“Xavier Pellicer” and “El Menjador” are the restaurants of the chef Xavier Pellicer, recognized by the “We’re Smart Green Guide” as “the best vegetarian restaurant in the world”. “Anyone who cooks gourmet vegetables at such a high level deserves this title for the second time,” said the green gastronomy guide, an international reference that awarded him twice in a row in 2018 and 2019, but he keeps the title for posterity.
Chef Xavier Pellicer works pure magic with vegetables like beet, tomato and cherry gazpacho and cauliflower cream with a perfect poached egg. Vegetables that aren’t eaten as often as beets or cauliflower, he makes famous and turns them into a best-selling dish at the restaurant.
The two restaurants are attached to 310 Provença Street in Barcelona and offer local products, biodynamic agriculture and healthy cuisine combined with the Ayurvedic philosophy he practices.
“El Menjador” is a more intimate gourmet space with an open kitchen designed for 20 guests, while “Xavier Pellicer” is a more casual restaurant with a capacity of 60 guests. Both restaurants offer the three versions of the tasting menu: vegan, vegetarian and omnivore. Their suggestions bring together meat lovers and a vegan to enjoy vegetables.
On a day like today, you were awarded the title of “the best vegetarian restaurant in the world”. What do you think of this award?
For us it was the recognition of a work that I knew for years was more a matter of personal awareness, change of personal habits and belief in the world of vegetables. It is the recognition for the work and the team that accompanies you, for some ideas and a way of doing things that greatly reinforces you in your project and in your way of understanding what you do, having made a kind of cooking. Without forgetting the protein, we continue to focus on the issue of organic products, sustainable, local, and is very popular now 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 this? How do you apply this concept?
In 2012, after the death of Santi Santamaría, I was at Racó de Can Fabes in Sant Celoni. I stayed with the family for two more years, and in the first year I had the good fortune to reconnect with the biodynamic farmer Joan Salicrú, who has created his own entity that manages his land, gives it that contribution of energy that any biodynamic action requires, and in this reconnection I then had an interest in gaining 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 I came in contact with the Ayurvedic world through this course, one of our courses was held in a country house with Angela Sanz, and the sum of everything made me decide to cook a little healthier.
In this process I made a detox, I practically became a vegetarian-vegan for a while to cleanse my body and feel better, and from then on I discovered that we don’t give vegetables the value they have, that they are supposed to be the ugly brother of the dish. I realized that vegetables also have their history, their attachment and that it is very good that you can do a lot of things and provide interesting things for the diner, and from there a little piece of history was born.
They also work with products that were considered lost. For example: with colorful carrots. How did you come up with this idea?
I’ve been lucky enough to meet interesting people in my life, and one of those people is Jacques Breault. He is a Canadian who has been in Spain for 13 years, we met him by chance when he arrived in Barcelona, and he is a person who follows a bit the laws of Rudolf Steiner, the father of biodynamics, and also applies the theme of energy, the phases of the moon, and he is looking for this point. So he is a savior of the whole world in terms of seeds, vegetables. Through that, I realized that not all carrots are orange, not all beets are white, and that allowed me to grow, and well, you integrate it into your understanding of cooking and discover new flavors or sweetness or bitterness. That has allowed us to grow a lot and to realize that we have the ability to enjoy products that have certainly been forgotten in the past, with grandparents, great-grandparents, and with globalization, in terms of the supermarket.
That’s very interesting.
It’s just that it’s right in front of our noses and we don’t see it, and it’s easier to go to a place where you can get all the chopped up vegetables in a plastic tray to buy dead vegetables. That’s one of the things that I understand very well: the living vegetables, that they bring me the vegetables with their roots, with their green leaves, so that they keep the energy in them and you can transfer it to the dish. I believe that our cooking is made of empathy, of the heart, of good energy, and that in the end brings good digestion and the Ayurvedic balance of never exceeding the sum of 70/30 or 80/20 of vegetable products versus animal protein, because that makes the intestine work much more relaxed and gives the feeling of superior well-being.
That’s what I wanted to ask you. What I find very interesting about biodynamics is that experts point out that food has living energy and it is reflected in the food. What energy are they referring to?
