Archive for the ‘Cuisine’ category

Food That Doesn’t Belong in the Refrigerator

March 3, 2012

Overstuffed FridgeFridgophilia. Photo courtesy of cuchillosSS.

Food That Doesn’t Belong in the Refrigerator
El País: Comida que no deberías guardar en la nevera
By Mikel López Iturriaga, published February 29, 2012

One of the most common obsessive behaviors of our time is putting all food in the refrigerator. Even if the food item degenerates more quickly when submitted to cold, we send it there anyway, as indiscriminate as Stalin during the Soviet purges, just so the flies can’t have at it.

I hadn’t thought about this phenomenon until a longtime reader of this blog, Vincent Pla, told me about it. This good man wrote me an email about the “war against putting everything in the fridge” between him and his family. “Those victims of ‘the more, the merrier’ even put olives in the fridge. This weekend, I learned that a friend of mine even put her rice there. Uncooked rice that was still in the package.”

That’s when I saw clearly how strong this tendency is. I’d seen similar outrages in the homes of relatives and friends. I, too, am guilty: many times, I’ve abandoned myself to fridgerific vices out of pure mental laziness. What do I do if I don’t know how to preserve something I bought? I put it in the fridge. It seems to work for everything.

But there are most definitely acts of fridgophilia which should be considered crimes against gastronomy. The clearest case is the tomato. Cold damages this fruit’s internal membrances and changes its pulp into an insipid, doughy paste. It’s better to keep it at room temperature; if you have erroneously put a tomato in the fridge already, take it out now and leave it alone for a day before eating it: it will still recover some of its flavor. These aren’t my words but those of a sage of cooking science, Harold McGee.

Although nothing suffers as much as the tomato, summer fruits in general, like peaches, melons, nectarines, eggplants, zucchinis, and peppers, don’t take well to the wintry environment of the refrigerator; their flavor and texture die at less than 10°C (50°F). I always keep them out of the refrigerator so they’ll remain whole and healthy. If possible, it would be better to buy smaller quantities so you don’t lose anything and break from the culture of monthly megapurchases at the supermarket. Where did this model come from? The United States. And what are the refrigerators like there? Monstruously big.

Tropical fruits don’t like cold weather at all, either. The avocado, for example: the best way to turn it into a green rock is to put it in the fridge even if it’s still hard. It’s better left in a dark, fresh place. Ditto for pineapples and bananas: according to McGee, low temperatures kill the enzymes that help them mature. This causes other enzymes to act more forcefully; the ones that cause cellular damage (ergo doughy texture) and the ones that blacken a banana’s skin.

There are also vegetables that can be and should be stored outside the refrigerator, like potatoes, onions, and garlic. Inside, the cold turns potato starch into sugar, changing the taste. The trick is to always keep them in dark places. I place these vegetables inside dark cloth bags that hang on my wall. They’re cheap and really functional.

Another very frequent mistake is putting bread and pastries in the fridge. Contrary to what you’d expect, they age more quickly there than they would in a bread box on the kitchen countertop. If you want to conserve them for more than a couple days, the best thing to do is freeze them in slices or small pieces and thaw them one by one inside the toaster or at room temperature. There is also no reason to put dry cheese in the refrigerator, assuming you consume it rapidly enough and keep it in a cool place in your home, wrapped in paper. Eating this kind of cheese right out of the fridge is gastronomic assassination, akin to killing a tomato.

Chocolate is another frequent victim of fridgophilia. Unless it has dairy filling, or it’s very hot, there’s no need to refrigerate it. If you did put bonbons or an open piece of chocolate inside, you would see a kind of whitish layer emit from them, a sign that their texture and flavor have been altered. It’s something like what happens to coffee, which is why some experts completely advise against storing that in the refrigerator. And if you want the Iberian ham you spent a fortune on to transform into the most vulgar of pork slices, there’s no doubt about where to put it.  (Need I say more?)

Refrigerating cereal, beans, dried fruit, canned food (with the exception of anchovies, which need to be kept cold), pasta, flour, or sugar is a sign of something else: foolishness. There’s no need to do it. It’s a definitive sign of insanity, and I suspect Vincent’s friend already suffers from it.

