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Important chefs in the region


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#1 Fat Guy

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Posted 19 April 2003 - 09:09 AM

The names of some very famous chefs appear in the announcement for your book. Did you get to meet many of these chefs? How did you adapt their recipes? Why didn't you include the chefs' own recipes? Were they reluctant to share them with you? Were these chefs helpful? Tell all!

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#2 Marina Chang

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Posted 24 April 2003 - 06:50 PM

I had the opportunity to meet all of them, some more extensively than others. All seemed genuinely without ego, and were extremely gracious. In all cases, except for El Bulli, I did not identify myself as anything other than another customer. For El Bulli, after our first request for reservations was turned down, we felt the need to state that our visit had a purpose higher than mere comestication.

In most instances, the chef strolled into the dining room to greet some or all the tables. The tradition of chefs emerging from the kitchen to survey the dining room and chat with guests is not one I have observed here in the U.S. Due to the many questions we had during the course of our meals and the transparency of our enthusiasm over each dish, the chef at each establishment made a point of meeting us. The only sour note we encountered was in France at Michel Guérard’s, Michelin 3-star, Relais & Chateau, Les Prés d’Eugénie. At our lackluster, Michelin-no-star quality meal, there was no sign of Michel Guérard or any chef. Perhaps the quality of the meal was an indication that no one was in the kitchen.

Other than meeting Ferran Adria in the El Bulli kitchen, Martin Berasategui and Santi Santamaria invited us to speak with them in the kitchen. At Zuberoa, Hilario Arbelaitz came out to meet us at the end of our meal. At Arzak, Juan Mari Arzak pulled his daughter Elena from the kitchen when he realized we were Americans. She even recalled taking our reservations over the phone; and when we raved about a particular morsel, she modestly thanked us and provided a bit of explanation as to how it was prepared.

I received a copy of Los Secretos de El Bulli from Chef Adria and Mis Recetas de Siempre from Chef Berasategui. Both spent a fair amount of time with me, in the midst of their busy kitchens. Martin Berasategui seemed the most interested in assisting me in some way; he said he self-published the book he gave me, and it is not available anywhere, except as a gift to his colleagues and friends.

Since the publication of Tastes of the Pyrenees, we have dined at El Celler de Can Roca, in Girona. I am flagellating myself at this moment for not having visited his restaurant during an earlier trip, and not having included Joan Roca’s name on my list of the region’s top chefs. In a Spain thread about El Bulli, I posted comments on some of his luminous creations. I rarely swoon over anything, but came close over Chef Roca’s spring lamb or ‘lechal.’ As with the other top chefs of this region, Joan Roca was extremely modest and gracious, and appeared to truly appreciate our interest and delight in his dishes.

There are various reasons that I adapted recipes. I found all the famous Spanish chefs to be very generous in spirit. In many cases, a chef’s recipe will be written for 20 or 30 servings and he would have to calculate changes to provide me with a suitably sized recipe for the same dish. For the Veal Chops and Mushrooms recipe, the chef recited his ingredients and steps, which included reducing a sauce by simmering it for four hours. In the case of the Sparkling Wine Granizado served by Martin Berasategui, I knew I could create my own recipe based on what I tasted.

Sometimes the ingredients in another country behave differently from ingredients in the U.S. and substitutions, additions, or different measurements must be made. I adapted a few recipes to simplify them for the home cook and American kitchen. In other cases, I realized that some recipes written by a chef or cook were incomplete and I needed to add exact measurements, written instructions, or slightly change the ingredients. One of the few times that I did request a recipe on the spot was at the Parador de Bielsa in the Spanish Pyrenees. I asked the chef for the recipe for Trout with Bacon, Sherry, and Cream, and I received a handwritten list of ingredients without measurements and one or two sentences of instruction.

You said to tell all.

- Marina.
[size="2"][/size]Marina C.

#3 Pan

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Posted 24 April 2003 - 09:03 PM

I had the opportunity to meet all of them, some more extensively than others.  All seemed genuinely without ego, and were extremely gracious.  In all cases, except for El Bulli, I did not identify myself as anything other than another customer.  For El Bulli, after our first request for reservations was turned down, we felt the need to state that our visit had a purpose higher than mere comestication.

Why did they turn you down the first time? Were they simply full up, and did they bump "ordinary" customers to give you a table the second time? Or were they behaving badly the first time? Inquiring minds want to know. :biggrin:

#4 Marina Chang

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Posted 25 April 2003 - 08:21 AM

I think they said they were full, but perhaps at the time I just assumed this to be the reason. On the second request we faxed, other than mentioning my cookbook mission, my husband essentially begged for a reservation, stating that we could come at any available time over the course of three days. We saw a few empty tables during our lunch there, but we were treated like royalty.

- Marina.
[size="2"][/size]Marina C.

#5 Bux

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Posted 25 April 2003 - 08:33 AM

Marina was at El Bulli in 2001, I believe. Since, then they've eliminated the service of lunch and by doing that, they've doubled the the number of requests for dinner reservations. The restaurant has become known to a more mainstream audience as well. I suspect reservations are far harder to come by now than they were as recenlty as two years ago.
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