Xavier Pellicer, “the best vegetable restaurant in the world”
Xavier Pellicer, “the best vegetable restaurant in the world”
By Fabiola Gálvez
“Xavier Pellicer” and “El Menjador” are the restaurants of chef Xavier Pellicer, which were awarded “the best vegetable restaurant in the world” by the We’re Smart Green Guide. “Anyone who cooks gourmet vegetables at such a high level deserves this title for the second time”, said the green gastronomic guide, an international reference, who awarded him for two consecutive years in 2018 and 2019, but he still keeps the title for posterity.
Chef Xavier Pellicer makes pure magic with the vegetables like beet, tomato and cherry gazpacho, and cauliflower cream with a perfect poached egg. Vegetables that are not commonly eaten like beet or cauliflower, he makes them famous and turns them in a best-selling dish in the restaurant.
The two restaurants are attached to Provença Street 310, Barcelona, with local products, biodynamic agriculture and healthy cuisine combined with the Ayurvedic philosophy that he practices.
“El Menjador” is a more intimate and gourmet space, designed for 20 diners, with an open kitchen, while “Xavier Pellicer” is a more casual restaurant, with a capacity of 60 diners. Both restaurants offer the three versions of the tasting menu: vegan, vegetarian and omnivorous. Their proposals bring together meat lovers and a vegan, for the pleasure of vegetables.
On a day just like today, you were awarded the title of “the best vegetable restaurant in the world”. How do you feel about this award?
For us, it was a recognition of a line of work, which for years, I had bet, more like a matter of personal awareness, changing personal habits, and believing a lot in the vegetable world. It’s the recognition of the work and the team that accompanies you, of some ideas and a way of doing things, which reaffirms you a lot in your project and in your way of understanding what you are doing, after having made a type of cooking. Without forgetting about the protein, we continue to focus on the issue of organic products, sustainable, local, and now is very popular, because I have seen the difficulties we will have to export or import things.
You cook with vegetables, but they are THE VEGETABLES (in capital letters) of biodynamic agriculture. Where did you study it? How do you apply this concept?
In 2012, after the death of Santi Santamaría, I was at the Racó de Can Fabes in Sant Celoni. I stayed two more years with the family and in the first year, I was lucky enough to reconnect with the biodynamic farmer Joan Salicrú, who has created his own entity cultivates his land, gives it that energy contribution that every biodynamic act requires, and then in that reconnection I had an interest in getting knowledge. Then, he gave me some advice, and I studied the first year of biodynamic agriculture with Julio Arroyo and Marisol Garrido, who were representatives of the Spanish Association of Biodynamics in Spain. Later, through this course I connected with the ayurvedic world, one of the courses we did was made in a country house with Angela Sanz, and the sum of all made me choose a little bit healthier cooking.
In that process, I did some detox, I practically became a vegetarian-vegan for a period of time to clean my body and feel better, and from there, I discovered that we were not giving the value that vegetables have, that they are supposed to be the ugly brother of the dish. I realized that vegetables also had their history, their attachment and that they are very good, that you could do a lot of things and provide interesting things for the diner, and from there a little bit of history was born.
You also work with products that were considered lost. For example: with coloured carrots. How did you come up with this new idea?
I’ve been lucky enough to meet interesting people in my life, and one of those people is Jacques Breault. He’s a Canadian guy who’s been in Spain for 13 years, we met by chance just as he was arriving in Barcelona, and he’s a person who follows a little bit the laws of Rudolf Steiner, the father of biodynamics, and who also applies the theme of energy, the moon phases, and he’s looking for that point. So he’s a rescuer of this whole world, regarding seeds, vegetables. Through this, I realized that not all carrots are orange, that not all turnips are white, and this allowed me to grow, and well, you integrate it into your understanding of cooking and discover new flavours or sweetness or bitterness. That has allowed us to grow a lot, and realize that we have the capacity to enjoy products which surely were used in the past, with grandparents, great-grandparents, and with the globalization, with respect to the supermarket, that had been forgotten.
It’s very interesting.
It’s just that we have it in front of our noses and we don’t see it, and it’s easier to go to a place where they give you all the cut-up vegetables in a plastic tray, to buy dead vegetables. That’s one of the things that I understand very well: the alive vegetable, that they bring me the vegetable with its roots, with its green leaves so that it keeps the energy inside and you can transfer it to the dish. I believe our cooking is made from empathy, from the heart, from good energy, and in the end, that brings good digestion and the Ayurvedic balance of never exceeding the sum of 70/30 or 80/20 of vegetable product versus animal protein because it makes the intestines work much more relaxed, and the feeling is of superior well-being.
