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While young, Quique Dacosta is not a new face in the international gastro-landscape. In fact, he’s been one of the most consistent avant-garde chefs in the world over the last 15 years – and he’s not yet 40 years old. Dacosta’s story is an inspiration to all young chefs around the world, and a symbol of pride and success for Spain, a country that has by now become a kind of Mecca for gourmets. Denia, a small city in the province of Valencia, is his home, and the restaurant Quique Dacosta, formerly known as El Poblet, is his “mother ship”, although he has two other restaurants in Valencia --Mercatbar, and Vuelve Carolina – as well as the Aire Tapas Bar at the Alicante airport.
Many top-tier chefs are known and respected for their creativity, but Dacosta is also an incredibly skilled organiser, which allows him to both expand his business enterprises while exploring the concepts and ideas that intrigue him. «You can only develop and grow if you recognise and reward the talent of your team,» the chef explains when asked about the secret to his success. «My staff feels like a family. We have our difficult moments, but also happy moments. For me the most important requirements for any person who wants to work in our team is passion and hard work!»
Quique Dacosta’s location is so close to the sea that you can feel the breeze. This is a Mediterranean restaurant where nothing is predictable: art, design and architecture are parallel passions of Dacosta, who designs much of his own furniture, and the restaurant is also a gallery of modern art, with sculptures and paintings by Miguel Navarro, Manolo Valdes, and Rut Mud. Customers and visitors to the restaurant may find, dispersed among various corners, a book of Manolo Blahnik’s famous shoes, rare cookbooks and a photography catalogue from the Tate Modern among other things .
One of his most recent tasting menus was entitled “local and universal”, and that’s the perfect way to describe Dacosta’s cuisine. Complex, elaborate, poetic – this is the cuisine of Dacosta, who is also the living proof that a chef can undergo a significant evolution in the course of a single lifetime. Every year, Quique Dacosta’s conceptual cuisine develops a different perspective towards his surroundings, going from an expressionistic view of landscape to a simple metaphoric walk in the woods. Intellectual, but not pretentious, his concepts invite the guests to experience his terroir, meet his producers, artisans and artists, and to return many times to be a part of his world.
With only two tasting menus, he invites the guests to experience the forests where he forages wild herbs and roots. He tells stories about his experiences in far away lands, but incorporates the elements of his external experiences into his own environment; the cuisine of Quique Dacosta looks at his territory from inside and out. In his restaurant, the experimental kitchen is next to the main kitchen, being a mixture of laboratory, photo studio and study place. “We moved this close to the kitchen so we could link development work to it,” he explains. “Our successful experiments go straight to the kitchen after registering all details in our database.”
Dacosta approaches temperatures, textures and flavours with the curiosity of a scientist and creativity of an artist. He does not consciously employ shock tactics but there is always a ‘WOW’ factor in every dish: a simple cinnamon stick, basil or stevia leaf, or an aged octopus with a paradoxically delicate and strong flavour. A dehydrated, grilled watermelon disguised as a piquillo pepper deceives the diners’ senses and expectations. There are chufas made of cocoa foie gras, avocados swimming in dashi and served with grated avocado seeds, previously smoked, and even eggs made of asparagus and chicken stock. Quique Dacosta’s cuisine plays with the senses, provokes the mind, and provides an unforgettable ride for food lovers.
He’s just concluded the 2011 season with two brilliant tasting menus. The restaurant will open again in March 2012 with new surprises: “We realize that styles, lines of thought, tendencies and new waves can have a limited life. But we also know that they indicate a new, and often exciting beginning”.
Top picture by VelSid, Gastronomia y Cia