A blog, inspired by my love for my daughter, that embraces quality food, service and experiences which make life worth living. In the words of Tennyson's Ulysses, " I cannot rest from travel. I will drink life to the lees." Seeking that incredible dining or hotel experience and writing about it.
At Chef's Table with Chef Francisco Sanabria - Catalan, Rosewood Hotel, Abu Dhabi
October 2014 I tried Chef Francisco’s tasting menu. It was my first encounter
with his dishes after his appointment at Catalan, Rosewood Hotel Abu Dhabi, a month earlier. I recall that it was a night
of outstanding dishes, but there were two in particular that made an impression
that would stay beyond the taste of those dishes. The Oven roasted seabass and the Marinated
red deer grabbed my attention because of the subtle use of Japanese
flavours. The seabass had a bit of ginger while the red deer shared its plate
with daikon ravioli. I felt drawn to Chef because he had taken the bold step to
introduce these variations into cuisine that was already challenging diners in
Abu Dhabi to step outside their comfort zones and embark on a true culinary
awakening in the context of Abu Dhabi. Let’s face it, apart from a handful of
restaurants, there is not much that is cutting edge.
I met him At Chef’s Table a couple
weeks ago, I had that context with which to explore him and his dishes. As
diners we get so accustomed to seeing chefs in their whites that we forget that
they also dress like us mortals, a point driven home when we sit down and he is
in denims and a polo shirt.
bouché, a cold spinach soup with cod is served. Smooth and silky, that spinach
soup is beautiful, and as for the cod, befitting of that soup. The cod breaks
effortlessly, imbued with a moistness all its own.Chef starts talking about his dabbling with law – not what you think!
As a young
man, Chef Fran (as he is affectionately known by his colleagues) started
studying law. There is a very strong academic and law tradition on his mother’s
side of the family. However, one day he came home and told his father and siblings
he no longer wished to study law. The allure of the kitchen was to intoxicating
for him. His father, easy-going by nature, was fine with the decision, but
there was collective sense of trepidation as to what his mother would say. Big
surprise though when his mother simply said that if he wanted to do this, he
needed to start as soon as possible. A week later he had enrolled at the
Santiago De Compostela Centro Superior de Hosteleria de Galicia. And as the
cliché goes, the rest is history. His recollections are cut short as a dish is
tasting portions of Scallops salpicón,
and an explosion of colour occurs on the plate. Amidst the tomato, pepper and
citrus, the scallops still stand out. It is here again where Chef’s Japanese
influence comes to bear on his dishes. It is not just about Japanese spices, it
is the subtlety of flavours on the plate. It is now when Chef reveals the
source of the Japanese influence I experienced on that visit in October.
starts after graduation where he took upa position as an apprentice at a 3 star Michelin restaurant in San
Sebastian. However, it was when he started working under renowned chef, Carme
Ruscalleda, that his approach to cooking would be altered - forever. At San Pau
he would learn hone his skills, and when she opened a restaurant in Tokyo, it
was Chef Fran who would serve as its consultant, travelling to Tokyo twice a
reveals something of a core quality that I perceived that October night – he
believes that a chef has to take risks. It is about expanding the diner’s
culinary perceptions and taste. The Steamed“Percebes” is a metaphor for that philosophy.
The idea of barnacles in what many people perceive to be a fine dining
restaurant is definitely going to push the boundaries, and I like it. Fine
dining should be fun, and what is more fun than using your hands, I think to
myself. Served with dashi, a typical Japanese broth, on the side, I like the pairing…I love the metaphor.
I ask Chef what the hardest part of being a chef is, he answers, it seems as a
son, brother and friend. He says there are many sacrifices one has to make, and
it is felt keenly when for example, there is a celebration and he cannot be
part of it because his schedule is so hectic. It is a long day for a Chef de Cuisine
that starts at 10.30 in the morning. But he is philosophical about it.
night we are celebrating this season’s specially created, Along the Spanish coastline. Next up we have the Pan
seared prawns. This is a dish that reflects Chef’s respect for combining tastes
on the plate, especially contrasts; the Carabinero prawn dish pits soft and crunchy
up against each other and also sweet and sour. Pineapple is a simple fruit, but
one that is blessed with those contrasts. Chef also enjoys fruit on the plate.
It is one his signatures.
Fran is very excited about our next dish, Atlantic
Imperial crab “Txangurro”. It is a dish that requires a lot of care and is
time consuming. The result, though, makes it all worth it I am sure as he
watches me oooh and ahhh. It is a very traditional Basque style dish that he
interprets faithfully. Crab meat, mixed with tomato and bread crumbs is served
in the shell. This dish again shows chef challenging traditional notions of fine
dining. A winner on all fronts. It is during this course that we delve into his
visits to Japan and he recounts trips to the legendary Tsukiji Fish market in
Tokyo where he would wake up at 4am to be there by 5am, get the freshest
produce and then indulge in a sushi breakfast. He mentions his appreciation for
the ancient capital of Japan, Kyoto and his enjoyment of the famed Japanese tea
ceremony. I listen with tremendous interest, as he talks about his cultural
experiences in weird and wonderful Japan.
night winds down, I learn something really quirky and wonderful about him. He
is passionate about reading and is able to embed himself between the pages of a
book, but only if that book exceeds a 1000 pages, and unless he has another
book lined up, he will not read it. Which book, then, has had the biggest
impact on him? El Corazón de Piedra
Salvador Madariaga, one of the fine exponents of Spanish historical fiction. Finally, what about movies? He likes any film
starring Glen Close or Meryl Streep and mentions “Out of Africa” as one of his
favourites. I nod in approval.
There is gentleness in Chef Fran, a
peacefulness, a contentment. I get the sense that there are not many things
that faze him. Maybe there is a lot of his father’s laidback attitude towards
life that runs through his veins. Maybe it is mother’s support during those
life changing decisions he had to me that makes him the quietly self assured
man he is. Maybe his ability to navigate a very challenging but amazing culture
that is Japan that now manifests itself in some of his dishes. Whichever way
you look at it, he has become a metaphor in Rosewood Hotel’s F&B outlets
for delicate balance; he is able to treat his beloved Catalonia with the
respect it deserves while at the same time guiding guests beyond the perimeters
of that which is safe and comfortable, but all of this done in the most
unassuming and quiet manner you could imagine.
It is his mentor Carme Ruscalleda who appropriately says "Society
is seduced by beauty but food must have a soul, too." And Chef Francisco
finds himself in a restaurant, as he was in San Pau, that allows him to reveal the extent to which food
has soul. Catalan, the site of his artistry is not only about aesthetics, it is
about that very soul with which he imbues his dishes. It takesa chef with a special depth to take something
so abstract and put it onto a plate and to give it soul; Soul, from the chef’s
hands, to the plate. Chef Francisco - Chef de Cuisine, Catalan Rosewood Hotel, Abu Dhabi 971 2 813 5550