Well, that’s fundamental, I mean, the principle of biodynamics is based on the fact that vegetables are living things in which energy flows, and it’s the energy of the four elements that make up the biodynamic world, namely earth, air, fire and water, which is then reflected in the fruit, the root, the leaf and the flower, the four elements that make up the script. Then, from there on, is all life.
If we assume that the first premise of biodynamics is the observation of the environment, then what did our ancestors do… they looked at it and said “the moon is up and it is full because the energy is going up”, then when you plant in the soil, the soil will reject it. When should you plant? When the energy goes into the soil, when it decreases and does not increase. So, all these elements that you have observed, just like you observed a tree or a flower, how they developed their fruits, their petals, made a calendar out of it, then that creates a whole reality. What the human being does not notice in his desire to control, selects the transgenic plants where there is a change in the seed, you look for the shape, size and color, but you do not look for the taste, you do not look for the texture, nor do you look for the energy that they carry.
In your restaurants, you have the foundation in biodynamics, but also the Ayurveda that you have incorporated into your life. How is that reflected in your dishes?
The world of species that are reinforcements and at the same time help to awaken the inner fire, the agni, or the balance of the doshas (personalities), and although it’s difficult to apply them individually, which would be the magic, the perfect equation for having a result, we take these more general parameters of what Ayurveda is and we try to connect them to what cooking is so that it’s beneficial for the client. They are energetic issues that are very much related to how we understand cooking, and we try to convey it. Unintentionally you realize that this creates a bond with the customer, people like what we propose, and despite covid-19, we will continue to stand here and people will come and enjoy the food, I know there are many people who want to sit at our tables again to eat well.
On the menu of “El Menjador” there are three types of menus: vegan, vegetarian and omnivorous. How are these suggestions?
Well, like in “Xavier Pellicer” that in all three versions we have a tasting menu item and vegetables on the menu.
When I proposed my restaurant model and wanted to include vegetables as protagonists in the menu, so to be exclusive but not selective, if all customers are accepted, we made the vegan version so that vegans also have a reference point, lacto-ovo-vegetarian also for vegetarians, and with protein or omnivore, because we understood that most people probably eat protein, but to trap them, the vegetables with protein, as I said, the dish was always 70% or more vegetables, with a small amount of protein.
Listen, a lot of people said, “I want the leek with the Iberian dewlap,” that was a very fine veil, cut to the millimeter and put on top so it would melt, almost impossible to see, but people ate their leek tatin. We got a lot of people who had opted for egg whites to eat a lot of vegetables, and they were surprised. After that, in the house, there is also the possibility of eating a small fish, meat, but it’s always organic meat, wild fish, and always in the format of meat, fish, it’s not more than 100 to 120 grams of weight per serving. We make a plate format that is like the third part of a plate, so people can try different things, so they can get an idea of what we do.
And “El Menjador” is a bit more exclusive, as you would understand in a Michelin-starred restaurant. There we propose three menus with 9 steps, from an appetizer to seven savory dishes and a dessert, so two desserts, where we try to present what is in season from the moment they come to eat.
Finally, we saw you sharing recipes on Instagram. Yesterday you prepared 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 doing the recipes, and I do it once a week because I didn’t want to bore people, I also didn’t want to be a slave to the Internet and Instagram and so on, so, well, I think it was more of an element to make people remember us, and you can give them a gift in the form of recipes that they tried in the restaurant, and with a little imagination you could make them at home, and we’ll see.
Xavier Pellicer has had an outstanding career, working with great French Michelin-starred chefs such as Jacques Maximin or Alain Dutournier, as well as the famous Spanish chef Santi Santamaría as head chef at El Racó de Can Fabes. With a similar position, he was also at ABaC in 2000, and there Xavier receives two Michelin stars. In 2010, however, he leaves due to disagreements with the partners. Then Santi calls him back, and in September of that year he returns as co-director chef to run Can de Fabes at 50 percent. Unfortunately, Santi dies 6 months later in Singapore. His stay lasted until the end of March 2013, after which he continued his consulting work in Barcelona with the themes of rice and ecological cooking. In 2015 he opened Céleri, where he received a Michelin star and where his passion for the world of vegetables was born. But it ends due to the lack of transparency of its partners. So in April 2018 he opens his own restaurants: “Xavier Pellicer” and “El Menjador”, awarded as “the best vegetable restaurant in the world”.