About the Author
Mikel López Iturriaga is relatively well-known as the author of the gastronomic blog Ondakín. He has worked as a music journalist and at other posts for Canal+, El País,, and ADN. He learned some things about cooking at the Hofmann School, but he still considers himself more an upstart than an expert.


The Ten Dark Secrets of Restaurant Menus

March 2, 2012

Woman Viewing MenuMenus can surprise you…Photo provided by Getty.

The Ten Dark Secrets of Restaurant Menus
A well-designed menu is an unerring weapon for making customers consume the dishes the restaurant is most interested in selling (because they are the most profitable.)
El País: Los 10 secretos oscuros de los menús de los restaurantes
Editorial by Marta Muñoz-Calero published February 28, 2012

Peak hour in a popular restaurant. Commands shoot out of the kitchen as sparks fly inside. “Excuse me, waiter, I would like a Caesar salad with broiled organic chicken breast,” a young man says decisively. “I’d like to try a fresh salad with wild morels and a scent of truffle,” his date says to the maître d’. Was that what these customers really wanted to order, or did the cunningly designed menu decide for them? Many restaurant menus hide little marketing secrets that toy with our psychology to “help us” decide (to do what would be best for the business, obviously).

All the effort that went into publicity costs little if it brings customers to the doors of the restaurant, and once they are inside, the objective is to make them spend as much money as possible. As you may have imagined, inside the restaurant’s doors the weapon of choice is called the menu.

There is a science to the design of restaurant menus: the size, the kind of paper, the number of pages, the font, the hierarchy of dishes…The Culinary Institute of America teaches a class entirely devoted to Menu Engineering, where one learns to apply known techniques from disciplines like marketing and culinary technology

These engineers’ job is simple: to make the dish that is most profitable for the restaurant owner the one that customers order. Our job is to help you disarm the most traitorous menus.

These are the 10 dangers we should take into account when we order at a restaurant. Don’t trust:

1. Menus that don’t have prices lined up in columns. When the cost of a dish is camoflauged by its proximity to a succulent description, it keeps you from doing a quick calculation of how much the bill will cost.

2. Dishes that appear on the top right corner of the menu. People tend to look at this part of the menu first, so that’s where you’ll always see what the restaurant is interested in selling, be it for profitability or price. If it’s a book-style menu, take care of the dishes situated in the center and top sections of the left-hand page.

3. The first and last spots on the suggestion column. We sometimes settle on these dishes and forget about the choices in between.

4. The signs that extol a dish as a house special, new, homemade, etc. They usually adorn dishes that make fat profits for the business owner.

5. Colorful descriptions filled with seductive words like “organic”, “roasted in a wood fired oven”, “fresh off the market” (or fish market), “crunchy”, or “marinated”. These words excite the appetite and call up images of dishes that in turn make us salivate and ask our bellies to make room. Words like “fried”, “boiled”, and “battered” do the opposite. Who wouldn’t order a sandwich of “red mullet fresh from the market with truffle and organic leek flan”? (From the menu of Can Fabes.)

6. Sophisticated, succulent, and expensive dishes placed next to the simplest ones. When we compare them, we impulsively choose the more seductive dish without stopping to look at the price.

7. Boxed and outlined areas contain the dishes that are the most lucrative for the establishment. You should put even less trust in the ones on the right side of the box because our vision automatically goes there.

8. A dish with a scandalous price placed just before or after one with an inflated price relative to the offering For example: placing “quail eggs, smoked salmon, and beluga caviar” for €48.60 just above “truffled egg yolk with cream of artichoke, spinach, and foie” for no less than €25.92. When you compare prices, you feel that the egg with foie is a bargain when the given price is actually sufficient for an entrée of eggs even with foie. (From the menu of Restaurante Zalacaín.)

9. Recommendation stickers on the main menu. Though this isn’t always the case, these could be things the chef wants to get rid of because they haven’t sold on previous occasions.

