Travel Tales from Spain, France, Italy and More

With Albert Adria
With Albert Adria

I have figured out that the best way to deal with jet lag is go for overlapping jet lag. Quite accustomed to this routine now, I set off for Barcelona a few weeks ago to visit friends and engage in wonderful conversations and enjoy spectacular meals. A trip to El Celler de Can Roca, Girona to meet with Joan Roca for an interview, and an amazing dining experience was first on the agenda, next an evening catching up with Albert Adria at Tickets and hearing all about the plans for his soon to open Enigma. The next day before tasting some of the dishes to be introduced at Enigma Albert Adria took me on a personal tour of the premises still under construction which I had so far only seen on Skype and it’s going to be another original concept. A late night dinner at Angel Leon’s (aka Chef Del Mar) BistroEau at the Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona reminded me of his six hands dinner at Azurmendi with Eneko Atxa and Jordi Roca a couple of years ago. That seaweed risotto and the lacy chickpea tortilla with tiny Andalusian prawns were just as good this time around.

I am a huge fan of Carme Ruscalleda and always visit her at her three Michelin starred Sant Pau restaurant but we met in Barcelona at her restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental first for another conversation to be published soon. A visit to her restaurant with its scenic views of the sea is like a mini vacation within a vacation in Barcelona but this time I also had the opportunity to take a food trip around the world at her restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental. At MOments, the two Michelin star restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental with her son Raul Balam Ruscalleda, at the helm and with a playful passport in hand it was a veritable dining experience from Paris to Tokyo, Milan, New York, Jakarta, Marakkesh, Bodrum and more  with an unbelievably authentic taste and flavor in each bite. I have become a huge fan of this young thirty two year old chef and can predict great things for him ahead. We had a most enlightening conversation to come up soon and I actually can’t wait to go back to see what he does next.

The Mandarin Oriental is a peaceful oasis in the bustling city of Barcelona with friendly service and a spa that is out of this world. For a fan of Gaudi’s architecture, it’s ideally located across from Casa Batllo and when a room with a balcony overlooking the garden oasis and Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio’s daytime Mimosa Garden was not enough the pool side roof top Terrat restaurant also by Acurio was my go to spot. The nighttime views of the city’s skyline, cocktail in hand are one of my favorite memories from this visit.

Waking up at an ungodly hour in order to catch an early flight to one of my favorite places in the whole world, San Sebastián was worth it. One of my favorite hotels, the Maria Cristina, is one of the last truly elegant hotels with old world charm and a staff who over the years have become like old friends. I cannot imagine staying anywhere else since for me it is the heart of San Sebastián. The first day began with a visit to Elena and Juan Mari Arzak and another beautiful meal cooked by Elena herself. The Arzak kitchens were a hot bed of activity since Anthony Bourdain and his crew were shooting a show for a couple of days and the next day I met Bourdain after they had wrapped up and he was leaving for the next location.

El Celler de Can Roca
El Celler de Can Roca

I love visiting Mugaritz in the day time and this time around I had a peaceful conversation with Andoni Aduriz before a sensational lunch where many known faces had popped in to visit their friend such as Brazilian chef Alex Atala. The San Sebastián Gastronomika was to open the next morning so the town was overflowing with big name chefs, especially the hotel where at breakfast you could run into chef Narisawa, Gaston Acurio or Carme Ruscalleda. An interview with Chef Narisawa conveniently in the sun lit lounge of the hotel was a welcome interlude from the congress at the Kursal literally across the river from the hotel. The opening night gala for the Gastronomika at Museo San Telmo was jam packed and most people escaped to pinxto bars for gin and tonics hanging out with friends till the wee hours of the morning.

The San Sebastián Gastronomika is always an exceptional experience where the presenters outdo each other with their demos, videos, and films and I got to taste some of the most outré dishes which as usual will show up on plates in some form or the other around the world. The featured countries were Turkey, Hungary, Singapore as well as chefs from South Africa, Australia and other parts of the world. The two Michelin-starred chef Helene Darroze was in temporary residence at the Maria Cristina with a one month long pop up restaurant. A meal at the restaurant proved beyond doubt that she was a contender in the fine dining Mecca of San Sebastián with its own formidable line up of Michelin starred establishments. Three days with some of the biggest names, old and new friends and some wonderful interviews as well as a chef dinner at the Basque Culinary Center ended pretty soon. It was time to head to France for my dear friend Mauro Colagreco’s 40th birthday celebrations. Hopping from Biarritz to Paris I finally arrived in Nice. The first night in Menton was exceptional with guest chef Sebastián Bras at Mirazur that night. It was a night to remember that never ended going instead onto the birthday celebrations in Italy the next day. It was a wonderful celebration for Mauro with his parents, siblings, close friends, rivers of Billecart-Salmon and great food and music. A lovely trip to Italy for some divine food and spectacular vistas from the wine country overlooking the Mediterranean and an absolute must visit to Ventimiglia market and then it was time to go home.

Many, many conversations to be posted soon after I return from Chile and Peru, where I am headed next. The Grand Gelinaz Chef Shuffle at Rodolfo Guzman’s Borago is going to be fun but I am super excited to finally experience his own cuisine as w

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