodie revolution and leading the charge are the innovative chefs of Catalunya. Although undoubtedly inspired by local boy Ferran Adrià of El Bulli fame, these 10 Catalan cooks make food that is distinctively their own, whether creating Barcelona fusion cuisine, traditional Pyrenean fare or Michelin-starred meals on cliff top hideaways. We discover more about the top 10 Catalan chefs to watch right now.
Courtesy of Cinc Sentits
Courtesy of Tickets Restaurant
He may have grown up in Canada, but Jordi Artal has gone back to his Catalan roots. Since he opened Cinc Sentits in 2004 in Barcelona’s Eixample neighborhood, self-taught chef Artal has experimented with local and organic ingredients to create dishes that, as the restaurant’s name suggests, engage all five senses. This approach won Cinc Sentits a Michelin star in 2008, which it still maintains thanks to constant innovation. Don’t leave without trying the chocolate mousse with arbequina olive oil ice cream and roasted macadamias.
Everyone knows Ferran, the brains behind El Bulli, arguably the world’s most famous restaurant, but fewer can name Albert, the younger Adrià brother who is referred to by his famous sibling as ‘the most complete cook working in the world today’. Since El Bulli closed its doors, Albert has cooked up something of a mini empire around Paral·lel in Barcelona, including Tickets tapas restaurant, Pakta (Peruvian–Japanese fusion) and, most recently, Bodega 1900, a vermuteria, or vermouth bar that taps into the city’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for the aperitif. Reservations for most of the venues have to be made at least six weeks in advance, but Tickets’ baby squid glazed with its own ink and Pakta’s blackened cod with white miso and pisco foam, are definitely worth the wait.
As the head chef at Girona’s El Celler de Can Roca, which knocked Denmark’s Noma off the top spot in the World’s Top 50 Restaurants listing, Joan Roca is certainly one to watch. His brand of experimental cuisine, akin to Heston Blumenthal’s molecular gastronomy, results in a tasting menu that runs to 20 courses and encompasses dishes such as ceviche topped with frozen lime and sourdough ice cream. Most notoriously, Roca has experimented with ‘perfume cooking’, in which he created a range of dishes infused with famous perfumes, it may not be to everyone’s tastes, but a waiting list that runs close to a year can’t be wrong.
When he was 24 years old, Jordi Cruz became the second youngest chef ever to be awarded a Michelin star. Now 37, the Barcelona native has four stars under his belt and heads the kitchen at ABaC Restaurant & Hotel. His style of cooking, which Cruz himself terms as ‘evolutionary and restless’, sees ABaC roll out dishes such as casarecce pasta with sea cucumber, Wagyu beef with barbequed foie gras, and tonic water bubbles with candied lemon and juniper. The architect-designed restaurant space and terrace are a hit with diners and even the rococo Versace tableware can’t detract from Cruz’s masterful cuisine.
As many Catalans will tell you, there’s much more to Catalunya than just Barcelona. The career of Carme Ruscalleda, which has for 25 years centered around the small coastal town of Sant Pol de Mar, proves just that. Opening her restaurant Sant Pau in 1988, Ruscalleda focused on Catalan culinary tradition and her training in charcuterie techniques, with dishes such as Girona veal cheek or Pyrenean mushrooms, the latter of which are given an unexpected twist with the addition of flavors such as umeboshi and barbary fig. It’s this kind of joyful experimentation that has won Ruscalleda five Michelin stars over the course of her career, three for Sant Pau and two for Sant Pau de Tòquio in Japan, which she also owns and manages, making her the world’s only five starred female chef.
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The scion of four generations of bakers and one of Barcelona’s most familiar culinary figures, Cristian Escribà is surprisingly approachable. On most days he can be found chatting with regulars in one of the two branches of his family’s eponymous Barcelona patisserie, which since 1906 has been rolling out the best croissants, cakes and chocolates in town. With Cristian at the helm however, the Escribà brand has gone from being a mere patisserie to a member of the Academia Española de Gastronomía and the French Culinary Academy. A recognized maestro of chocolate and candy creations, Cristian Escribà counts the likes of King Felipe VI, Leo Messi, Ferran Adrià and Pedro Almodóvar among his devotees. Check out the photos of them that line the café walls as you breakfast on Barcelona’s crispiest croissants dipped in hot chocolate so thick the spoons stand upright.
Jordi Herrera once harbored dreams of becoming an anthropologist, but Spain’s foodie community can be thankful that he plumped to become a chef instead. With a penchant for traditional Catalan flavors, Herrera has cornered Barcelona’s trend for ‘nose-to-tail’ eating. In his Eixample restaurant, Manairó Herrera brings the traditions of the Pyrenees down to street level and then applies his blowtorch style of cooking. There isn’t much on the menu that hasn’t been put to the flame, from the sardines a la plancha to meloso de cordero. The genius of Herrera is to take these traditional flavors and infuse them with new energy, which is why he and Manairó hold a Michelin star.
Jordi Vilà sees himself, according to his website, as a ‘provocateur’. What’s certain is that the rest of Barcelona’s gastronomic community sees him a much-respected figure. Having started out as a baker’s apprentice at only 15, Vilà rose through the ranks of the city’s best restaurants until, in 2002, he opened Alkimia, with a Michelin star soon following in 2005. With a playful approach to traditional Spanish dishes, think staples such as lamb, almonds and pan con tomate jazzed up with dashes of vermouth and bergamot, Vilà’s food is classic and considered, a tendency reflected in the minimal, determinedly untrendy interiors: both Vilà and Alkimia are led by food, not fashion.
The Mandarin Oriental, tucked away behind an unassuming façade on Passeig de Gràcia, is a feast for the eyes thanks to its stand-out interior design and its restaurant, Moments, is a feast for the taste buds. This is hardly surprising considering the venue is co-headed by up-and-coming chef Raül Balam and much-lauded Carme Ruscalleda, who just happens to be Balam’s mother. With a total of six Michelin stars between them (five for Ruscalleda and one for the 38-year-old Balam and his work at Moments), the pair serve an enticing and concise menu full of Catalan flavors, membrillo and canelones sit alongside the likes of monkfish broth. The chef credits his mother with having given him the drive to succeed. ‘[She] always said to me, ‘never go to sleep happy with what you’ve done, because if you do that, you let down your guard’.
Sergi Arola is a larger than life figure in Spanish contemporary cuisine. From his appearances on reality TV to his restaurant empire spanning the globe, from Chile to Hong Kong, Arola relishes the limelight. His cuisine lives up to the hype. As a disciple of Ferran Adrià and a holder of two Michelin stars, the Barcelona-born chef, working from his Madrid restaurant Gastro, serves a streamlined tasting menu of Spanish haute cuisine. Veal sweetbreads roasted with spices over a scramble of perrechicos, or essence of king prawn with cider vinaigrette and apple cubes showcase Arola’s style. With the restaurant only seating 30 customers, make sure you book well in advance.
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