Meeting Chef Paco Pérez was with such great pleasure.
One of the greatest joys of meeting legendary chefs, particularly in Barcelona, is the pleasant discovery of a supportive chain that gastronomically links their humbled humility. Such an attitude toward their incandescent craft is infused beyond the genius behind individual creativity, and more so in a laid-back inclination toward media attention. Meet: Chef Paco Pérez.
From Albert Adria, Carles Gaig, Albert Raurich and now to Paco Pérez, this group of accomplished chefs shy away from cameras to foster sharp and innovative skills in the kitchen. It’s a community that may have been heavily influenced by the iconic Ferran Adria, but each connects with one another as a hardworking society, each thrives to constantly step up to the plate and bewilder worldwide travelers with one surprise after another.
A luxury hotel that sits on the shore of Mediterranean Sea, Hotel Arts Barcelona is the perfect example of high-tech architecture designed by Colombian architect Bruce Graham of Skidmore, Owings & Merill. Beside Frank Gehry’s monumental golden fish sculpture is Paco Pérez’s avant-garde Enoteca that resides inside the exceptional hotel.
“Enoteca is not very extreme, while other restaurants may very well be.” Paco explains, “It’s a much simpler menu, it’s a hotel so I understand there are many Americans that visit the hotel so I try to cater to different palates. Even though it’s simple, it still takes a lot of work.” Every dish served remains authentic to him, they all need explanation with an intended message. Simplicity but with meaning.
Enoteca translates to “wine library” which serves the restaurant justice with more than 500 wines in its cellar, from around the world and from local winemakers. There’s no doubt that the sommelier guides guests to match specific wines that enhance the dining experience.
“It’s not about me, it’s about taking elements into consideration. Taking what people want and doing it my way. There are a lot of non-Spanish that arrive at the restaurant, so I try to offer a cultural experience.” In the restaurant that Paco received two Michelin stars for, he showcases an fantastical cuisine that apprise the root of every product and the absolute freshness of the Mediterranean.
The lobster carpaccio with citrus salad is the prime example of of his contemporary yet classic spin to local fish and seafood. The Iberian ham, “Grand Reserva Joselito” is also a great presentation of his personal innovative concept. Topping it off with sea cucumber, potatoes, egg and white truffle, every bite translates to the Catalan culture with an avant-garde design.
Similar to the start of brilliant careers of many spotlighted chefs in Barcelona, Paco also explored his passion for cooking during childhood. His family owned a little tapas bar, where he started at eleven years old, and learned how to make fried calamari and fried shrimp. He went to high school but on weekends and during every summer, he would bust his chops there, play around with food. In high school, he knew he wanted to be a chef and devoted his life on how to cook different types of fish.
After graduating from high school, he was trained in France with Michel Guerard, a pioneer of Novelle Cuisine, then he was on military duty back in Spain. He had a friend whose family owned a hostel and needed a chef, so he began a life on the beach, literally slept on the beach to help with the restaurant in Llançà, Spain. During this time, he began a blossoming career in Miramar, which eventually became his pride and joy. Later, he learned from the best at elBulli with Ferran Adria. Guided by the culinary icon, Paco understood that food wasn’t just about taste but of all senses: taste, smell, visual, the entire experience that becomes a lasting memory that cannot possibly be taken away.
What Paco did in Miramar was extraordinary. He remembers opening the restaurant with plastic chairs. At the time, Llançà was a sleepy small town by the seashore, but he had transformed the restaurant to garner a Michelin star and eventually a second star. Today, it’s a must-eat for gastronomic foodies who set foot in that part of Spain. His vision for Miramar was exciting, an honest yet inventive way to treat each dish that would become his signature throughout other ventures: John Dory with a side of tapas, razor clams in Thai broth, fried quail’s egg tempura embellished with soy sauce and sake.
He’s brought many of such renowned artistic plates to Enoteca: oreo of foie gras and coffee meringue with tuna foam, anchovy and olives, grapefruit bonbons all melt within the first few seconds. “Catalonia is a very important gastronomical center, with a lot of flavors, very memorable. For me, I want to create a memory for people that eat at this restaurant.” Paco notes.
“If you go through life following by the rules, it’s boring. It’s about the evolution of flavors, never want to stay simple but keep evolving and go beyond what can be done and create flavors that are not expected. It’s a combination of sense and sensibility.”
Recounting what it felt like to receive his very first Michelin star, “It helps to spread the word so people know about us and they come. It was a great feeling. I couldn’t sleep. The second star was exciting yet emotional.”
So what does he hold true in his endeavors? “I want to help chefs under me to become better.” When we spoke to one of his sous-chefs, Olly Melhuish, who delivered the best of Paco, “He is amazing, he is a visionary who is disciplined yet he looks after all of us. I know I can thrive here and do my best. He truly is the best.”
Today, Hotel Arts’ Enoteca stands as one of its own. Barcelona elevated in the movement that paved the way for modernism in 1920s, and it continues to progress, certainly in gastronomy, as the leading light of invention and experiment. Fearless, full of risks. Paco, along with an immense group of talented chefs, cross paths at the point of artistic expressions. Just as how Gaudi’s beautiful works have lasted through time, the movement of culinary art in Catalonia is far from fading. If anything, it will forever bind as one and hold as a delicious force to watch.