That’s what I was going to ask you. What I find very interesting about biodynamics is that experts point out that food has living energy and it’s reflected in the food. To what energy do they refer?
Well, it’s fundamental, I mean, the principle of biodynamics is based on the fact that vegetables are living beings in which energy flows, and that energy, of the four elements that make up the biodynamic world, earth, air, fire and water, which is then reflected in the fruit, the root, the leaf and the flower which are the four elements that make up the script. Then, from there on, everything is life.
If we start from the fact that the first premise of biodynamics is the observation of the environment, what did our ancestors do? they looked at it and said: “The moon is up, and it is full because the energy goes up”, then if you plant in the ground, the ground will reject it. When should you plant? When the energy goes into the earth when it’s decreasing, not increasing. So, all these elements that were of observation, just as you watched a tree or a flower as they developed their fruits, their petals, made a calendar on this, then it generates a whole reality. What the man doesn’t notice, in his desire to control, chooses the transgenic crops, in which there’s a modification of the seed, you look for the shape, size and colour, but you don’t look for the taste, you don’t look for the texture, nor do you look for the energy they contain within.
In your restaurants, you have the basis in biodynamics but also the Ayurveda that you have included in your life. How is it reflected in your dishes?
The world of the species, which are enhancers and at the same time help to raise the inner fire, the Agni, or balance Doshas (personalities), and although it’s difficult to apply it individually, which would be the magic, the perfect equation for that to have a result, what we take are those more general parameters of what Ayurveda is and we try to connect it to what the cooking is so that it’s beneficial to the customer. They are energetic issues, very much linked to how we understand cooking and we try to transmit it, unintentionally you realize that this generates a tie with the client, people like what we propose, and in spite of covid-19, we are going to continue standing here and people are going to come and enjoy the food, I know that there are many people who want to sit at our tables again to eat well.
In the menu of “El Menjador” there are three types of menus: vegan, vegetarian and omnivorous. How are these proposals?
Well, the same as in “Xavier Pellicer”, that we have a tasting menu option in all three versions, and vegetables on the menu.
When I proposed my restaurant model, and I wanted to put vegetables as protagonists in the menu, so, to be exclusive, but not selective when accepting all the customers, we made the vegan version so that vegan people would have a place of reference too, lacto-ovo-vegetarian also for vegetarians, and with protein or omnivore, because we understood that most people are likely to eat protein, but to make them fall into the trap, the vegetable with protein, as I said before, the dish was always 70% or more vegetable, with a small amount of protein.
Listen, many people said: “I want the leek with the Iberian dewlap”, which was a very fine veil cut to the millimetre and put on the top that it melts, almost not seen, but people ate their leek tart tatin. We got a lot of people who had chosen protein, to eat a lot of vegetables, and they were surprised. Afterwards, in the house, there is also the option of eating a small fish, meat but this is always organic meat, wild fish, and always in the format of meats, fishes, it does not exceed 100 to 120 grams of weight per serving. We make a plate format, which is like the third part of a plate so that people can try different things, so that they get an idea of what we do.
And “El Menjador” is a little bit more exclusive, as it’s understood in a Michelin star restaurant. There we propose three menus of 9 steps, from a starter to seven savoury dishes and a dessert, well, two desserts, in which we try, from the moment they come to eat, to present what’s in season.
Finally, we saw you sharing recipes on Instagram. Yesterday you cooked some grilled artichokes. Will you continue with the recipes after the pandemic?
Actually, I don’t know, the million-dollar question. At first, I thought about making the recipes, and I do it once a week because I didn’t want to bore people, nor did I want to be a slave to the Internet and Instagram and so on, so, well, I think it’s been more of an element for people to remember us, and you can give them a gift in the form of recipes that they have tasted in the restaurant, and with a little imagination you could make them at home, and we’ll see.
Xavier Pellicer has an outstanding career, worked with great French Michelin star chefs such as Jacques Maximin or Alain Dutournier, as well as the famous Spanish chef, Santi Santamaría, as his head chef at El Racó de Can Fabes. He was also at ABaC in 2000 with a similar position, and that is where Xavier gets two Michelin stars. However, in 2010, he leaves due to disagreements with the partners. That’s when Santi calls him back, and in September of the same year, he returns as co-director chef to run Can de Fabes at 50 percent. Unfortunately, 6 months later, Santi dies in Singapore. His stay lasted until the end of March 2013. After that, he continued with consultancy in Barcelona, with the topics of rice and ecological cooking. In 2015, he opens Céleri, where he gets a Michelin star and this is where his passion for the vegetable world was born. But it finishes due to the lack of transparency of their partners. This is how, in April 2018, he opens his own restaurants: “Xavier Pellicer” and “El Menjador”, which were awarded “the best vegetable restaurant in the world”.