Macaroni alla Carbonara
So coming home from Barcelona yesterday, a question has been nagging me — “Do Michelin stars matter?” I guess if you’re not a foodie and are reading this post, you’re probably wondering, what is a Michelin star? It was a guide created in 1900 by the Michelin tire company. It is awarded to restaurants offering outstanding cooking. Restaurants can be awarded one to three stars — with three stars being the highest. So I have eaten at two three star places, a few one and two star places. I won’t throw out the three star restaurants names but I got engaged to my wife before dinner at one and ate at the other one just by chance. Acquiring stars doesn’t mean the restaurant is expensive necessarily, but they usually are. It is about the food — the ingredients, the chef and their craft and care for the food. Some foodies pride themselves at how many stars they have eaten at. I might be one of those people.
This trip to Barcelona, I had the chance to acquire three stars. Two at Disfrutar (the pictures above — one with me and Chef Eduard Xatruch) and another at Enigma (the concept restaurant of Albert Adria (pictures to follow).
Disfrutar. It definitely is a bucket list restaurant. Created by three chefs from El Bulli. El Bulli, prior to closing, it was supposedly the best restaurant in the world. It was the brain child of Ferran Adria, the brother of Albert Adria. Disfrutar is amazing. A 28 course tasting menu with wine pairing. The first three courses were little hits of alcohol. The taste and attention to detail was incredible. The progression made sense. Only half the dishes required silverware. The staff was very knowledgeable and attentive. It was creative and in a lot of ways, magic. Two stars.
Iberico with anchovy with pan con tomate
Basil noodles with tomato broth
Enigma — the brainchild of Albert Adria. The menu was al a carte. We told the waitstaff to surprise us with 14 courses. The food was as inventive as Disfrutar and the progression was just a good. The dishes were delicious. I had the sommelier pair wines for me. In some ways it continued the inventiveness of Disfrutar. I knew it was going to be a good night when the meal started with only forceps at the table for the first few couple of courses. A few more courses that featured tableside magic.
The next restaurant was Can Sole. Over 120 years old. In Barceloneta. Within steps of the beach. Locals and tourists. Had one soup and three entrees that we all shared. The monkfish soup was terrific. The three entrees were house cod, oxtail, and seafood paella. There was no magic, no spherification, no liquid nitrogen or CO2, but an exceptional meal never the less. Just beautiful, slow created flavors. The surprise in the meal came in the beauty of the flavors that took hours to create. This meal for me was attainable in my own kitchen. And that was ok, The first two restaurants created meals I can’t make at home. “I can make that.” Given enough time and experimentation. It was as incredible as any Michelin stars that I have ever had.
So to answer the question “Is it about the Michelin stars?” The answer is mostly and maybe a little sadly ‘No.” I understand now that stars are about inventiveness, techiques and ingredients that are unattainable to most. I have had “holy shit” food moments at Michelin star places, but also at places like Can Sole. But also at home. The Michelin stars show what given time and years gathered skillsets can achieve. People talk about 10,000 hours of intensive practice to achieve mastery. Michelin stars are just that. Food magic created by 10,000 hours of time in the kitchen. I don’t have that time anymore. Maybe that’s the reminder. I don’t have that time anymore. Maybe that’s why Michelin stars are important. That’s why paying to see a great band or see great art or traveling the world to eat at great places worth it. I can’t attain those experiences sitting at home, but I can come close to meals like Can Sole at my house, my kitchen, my skillset. My skillset will improve. Providing great meals to family and friends that bring them to Barcelona, to Charleston, to Napa. Give them a glimpse or a reminder of something past. And look forward to the future. A look into experiences and flavors that I have experienced.
So come to my kitchen and let me fill your empty plate. It might be Michelin star. It might be 120 year old restaurant quality food. It won’t be 10,000 hours of practice worth, but it will be mine. It will always be my gift to you. It will be a reminder of where I’ve been. It will be filled with all the love I can give.