Saturday, 19 February 2011

Catalan Chef & fierce critic of avant-garde dies

WHILE I was complaining about the 'Herby Fishcakes' at the 'delifonseca' in Liverpool and elsewhere about 'vanguardism' on the Left in Britain, Santi Santameria, a major Catalan critic of the 'avant-garde' in Spanish cuisine, a chef and restaurant owner died of a heart attack in one of his restaurants in Singapore last Wednesday. He was 53.

Mr Santamaria was the first Catalan to run a three-star restaurant and he help draw international attention to Spanish and Catalan food in recent years. He was the enemy of those who followed Ferran Adria's style of fancy cooking and champion of the avant-garde kitchen at the El Bulli restaurant also in Catalonia, and three years ago he launched a bitter attack on him and others who practiced laboratory techniques in their kitchens. He claimed that they were poisoning the public playing with chemicals and emulsifiers that he insisted didn't belong in a decent kitchen. English readers will know of this kind of theatre of cuisine through Heston Blumenthal.

Mr Santamaria's argument is put in his book 'La Cocina al Desnudo' (The Kitchen Laid Bare): in it he promotes the use of natural and seasonal ingredients to make Mediterranean dishes. Santamaria became a bit too legalistic for anarchist tastes when he called on the Spanish authorities to investigate the safety of additives like liquid nitrogen, used by some chefs for instant freezing, and methyl cellulose, a gelling agent.

Santamaria claimed he was not jealous of Adria and the others of his ilk, but concerned by the loss of traditional cooking and its passion for local and organic food. Mr Santamaria was born on July 26th, 1957, in the Catalan town Sant Celoni. He became recognised in the 1980s when he opened a modest place in his family's farmhouse, El Raco de Can Fabes, which eventually got a Michelin star in 1989. He was awarded Spain's National Gastronomy Prize in 2009.

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