10. The back cover or back page is the junkyard of dishes. This is the dumping ground for the least ordered dishes and most simple food and drinks, like soft drinks and coffees. It’s like when happens in supermarkets when milk and eggs (primary necessities) are placed in the back of the store to encourage impulse buys of less needed and more expensive products on the way there.

A good description of dishes and a good menu design can increase a client’s bill by 20-30%, according to various websites dedicated to catering marketing. These psychological tools are legal, but they are still cunning and lead us to buy the food the owners want us to eat.

One last word to the wise is to always ask for dishes with ingredients that are seasonal and local (when possible). You don’t have to give in to the pressure of the waiter’s recommendation. Finally, you should never send food back in a rude way. It’s possible that when the dish returns to your table, it’ll hide a “surprise ingredient” inside.

Long-Running “Number One Gyoza City in Japan” Utsunomiya Comes in Second Place to…

February 3, 2012

Long-Running “Number One Gyoza City in Japan” Utsunomiya Comes in Second Place to…
Yomiuri Shimbun: 「ギョーザ日本一」宇都宮2位転落、首位は…
January 31, 2012

For the first time in 15 years, Utsunomiya does not have Japan’s highest per-household expenditure on gyoza (AKA jiaozi or pot stickers). That title fell to Hamamatsu in 2011, according a household survey conducted by the Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications and announced today.

According to the Ministry’s compiled monthly surveys, Hamamatsu households spent an average of ¥4313 (~$57.50) on gyoza last year compared to a ¥3737 average for Utsunomiya. The latter city’s average is a dramatic decline from the previous year’s average of ¥6133, hence its plummet to second place. Supermarket closures following the Great Tōhoku Earthquake are thought to have influenced the results [Hamamatsu is a couple hours west of Tokyo while Utsunomiya is a couple hours north of it, much closer to the disaster area].

Utsunomiya announced it had the Number One Gyoza in Japan in 1990. It has over 80 shops specializing in the dish, and since 1999 it has hosted an annual Gyoza Festival. The city’s tourism department said that while this year’s results are regrettable, the statistics do not include household spending on restaurants, and “if spending at specialty stores were included, our total would be much larger.”

Hamamatsu, for its part, serves a popular kind of gyoza that includes bean sprouts, and it has about 80 specialty shops of its own. The city’s public bulletin commented, “We’d like to keep doing business as a gyoza town alongside Utsunomiya.”

Original/原稿: (more…)

The Mysterious Tenderness of Kobe Beef

November 15, 2011

The Mysterious Tenderness of Kobe Beef
A trip to the Japanese city to find the truth behind the myths about the most exquisite meat in the world
El País: El misterio de la ternera de Kobe
Manuel Ángel-Méndez reporting from Kobe October 18, 2011

Perhaps you’ve heard the story before. The most expensive, exotic, and delicious meat in the world. The tenderness of Kobe. Its delicacy and flavor are unequaled. It dissolves on the palate, they say, like a tender delicacy from another world. As delicious as it is exclusive. A minuscule beefsteak can cost more than 100 euros. The secret? The legends converge on one: cows fed with beer, massaged every day, and trained with classical music in the green larders of Kobe, a city 600 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, Japan. Ancient Japanese farmers invented the technique at the beginning of the 19th century. Since then, the legend, as musical as it is enigmatic, repeated from mouth to mouth, has spread throughout the world.

But is this the real truth? Since when has the bubbly exercised such power over livestock? And what composer do the bovines prefer? Schumann? Perhaps Mozart? What do we really know about the most expensive meat in the world? There are too many questions, and I [Manuel Ángel-Méndez] had only one way to weather the storm: to travel 9000 kilometers to the location of the secret.

With a million and a half inhabitants, Kobe is a fringe stuck between the sea of Seto, the shore of the Pacific, and the smooth mountains of the west, wrapped in a perpetual, dense cloud. 30 kilometers away, the colossal Osaka displays all the attractiveness of frenetic nights of neon. Its younger sister is precisely the opposite: solemnity and sweet walks. One can arrive to almost any street corner on foot. The nerve center, around Sannomiya Station, is the perfect location to begin.

