The city has attracted young chefs willing to show that the Catalunya capital can go beyond the bodegas and the avant-garde restaurants that made it famous.
From bodegas to starred restaurants, from markets to chiringuitos, Barcelona offers great food wherever you go. In a country where gastronomy is a serious matter, the cosmopolitan capital of Catalunya is perhaps the best representation of this relationship between the Spanish people (and Catalans, in particular) and what they eat.
It’s not new that Barcelona is a gastronomic capital - and a delightful destination for food aficionados - but gradually the city has further increased its fame to serve outstanding cuisine. There are 31 Michelin stars in the city (according to the recent edition of the Michelin guide) and a recent slamming entry among the top 10 restaurants according to the World's 50 Best Restaurants (represented by Disfrutar in # 9) to put it among the best cities to eat in the whole world.
This new movida has also raised the presence of young chefs in this lively food scenario, mostly attracted by an already established gastronomic culture, a demanding consumer and a food offer that has proven to be open to new and exciting concepts. Coming from other cities and even countries, these chefs have sought to diversify the local scene further, going beyond the authentic and renowned Catalan cuisine, where Asian and Latin American influences, for example, are beginning to be way more present.
Diversity on the “barbie”
It is around the parrilla that the cuisine proposed by Venezuelan chef Juan Martini is based. Along with his brother, Aquiles, and a friend, Alex Demendoza, he opened Fat Barbies (near the Paseo de Sant Joan) to be a space of communion for meat lovers. "In our culture, as in many others around Latin America, barbecues and grills are occasions for celebration and reunion among friends: they represent a day off at home, outdoor cooking, large pieces of meat, many vegetables, and garnishes. Something very personal to us but that we wanted to offer to the local public as well”, Martini says.
The gastronomic concept follows smoked meats and grilled vegetables, looking for a balance between “very familiar dishes and others a little more creative”, as he explains. The restaurant (which name came from a joke between “barbecue” and Barbie dolls that don't follow the beauty standards) opted for communal tables, cozy warm aesthetics, and intimate unpretentious service. From the kitchen, a lot of smoked meat, and grilled vegetables to pair.
Although it isn’t the first venue specialized in barbecue and smoked meat in town, Fat Barbies points to a greater diversity of concepts in Barcelona. “When I compare this city to others I have visited, I see a restrained curiosity for new concepts and trends. When I say ‘restrained’ I mean that I think Catalans take great care of their identity and traditions, but at the same time they are more willing to try new things whenever they consider these concepts honest and valuable”, he adds.
Living in the city for two years now, he says he has noticed a constant evolution and dynamism in the restaurants’ scene. “We bet on a BBQ concept that is very from the south of the United States, but we seek to give it a local flavor by using only local ingredients since I believe that our public values this”, he says.
A mix of cocktail and cuisine
After working at Gaggan, the eponymous restaurant of Indian chef Gaggan Anand, friends and partners Ignacio Ussía and Sergi Palacín decided to return to their home town and set their roots in Barcelona with The Alchemix. A mix of restaurant and cocktail bar, the venue is where they shake up their references to create a one of a kind business in the city. They created this model in which cocktails and kitchen are united in the same space, so the visitors can have the “freedom to create their own gastronomic offer”, Palacín explains.
“Our guest has both the option to choose a tasting menu with a cocktail pairing or to sit at the bar and order some cocktails and enjoy small dishes created to go well with them”, he says. Palacín used to work as an R&D chef at Gaggan, where he learned not only about Asian techniques and food influences (that have shaped his own cuisine at Alchemix), but also to push the boundaries of a restaurant concept.
“The diner looks for new sensations, and cocktails have gone from representing a tiny segment to undergoing a revolution and an approach towards the public. Our guest is more knowledgeable, so he seeks to get out of the traditional standards", he says. Palacín’s cuisine is something we could describe as Asian-Catalan, using local ingredients (and techniques) to create his versions of dim sum, gyozas, and other Asian dishes in which he tries to mix his cultural roots with some discoveries he has made in his career.
At the bar, Ussía follows the same pace, with creative signature cocktails, in stunning presentations and sophisticated combinations of flavors (think of a brown rum infused in Chai, with cinnamon honey and pumpkin puree or a vodka macerated with Thai herbs, coconut milk and Tom Yam foam). The main goal is to combine their work for a higher gastronomic experience for their guests. “Just like their city, Barcelonians are in continuous evolution, and that is why it is necessary for gastronomic concepts to change constantly”, Palacín adds. “I think the options have expanded towards more open-minded customers”, he concludes.
Tapas find a higher bar
A produce-driven tapas bar located in the middle of the Gothic Quarter, Brugarol showcases the heritage of Catalan land and sea in ingenuous dishes created by chef Angelo Scirocco. He has the privilege of using only the ingredients that come from a farm owned by his partner in Palamós, in the Costa Brava seaside region, 120 kilometers away. “Everything is kind of crafted, from the unlabeled bottles of wine to the cheese we make without any machinery”, he explains.
The main objective is to show that, with great products, it is possible to raise the tapas - a food tradition present in every corner of Barcelona - to haute cuisine. "And show the world what these lands of Catalonia have to offer", he adds.
In his farm-to-table venue - which is also a natural wine bar - he takes care of all the processes and tries to use the freshest ingredients possible: many of them do not even go to the fridge and almost nothing that is produced is frozen. “Our ingredients come from the farm that is completely ecological as are our wines”, he says. This is the case of the dehydrated tomatoes that he uses in a salad or the organic potato turned into strings that are filled with codfish to create a tapas to be eaten in one bite.
Scirocco, who was one of the finalists of San Pellegrino Young Chefs 2015, says he is very influenced by Japanese cuisine, both in the search for more minimalistic creations (in which few ingredients make up the recipes) as well as in the techniques and creation of flavors, like his tuna with oyster emulsion or the patatas bravas with Japanese sauce.
According to him, young chefs are more open to using their different references for a more personal and signature cuisine, regardless of the city they are in. Also, they take advantage of the fact that other ingredients from all over the world are more accessible in big cities, such as Barcelona. “Here, Hamachi [Japanese amberjack] is available just as cod”, he says.
For Scirocco, who worked in other cities such as Johannesburg, it only made sense to settle in a cosmopolitan and gastronomic capital. "Someplace where locals and tourists would be able to experience my work in a contemporary sense", he adds. Barcelona has never been more favorable than now.