The connection with Catalonia grew stronger when I got super lucky when a friend invited me to join her for pastry training in a Michelin starred restaurant in Vic (pronounced as Bic). Vic is a small town near Girona, which is the heart of Catalonia. An hour away from the BCN city, its simple quaintness and proximity to some of the region’s smaller towns made it so very special. The 3 weeks at Nandu’s restaurant – Can Jubany – was an experience I will cherish for a long-long time. Nandu was kind to say the least. His chefs were amused to have us there but in their broken English and with some help from Google translator I got by. Nandu believes in details. I didn’t know much that happened in the hot kitchen but as far as the pastry section is concerned – every mint leaf on the dessert plate, every flower petal on the plate had to be fresh. Every plated dessert that went out had to be on the customer’s table in less than a minute of plating. The kitchen is a hard place; it’s everything you see on TV – abusive , abrasive , stressful (I made sure I learnt the abuses in Catalan so I would know when someone was hurling them my way). I was a trainee, translated to ‘piece of shit’. I plucked fresh mint leaves, grated the rind off 100s of lemons, picked out fresh eggs from the farm, always had a cleaning wipe in my hand and hell, I worked 15 hrs a day! And I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Thank God for my time earlier at Le Cordon Bleu Paris, which made the Pastry Chef discover my possible talent and capability and I was moved-up from slave labour to what may be a commis chef level. I began to work on the Petit Fours and later plated desserts. And, things got better. I made friends, they spoke broken English and I broken Catalan and with all the help from the phone apps, we had conversations that I will cherish a lifetime. It was a glorious 3 weeks of learning and I don’t really care about the Michelin stars, but in my opinion Can Jubany is one of the finest restaurants in Catalonia. Please do visit.
My time and the few weekends in Vic got me eating at a few other places. Clearly, the world has to know that Catalonia and the Basque region (San Sebastion) has really the best food in the world. I had the pleasure of meeting one such chef – Chef Ignasi – at his restaurant Cal Ignasi. What an absolutely wonderful meal. His kitchen was so different from Nandu’s, but both masters in their own way. Then there was Sant Pau, a wonderful restaurant in Sant Pol de Mar, a town between Barcelona and Girona. In 2009 it was awarded three Michelin stars and three Campsa-Repsol suns. The restaurant is headed by chef Carme Ruscalleda. I had the tasting menu ‘Carnet de Ball’ where every dish was a piece of Art. A restaurant I’d definitely go back to.
I tried calling El Celler de Can Roca; they were booked for the next 6 months. I guess the heavens insist that I just go back.