Nobody Knows Anything
Out there, in the information office, I make my first contact with the mystery. “Is it true that they give beer to the cows?” A young woman in uniform smiles nervously. “They say that, but to tell you the truth, I’m not quite sure.” Her coworker, double her age and clearly her superior, interrupts her. “We don’t know anything.” She pulls out black and white papers. They contain blurry photos, large pieces of beef hung in some warehouse with long explanations in Japanese. Only one phrase, underlined in English, stands out: “the farms are not open to the public in order to maintain the secret of the business.” Secret? “You’d have to talk to the chefs.” After a long hesitation, she connects various points on the map, a route for a kind of treasure hunt: the best restaurants to taste the authentic meat of Kobe.

My first stop was the port: The Sandaya, a giant establishment with more than 30 years of history. It’s early on a sunny morning, and its chef, Katsuji Inoue, speaks happily about the topic. The tajima-ushi is a branch of Japanese livestock (wagyu) distinctive to the country. Cows with black hair, sturdy, as large as 350 kilograms large. Its meat is famous for the deep veins of fat and the pallid and greasy appearance. Dozens of cities and prefectures produce calves of the highest quality: Sanda, Yamagata, Matsuzaka…in reality, Kobe is one more, but it has become the most famous thanks to its position as an important commercial port (it was one of the first to open to the West during the Meiji Revolution (translator’s note: actually before the Revolution, in 1868)). “200 years ago, hundreds of Europeans and Americans came to the port. They were fascinated by the flavor, and when they returned they began to speak about this fantastic discovery. It all began there.”

The massages and the beer? “Oh, yes, all that is true. They drink half a liter of beer per day, sometimes including wine, and they are massaged one to two hours daily with sake. That way, the meat is more tender and delicious. But they don’t get drunk! They just get a little sleepy.” Inoue laughs between gesticulations. Astonishing. On the menu, the best beefsteak, 250 grams, accompanied by vegetables, costs 15,000 yen (some 90 euros).

But something doesn’t fit. “Have you visited the farms?” “No, but I’ve seen them several times on television.” Mmmm. After leaving the restaurant, my suspicions grew. The restaurant is situated on the second floor of the Mosaic commercial center, a walkable distance from the port and from a multicolor waterwheel with fantastic views of the 108 meter-tall Kobe Tower and Meriken Park, the site is ideal for those who don’t want to go deeper into the origin of this prime material…I must keep searching.

And if there is someplace one can learn the truth, it should be in the Kitano neighborhood, where the residences of foreign diplomats, very open to the public, were built at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Along Kitanozaka Street, which rises to Mount Dotoku, the locals can visit art galleries, have lunch in jazz clubs, and buy clothing in delicate boutiques. It’s a residential area with a refined European air very appreciated by the Japanese.

The Wokoku, which has specialized in Kobe meat since 1973, can easily go unnoticed at one of the entrances to the street. Its chef, Kensuke Sakata, speaks very seriously. Not a word of English. His assistant’s digital translator saves us. “They don’t drink beer or listen to music. No massages either – only with a brush, for cleanliness. It’s simply the race of the livestock, its DNA, and its diet: dry grass, wheat grains, barley, and mineral water.” Straightforward and emphatic. He stays silent, expecting a reaction from this revolution. “Do you want to try it?” How could I refuse?

He serves two thick slices of authentic Kobe beef in tataki: raw, though lightly cooked on the edges. I need only dip them in a soy, vinegar, and ginger sauce. It slips on the palate like ice cream. Succulent. But this is still not the best part. Sakata prepares two beefsteaks teppanyaki style – over a metal sheet – accompanied with fine vegetables. A pair of minutes, salt, and pepper. Each slice melts when bitten and detonates rivers of juice in the mouth. Pure and delicious butter. It will be impossible to be content with European beef, which is like the sole of a shoe.

