Such is the romantic vocabulary that Spanish chef Paco Pérez uses when asked about the inspiration behind his mar i muntanya dishes – a subset of Catalan cuisine that marries mountainous produce with that of the sea.
Pérez, who has amassed five Michelin stars is one of the leading exponents of Spanish haute cuisine. He is known in the culinary circle for his contemporary, avant-garde two-Michelin-starred restaurant Miramar, but also manages the two-starred Enoteca at Hotel Arts, one-starred 5-Cinco at the Hotel Das Stue in Berlín, L’EGGS, Doble, La Royale and Bao bar.
Despite the multitude of establishments under his belt, Miramar, the restaurant and accommodation in Llançà which he runs with his wife, remains home. It would seem like the man and the place he operates in are intertwined just by the way he speaks.
“Alt Empordà [Catalan area where Miramar restaurant is located] is a privileged place. We have the land, sea and forest,” he says. It’s a combination perfect for mar i muntanya cuisine. “Our natural pantry is full of floral, fresh, sweet and salty flavors. Think Fava beans with mint from Mercader – combining the humble with the rare. ”
For such a romantic, the food that breezes out of Miramar’s kitchens is surprisingly technical. Much of it is based on tradition and respect for fine, local produce but an innovative streak runs down the menu. These approaches have culminated into a daring and transgressive cuisine imbued with a sense of precision and prowess.
His recent efforts at innovation include the use of 3D printing at the fine dining level, where a seafood puree is 3D printed on a plate in the shape of an intricate sea coal that was,“too complicated to produce by hand.” This is then topped with caviar, sea urchin, egg, hollandaise sauce and a foam made out of carrots.
Is Pérez destined for such wizardry? While the Spanish chef grew up fed on a humble diet of simple home cooking, he has always displayed this freewheeling spirit even as a kid. He once even tried to make pizza by baking it under the sun – not that it worked.
“I was a kid who loved experimenting and playing in the kitchen,” he says. “I heard about pizzas and gathered information and executed it on my own. We did not have an oven, so the only choice was to cook it under the sun. As you can imagine, the result was disastrous!”
Then at 12, Pérez started work at his family’s tapas bar, where he discovered his true passion. In his words, cooking has become a form of himself and a way to understand day- to-day life as much as it is his mode of communication.
Since then, he has worked for who’s who of the culinary world from training with Michel Guèrard, the father of nouvelle cuisine to an internship with Ferran Adrià at the famous (but closed) El Bulli. There, he was jolted by the explosion of culinary creativity and till today, refers to El Bulli and Ferran Adria as his greatest inspiration.
These heroes may no longer be cooking now, but Spanish cuisine is indubitably going through a renaissance of sorts. Still, he encourages chefs to trod the path with respect, hard work, a humble spirit with a splash of boldness while striving for uniqueness whenever possible.
Today, the Michelin stars may have drawn diners from far and wide to Miramar, but “the most important values food taught me, were about friendship and respect.”
“The greatest challenge,” he says almost poignantly, “is to be happy. Be yourself and that makes the difference.”
Chef Paco Pérez will be cooking at BAM! Tapas Sake Bar on 6th and 7th February. Highlights include Pure Sweet Pea, Sea Cucumber and Angulas (baby eel).