9/20/17 - Looking Down the Barrel of Mastery
Over the last several years, I’ve become increasingly obsessive of high performers. I want to be around it. I want to know it and live it. In an effort to do so, and to create some remarkable memories along the way, I’ve started a habit when overseas. You see, the Michelin group put the United States on timeout because we can’t hack it with fine dining. In order, to really experience the highest level culinary experiences in new Michelin starred restaurants, you’ll need a passport.
I’ve made a deal with myself on overseas work trips to make a reservation (often for a table for one) at a local Michelin star restaurant. This past trip to Barcelona was no different. On recommendation from a friend, I dined at native Columbian Chef Jon Giraldo’s, Spoonik. While his Michelin starred past has provided a foundation for the fourth generation chef, Spoonik is waiting patiently for it’s Michelin recognition. I sat next to a pedigreed sommelier from a three-star establishment on the Cannery Islands and he scores Chef Jon’s efforts as two star, which is nothing short of remarkable.
While I’ve only had a half dozen or so experiences in places like this to compare, let me say that I’ll remember this night for the rest of my life. There isn’t enough English, Spanish, or even Columbian vocabulary combined to articulate this experience. It surely delivered on my intention to see excellence first hand.
When Chef Jon asked if I wanted to sit at a quite table in the back or up at the bar with him, I quickly heeded his unspoken suggestion. I’d be hanging with the master himself
The night started with champagne and melon palette cleanser and clear rules. “Bring no expectations. None!” Chef Jon said adamantly. “This is not a restaurant, but an experience. My team talks about food preparations for all hours of the day, sometimes two days in a row on the same idea. Then, we devise the preparation over weeks, months. Some have taken two years. We are not afraid to bring art, sound, and any other experience to the dish to complete this preparation.”
His speech was followed by trip back into the kitchen to meet the staff. While in the back meeting the dream team, also all proud Latin Americans, more palate cleansing bites were handed out. While being led back to my seat, a cook could be seen looking though a hand held magnifying contraception, not dissimilar to one a jeweler would use to evaluate a diamond. He was checking the viscosity of the spun sugar needed for a preparation later.
It took just two dishes to realize that the entire sold out restaurant was experiencing the same dishes in a choreographed manner. There is only one seating at Spoonik at 9:30PM. The doors remain closed until 9:30 and everyone begins once the parties are all seated. We finished after 1AM.
You begin to notice that each preparation is cleverly timed with accompanying music, the light in the room changes as the evening moves forward, and the tables are even lit from under with visual art. One particularly dramatic moment of visual art and sound begged the question: “Who created that lighted art show projected on the table?”
“Ah, this is the artist who created the opening ceremonies for the Olympic Games in Rio.”
As an obsessive Olympic ceremony fan, it made total sense. Both left me dumfounded. At one point, I was eating a scale-on fish dish while wearing headphones playing ocean sounds. You’ve got to have some serious guts to hand out headphones in a fine dining establishment, people. Another dish of remarkable complexity was prepared from just a single ingredient: yogurt. However, the sizable dish was comprised of the same yogurt prepared in seven different textures. I can’t even name seven different kinds of sandwich let alone manipulate the properties of one ingredient seven ways. The tasting menu came with a beverage pairing, not a wine pairing. Some how rare curated beers, white and red wines, saki, and even cider drove the experience perfectly.
Having Chef Jon explain each preparation to me face-to-face was like looking down the barrel of mastery. This young man came from nothing and rose through poverty to create something that is in some ways unrivaled in the world and I had the chills the entire time. At one point he spoke in depth about the cutlery for each dish. Some dishes had heavy powerful utensils to connect to the brain aggressive eating, making noise, and conscious connection to the food experience. A steak dish, on the other hand, was served on a heavy stone plate and the cutlery was lite and precise like NASA instruments. Not only is Chef Jon mastering the food, sourcing a single leaf from Japan to round out an Oyster dish, he’s choosing cutlery like his life depends on it.
When you see in someone’s own two eyes a direct line to their purpose and that purpose being met with an limitless effort, you get someone like Chef Jon. In attention to detail alone with regards to cutlery, this man is showing more love and attention than fist full of mediocre marriages. Left there completely inspired. I could only hope to live in a world of people as courageous as Chef Jon, because what’s possible exceeds the limits of our minds. Or, we can just do whatever seems convenient. Does anyone want to open an Applebees with me?
Chef Jon explained a frame full of corks he and his family used to drink when they were poor from wines they respected as high class and could barely afford a sign of the future. The corks surround a quote from the most important Columbian writer that reads, “Recordar es fácil para el que tiene memoria. Olvidarse es dificíl para quien tiene corazón.”
“Remembering is easy when you have memory. Forgetting is impossible if you have heart.”