Upon leaving, I wait for the painful bill. “It’s on the house,” says Sakata, and he smiles for perhaps the first time. The pieces are beginning to come together. But I still need final verification. Only two corners away, Yiro Yamada has spent half a century in front of Aragawa, a small family restaurant and the most renowned in the city. Upon entering the door, one penetrates a very personal Japan: walls lined with dark wood, low tables, a chimney, a coal oven, and a comforting hospitality.

Of Farmers
Yamada, 79 years of age, eagerly awaits the question. He knows what’s coming. “Beer?” He bursts out laughing. “It would be better if we’d said champagne, don’t you think? It’s all a lie; there’s no secret. The difference is in the mineral water they drink, directly from the mountains, and in their diet. Nothing more.” The story began some years ago and was fed by the secretiveness of the farmers. Each one employed his own technique. Even so, all have to comply with strict regulations to receive certification as livestock raised in Hyogo Prefecture (whose capital is Kobe), a female or castrated male butchered by a prefectural butcher and with a determined and demanding level of quality and fat.

Local meat production is weak. Of the 1.2 million heads butchered each year in Japan, only 5000 (0.4%) are from Kobe. The amount exported is insignificant, which means the price is doubled in Europe or the United States. And the great demand in the domestic market makes it difficult to find the genuine item. “It’s a brand. Some butchers pick good product from other regions and put the Kobe stamp on it. It’s like French wine: there are many prices and colors.” As Yamada bids me farewell, one of his two sons kneads bread, and the other lights the oven for a banquet that night.

The truth has brought me peace, and we finish the day with a walk at the port. I’m tempted to return to Inoue, the cheerful Sandaya chef, and comment on his answers. We decide to get closer. When we arrive, the restaurant is packed, but Inoue gives us a few minutes. He listens patiently, with a naughty expression, and in telegram English that he could have prepared years before says “one story, many answers.” He smiles and melts into the crowd, the noise, and the plates brimming with Kobe beef.

Some Kobe Beef Restaurants
» Aragawa (0081 07 82 21 85 47). 15-18, 2-Chome Nakayamate Chuo-ku. Some 160 euros.
» Ooi (0081 07 83 51 10 11; 2-5. Motoko Town. 7-2-5 Motomachi-dori. 60 euros.
» Wakkoqu (0081 07 82 22 06 78; 1-22-13, Nakayamate-dori. 60 euros.
» Misono (0081 07 83 31 28 90; 1-1-2 Higashimon-dori. 50 euros.

Madrid Reinvents Sushi

October 29, 2011

Madrid Kabuki Sushi
Three pieces created in Kabuki mark the different paths of Madrileño sushi’s creative development. Photo by Joaquín Secall.

Madrid Reinvents Sushi
It all began seven years ago in Kabuki. A daring chef put truffle pâté and scallion in a nigiri of Atlantic halibut. He unwittingly began a revolution which has turned Madrid into a capital of Japanese fusion.
El País: Madrid reinventa el ‘sushi’
Carmen Pérez-Lanzac reporting from Madrid October 28, 2011

In the summer of 2010, Luis Arévalo locked himself up for three months in a local restaurant in Fuenlabrada and set about the difficult task of starting a luxury restaurant from scratch, the first to be 100% under his control. After his professional formation in Japanese restaurants in Peru, Chile, and Spain, the sushiman had realized the dream of every aspiring chef: two investors had offered to help him open a local restaurant. “The only thing that matters to us is the bottom line,” they said. Arévalo, a 42-year old who hails from Iquitos in the Peruvian jungle, now remembers those days while cleaning an enormous piece of fish belly (the prized toro) behind the bar of Nikei 225, his luxury restaurant (15 Castellana Street). “The first two weeks, my creativity was blocked. Then I realized that the key was my memories of what I had eaten during my life.”

