Today, Quique Dacosta is considered to be one of the leaders of avant-garde cuisine in Spain. He has won awards and accolades from being in the top 50 list of the World’s Best restaurants to having three Michelin stars. It is hard to believe that he started working as a chef in the restaurant which he now owns at the age of 17 and never cooked or trained anywhere else.
It all started in 1989, when he joined a family restaurant by the name of El Poblet in 1989 without any previous experience as a chef. 10 years later, he bought the restaurant in Denia, close to Alicante and Valencia.
He says that he owes his success to his team. “I am lucky to have a fantastic team that can help me to turn ideas into reality. They can focus on everything from the largest to the smallest of details. I always say that it is better to have two heads than one. It is the team that has made our project possible,” Quique tells me when I met him at Chef Sache in Cologne.
Many chefs have taken a route of searching for inspiration in other restaurants around the world. In Quique Dacosta’s case, that has clearly not been the case. So how does he go about the creative process I ask. “It all boils down to the idea. We are not talking about a product, or a technique, but an idea. We work to turn the idea into reality. I look at a blank painting and I say I want to eat that painting. I want to turn that into food. That is when the process is starting. The idea is to eat a painting. We then work to create it,” he tells me.
I understand what he is saying despite the fact that he is speaking in Spanish and has a member of his team kindly translating for me. I thought he was using the painting as a metaphor. But he was serious. “Once we have the idea, we need to find the people that can help us turn that idea into reality. We try to find the equipment that can enable us to to create that idea. We might ask people who might not necessarily work in the restaurant business, such as scientists to help us with a project. And we will create it. We will get there and create a canvas that can be eaten by our guests.”
Although Spain is considered to be at the forefront of molecular cuisine particularly because of the influence of Ferran Adria, Quique believes that the best is yet to come for Spanish cuisine. “The Spanish cuisine project started way before Ferran Adria. Spanish cuisine has a history and hundreds of years of tradition. Despite the fact that we are now concentrating on international cuisine, we have not forgotten our origins.”
This is extremely important for Quique Dacosta. He believes that it is very difficult to guess what future trends will be. “But I think that working with local ingredients will continue to grow in importance. The place where you are working and the importance of the environment will grown stronger and stronger, and cooks will be able to focus more on their own or local produce in future.”
The restaurant is based in Denia, a stone’s throw away from the Mediterranean sea. He gets all his supplies for the restaurant from the region. Nothing comes further than 80 kilometres away from the restaurant. This was also a stroke of luck because when he was starting, little did he know that territoriality would become so important in today’s cuisine.
“We are extremely lucky to have sensational produce around us. It is incredible to have such great produce. Every year we gain a bit more experience which is great but there is so much produce to work with that it is always work in progress,” he tells me.
To get an idea of his inventiveness, you need to take a look at how he created Rocks of Parmesan (see video). On stage in Cologne he picked up a pile of stones and threw them on the floor. They were black pebbles which had been picked metres away from the restaurant. “The idea came from the pebbles on our terrace. It was not difficult to create that dish because we had the technique. We just needed the idea.”
The importance of his team was again on show when I ask him about his mentors. “As a self-taught chef, I have learned a lot from all the chefs that have worked with me in the restaurant. They have made me who I am today. They are the people who have made it possible to recreate my ideas. ”
I conclude by asking him what he thought was the best dish he ever created. The interpreter smiles and translates the question. Quique asks why he is smiling and he tells him he knows the answer. “It’s surely the next one,” he tells him. “It is a very difficult question to answer. Is it the best dish because of techniques, the quality of the produce, the emotional aspect of the dish?”
The restaurant re-opened its doors after the annual break on 4 February 2015.
You can also read about Quique Dacosta in our report on his presentation at Chefs Revolution in Zwolle.