Spanish chef Quique Dacosta
Author: Rodrigo García Fernández and Celia Hernando /©ICEX
Translation: Jenny McDonald /©ICEX
The most striking thing about Quique Dacosta (Cáceres, 1972) and one that sets him apart from many of his colleagues is that he is a self-taught cook. Other characteristics are his youth, his endless curiosity, his passion for research, his creativity. All these have made him one of the key names in the recent history of Spanish gastronomy and an important force for the future.
Like many others, it was by chance that Quique Dacosta found himself in the world of food. At the age of 15, he took a job washing dishes in a pizza bar in Dénia, a small town on the Valencian coast and, at 17, also by chance, he started to work in the El Poblet restaurant also in Dénia. And he has never left (in 2009 El Poblet changed its name into Quique Dacosta Restaurant).
As a very young chef de cuisine, he thoroughly transformed the restaurant’s philosophy. From a family-run rice and seafood establishment, he turned it into a three-Michelin-star, avant-garde gastronomic shrine, one that has seen many highly-valued, and widely-imitated, culinary discoveries. In 1997, it was his edible veils, in 2000 edible papers and, later, his landscapes. Two examples of the latter were his Guggenheim Bilbao Oysters which visually reproduce the metallic textures of Frank Gehry's famous construction, and The Animated Forest, which evokes a walk in a Mediterranean wood.
He has revolutionized the world of rice, a subject he has thoroughly investigated and a product he is able to cook like few others. In 2005, he published his book Arroces Contemporáneos, an in-depth review of this iconic ingredient in Valencian cuisine. He also studied the vegetable world in detail "at a time when the only microgreens in the food world were those in the ubiquitous spring rolls of Chinese restaurants". More recently, he has studied the culinary potential of aloe vera, now an essential ingredient in his pantry.
Innovation and imagination
Though a great innovator, Quique Dacosta always respects the essential qualities of his raw materials, the produce of the soil. His restaurant menu pays tribute to some of the best fruits of the Mediterranean, such as the flavorful Red Shrimp from the Marina Alta in Alicante (Valencian Community). But his love of the local ingredients does not keep him from also displaying a universal vocation with creations such as Cubalibre de foie. Since its introduction back in 2001, this dish has become almost the trade mark of his establishment.
It has been said of this chef, who has adopted the province of Valencia as his home, that his cuisine has a soul, that produces an emotional effect on his customers. Quique Dacosta convinces his diners with his highly-polished techniques and the carefully-thought-out presentation of his dishes. He claims to have his own language and, although he has great respect for what he gleaned from chefs such as Juan Mari Arzak, Santi Santamaría and Ferran Adrià, he insists that his cuisine is his, and his alone. "I like many chefs and always learn from them, but what I want is to be myself".
In 2008, Quique Dacosta announced to the press that he had created what he called the "Culinary Ecosystem", concept to define his creative, market-based cuisine, which is marked by its landscape and natural surroundings and takes its inspiration from the natural community of living beings around him and his restaurant. Also in 2008, Quique Dacosta brought out the first-ever Internet book in the history of gastronomy, covering all his work at his restaurant from 2002 to 2006.
At the end of October 2010, Quique reported that his restaurant in Denia would open only between March and October (he and his team need time to research and develope new recipes), following the example of elBulli. Therefore, he announced that he would inaugurate two new tapas bars in the center of Valencia city, a homeage to the Spanish world of tapas. Today both venues are a success: MercatBar and Vuelve Carolina. Next step: Madrid, where Quique is looking for a great place to surprise Madrid foodies...