Arévalo took typically Peruvian flavors – kebabs and heart brochettes, yellow pepper, Huancaína sauce – and began to combine them with sushi. “With the help of a table, I crossed different sauces with different seafood. That’s how I learned that Huancaína sauce doesn’t go with salmon, but it does go with scallops, and Atlantic halibut was perfect for marinated kebabs.” From the luck of the laboratory came, among other discoveries, a dozen nigiris which have contributed to the success of the restaurant. This chef who arrived in Spain by bus from France to get around customs and who worked without papers (“until Saint Zapatero gave them to me”) behind the bars of various Japanese restaurants is now “one of the best nikkei (Japanese-Peruvian fusion) cooks in the world,” according to gastronomic critic José Carlos Capel.

Every day more palates know the pleasure of a traditional nigiri (literally “fistfuls”), the bite-sized combination of a piece of raw fish (or seafood) on a ball of rice (prepared with vinegar, sugar, and salt) which when eaten provokes an explosion of contrasts that forces a diner to close his eyes in pure delight. In Madrid, in addition to the widespread popularity of traditional sushi, which is at an all-time high, there is a second generation of creative chefs that would scandalize many Japanese. Recognized sushimen who were born far from Asia are reinventing the product here in their own fashion. “They don’t have any mental barriers; they are more free and adventurous,” says Roger Ortuño, publicist and author of the web site (“Eat Japanese”), which receives more than 56,000 unique visitors per month.

In addition to restaurants where one can find sushi with touches of fusion, like the U.S.-inspired makis (rolls) at Miyama (5 Flor Baja and 45 Castellana), the temaki (hand-rolled sushi) with Mexican spice at Minabo (8 Caracas), one must add another group of restaurants that have converted the city into a paradise for diners who like to experiment: the two Kabuki (2 Presidente Carmona and 6 Velázquez), the two 99 Sushi Bars (4 Hermosilla and 99 Ponzano), Nikkei 225 (15 Castellana), and Soy (58 Viriato). They are first class restaurants at which, even if one shows great self-control, it’s difficult to spend less than 50 euros per head.

To understand this trend, one must return to 2003, to the Kabuki on Presidente Carmona Street. There, the sushiman Ricardo Sanz, who had already added touches of olive oil and Maldon salt to sashimi (raw fish), made a leap of faith. Inspired by the classic rusk canapé with butter and imitation caviar, he created a nigiri of Atlantic halibut with truffle pâté and scallion. “It was a bombshell,” recalls Chef David Arauz, who then worked for Kabuki, “a novel nigiri that has now gone worldwide.”

After this success, Sanz continued inventing. Inspired by the cojonudos of Burgos (a tapa with quail egg and chorizo) and the huevo roto with truffle which his friend Abraham García was serving in Viridiana, he created a nigiri with fried quail egg and truffle pâté. After that, in self-homage (he’d run a hamburger shop for 22 years), he invented a nigiri using wagyu (Japanese beef) hamburger with tomato and onion.

Eight years have passed, and the creations of this restaurant have been shamelessly copied in dozens of restaurants. Sanz, for his part, has not stopped innovating with his favorite dishes as reference. He has turned the grouper with suckling pig typical to Mallorca into a nigiri of grouper with Iberian bacon. Madrileño stew inspired gunkan (nigiri wrapped in seaweed) with bone marrow and huevos rotos with ham, bull tartar, quail egg, and Canary potato.

All this experimentation is not unanimously approved of. Pedro Espina of Soy, the only one of the aforementioned chefs to train in Japan, has a more traditional perspective. His story is worth telling. He hails from a town in Murcia and competed in martial arts in the smallest weight class, which obligated him to stay under 58 kilograms. “I suffered much – like anorexics, poor things – everywhere but Japan, where I ate and didn’t gain weight. That ended my depression. I was amazed, and I became an apprentice at a local restaurant.”

Espina does not consider himself a sushiman but rather an itamae. It’s something different. Each nigiri should have its reiki (spirit). You should live in an almost spiritual state,” he explained. “The ingredients have a cycle of life, and you take them in your hand and take them to the next cycle.” Espina tries to make the most of the best Spanish resources in order to realize his creations, but he is not in favor of certain mixes: “cooking is like music. Before composing, you must master the theory. A nigiri is a fusion of ingredients, a fiesta of feelings, but there had to be a harmony. I hope my companions forgive me, but I don’t agree with certain mixes which are bad for the body. We’ve run a lot.”

In addition to Ricardo Sanz of Kabuki, others who trained with him have put their own stamps on the nigiri: in addition to Arévalo, there is the Madrileño David Arauz (age 34), who began to create his own as manager of the 99 Sushi Bar in Hermosilla. Among other creations, he made a gunkan of salt cod brandade and kaffir lime on a wafer of yolk and sesame. “We all like to add our own personal touch, to make one more,” he says in defense of his desire to experiment. “Sushi is being reinvented everywhere, but for some reason not at the same pace as in Madrid. Here we’re more perseverant.”

Sanz’s latest creations (which netted the Kabuki Wellington the first Michelin star for a Spanish Japanese restaurant) give the lie to the impulsiveness of his mind: for example nigiris of barbecued organic vegetables and of bull with grated tomato and crunchy rice bathed in coffee and milk, an homage to the pa amb tomàquet which he likes to dip in his coffee cup at breakfast. Albert Raurich, a disciple of Ferran Adrià and the only Spaniard who runs a luxury Japanese restaurant in Barcelona (Dos Palillos), broke into laughter when he heard of Sanz’s latest invention: “Ricardo is going to the madhouse!” he says. “[But seriously,] he’s a great sushiman who’s very level-headed. If anyone else made it, it would be a catastrophe, but I trust his judgment,” he concedes. Sanz, for his part, struggles to theorize about his success: “When I spend a day behind the bar, it’s difficult to have a sense of perspective. The reality is that I’m basically alone,” he says. “There isn’t a road to tell me which way to go. I believe in my instinct. What I see is that Madrid is one of the European cities with the highest quality Japanese cuisine. It’s astonishing. And it’s such a curious touristic draw that I don’t understand why it hasn’t been exploited more.”

The Hardest Place in the World to Get a Dinner Reservation Goes Out of Business

August 3, 2011

The Hardest Place in the World to Get a Dinner Reservation Goes Out of Business
Yomiuri Shimbun: 「世界一予約の取れないレストラン」休業のワケ
Mina Mitsui reporting from Paris August 1, 2011

El Bulli, a Catalonian restaurant known as the most difficult place in the world to get a meal reservation, served its final dinner and went out of business on July 30.

According to AFP, about 50 people were invited to partake in a 50-course meal featuring dishes like “pistachio ravioli” and “ham with melon juice dressing”. The restaurant will reopen in 2014 as a culinary institute. Ferran Adrià said “everything is going according to plan.”

El Bulli opened in 1964. England’s Restaurant Magazine has named it the best restaurant in the world 5 times since 2002. The average cost of a meal there is 270 euros per person. Over 2 million reservation requests are made each year. In January 2010, Mr. Adrià announced the restaurant would close its doors.

Noma, The World’s Best Restaurant, and the Spanish Culinary Revolution

April 19, 2011

René Redzepi of Noma

René Redzepi, the head chef of Noma, tabbed for a second time as the best restaurant in the world. Photo by Pradip J. Phanse.

The Roca Brothers of El Celler de Can Roca

The brothers Roca (Joan, Josep, and Jordi) in their restaurant El Celler de Can Roca in Girona. Photo by Pere Duran.

René Redzepi and Juan Mari Arzak

René Redzepi (left) greets the Spanish cook Juan Mari Arzak. Photo by Rosa Rivas.

Noma, The World’s Best Restaurant, and the Spanish Culinary Revolution
The Top Restaurant list re-validates Noma as the best restaurant in the world and consolidates Spanish leadership with El Celler de Can Roca (2nd) and Mugaritz (3rd)
El Pais: Noma y la revolución española
Rosa Rivas reporting from London April 18, 2011

The number one restaurant in the world: once again Noma, run by the Dane René Redzepi. Number two: El Celler de Can Roca. Number three: Mugaritz. In eighth place: Arzak. A trio of Catalan and Basque establishments give a burst of Spanish gastronomic energy to the ten world locales which, according to the British magazine Restaurant, are worth the trouble to visit because they are the best of the best. Among the ten indispensables, 4th is the Italian Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana, falling two places since 2010. The Fat Duck, operated by the British cook Heston Blumenthal, also fell two places but is holding strong.

Alinea in Chicago rose to sixth place, confirming a sweet year for the American Grant Achatz. He has a new three-star ranking from Michelin and recently published an autobiography about his career and his battle with cancer, and now his restaurant has been ranked the best in North America. The Brazilian Alex Atala’s D.O.M rose a spectacular 11 spots to seventh place. Basque-French Iñaki Aizpitarte’s Parisian restaurant Le Chateubriand and Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York round out the magnificent ten.

“We weren’t expecting it, but I’m very happy. This result reinforces the advances of the Spanish culinary revolution. The world continues to believe in the work we began long ago.” Joan Roca, the only brother of the creative triangle of El Celler de Can Roca who is in London, was exultant at the news that their Girona restaurant rose to second, two places higher than in 2010. While texts flew in from his brothers Josep and Jori, he enjoyed the emotional applause and embraces of his wife and older son, a chorus of laughs and exclamations from his Spanish compatriots Juan Mari Arzak and Adoni Luis Aduriz, and the enthusiastic congratulations of the rest of the triumphant. The award ceremony, in The Guildhall of London, oozed with so much emotion and so many tears of happiness that it looked like it snowed in this sunny city. At the ceremony, there were also words of thanks for the Japanese chefs who attended despite the circumstances the country has faced since March 11., and time was set aside to remember the recently deceased Catalan chef Santi Santamaria.

Mugaritz Reborn

“It’s incredible; it’s a dream to see the people of our house lifted up so high,” exclaimed Aduriz. The chef of Mugaritz and his entire team have reemerged from a fire which destroyed the Basque country house; the embers of their creativity burn brighter. “We’ll continue to be potent, and we’re going to be even better. This is only the beginning,” according to the Basque cook.

Juan Mari Arzak was as happy as a child with new toys. The pleasure was triple: he was given the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best prize in recognition of a life before the stoves; his restaurant rose one position higher than last year, and his daughter Elena Arzak was named one of the three best female cooks in the world, a new award from Restaurant. “I was recognized for my work, and now the Spanish upward trajectory has been consolidated. It’s amazing: let us never stop toasting!” said the veteran chef.

Ferran Adrià of elBulli also toasted his colleagues. Last year, he was dethroned from the top position but recognized as the chef of the decade, and now he his restaurant is on the point of being entirely re-purposed as a research foundation. “This is the first year we aren’t in London, but the news that so many of our own have triumphed is a dream; it’s the greatest gift. ElBulli is not on the list, but its spirit lives on.”

Massimo Bottura thought the same: “there are many children of elBulli on this list, among them Redzepi, Achatz, and I. Ferran taught us how to think and how to use technique to stake out our own territory.” There was a happy feeling of brotherhood in London, as about a dozen apprentices of elBulli placed among the 50 names on the famous Restaurant list (there are already ten editions).

New Movement

Redzepi is the young Norse leader of a new movement of European cooks. He has achieved his dream of establishing himself. “I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder,” he had said to the magazine days before, and with his credibility assured, his smile stretched from ear to ear. “Not bad,” he joked. He is an emotional minimalist.

In turn, the normally self-controlled Japanese repaid reverence with kisses. Yoshihiro Narisawa has risen 12 places, and his Tokyo restaurant was named the best in Asia. He was very encouraged because Les Creations de Narisawa has been affected by ingredient shortages and a fear-driven drop in foreign clientele since the earthquake and tsunami. Another high-scale Tokyo restaurant was that was well-recompensed was Seiji Yamamoto’s Ruygin, which rose a spectacular 28 places.

The Peruvian Gastón Acurio was “feliz!” Because this is the first time the gastronomic potential of his country was recognized. “Latin America has a bright future, the gastroempresario assured. His business touched down in the sphere of world super-restaurants at #42, but the Brazilian Atala’s seventh place establishment has the best augurs, as it was named the best restaurant in Latin America.