Quique Dacosta is arguably one of the most interesting people I have ever met: charming, charismatic, humble, vain and stylish, all in one. But why are we featuring a chef from Dénia, Spain, in our Middle East-focussed edition?
Quique is one of the first chefs in a line of exceptional culinary greats that are showcasing their talents and creations to an audience in Dubai. For a three-month period, ending in April, Quique has transported his theatrical act to the Palazzo Versace in Dubai. The brainchild behind this concept, hotel manager Patrick Rob, wanted the Palazzo to be a destination for the high-end foodie market. To him, the Versace brand is known for many things apart from food, so he wanted the Dubai hotel to be known globally for its interesting culinary concept. What better way to achieve this than by asking the world’s greatest chefs to share a piece of their “Untold Story” at Enigma?
Over the last five years I was able to eat in some of the world’s best restaurants but I never had the opportunity to eat at Quique’s in Spain, so I was looking forward to taste what his food was all about during my stay at the Palazzo. The Palazzo is on Dubai’s Creek, a far cry from the natural beauty and landscapes of Dénia. To be honest, I felt I wasn’t getting the real deal. On the other hand, no pop-up anywhere in the world will replicate the actual experience of dining in the chef’s and the restaurant’s natural habitat. That said, the surroundings of the beauty and attention to detail in this hotel made me forget about the desire to smell the sea air of Costa Blanca.
The experience didn’t disappoint. Quique’s food is absolutely stunning and one of his dishes, foie gras with elderflower gel, lychee droplets and rose petals, now sits comfortably in my top 10 dishes of all time. I could go on and on about the food but I will let the images in these pages do all the talking. What I will say, however, now that Quique’s residency is coming to an end, is that I would highly recommend a trip to Dénia. If you don’t want to take my word for it, find comfort in the fact that he’s had three Michelin stars to show for many years. With regards to Enigma, I also urge you to go, because what can be better than experiencing the world’s greatest chefs in this beautiful setting in one of the world’s greatest cities?
After dinner I sat down with Quique to talk about his career, the fine dining world today and what the future has in store. I asked him about the menu at Enigma and how it came about. He laughs: “Nothing as per my contract. I wanted to represent Dénia and my restaurant to the best of my ability. Not having cooked for a Dubai-based audience, I was unsure how they would react, but so far the people have taken well to it. There is a world of difference between Dubai and Dénia in terms of textures, concepts and ideas on gastronomy. Obviously sourcing produce regionally doesn’t work here, so I could only bring my ideas and source everything from Dénia.”
I ask him what his untold story is. For him, it’s the story he is living every day. “It’s this experience here in Enigma and the new 2016 opening in Dénia,” he explains. “It’s a story created on a day-to-day basis. The new story is built on past experience. It’s like a book, adding to the book, reopening it to see the philosophy or train of thought from the past, starting in 1995, to 2001 and 2009 [when Quique changed his menus and concepts]. It may not be writing the whole book but simply just adding a chapter or page. When we changed style in 2009, many guests didn’t appreciate the big changes but others loved the boldness of the new menu. We were lucky to be a part of the Spanish vanguard revolution but that said, I want to create my own style and yet I must emphasise I am the son of the Spanish movement and will never forget the methodology and techniques that I learnt over the past 20 years.”
Quique continues: “When we open the doors in 2016, a new chapter will be written. We are completely changing the menu and philosophy in the restaurant. There are many people looking forward to the changes, it’s a complete 360 degree change. I think of myself as an artist and my dishes as artwork. I have a desire to burn all my paintings in order to start afresh, so the past may not influence my ideas moving forward. But obviously I won’t do that because it’s like trying to eliminate the past, so I will just keep the old paintings in the basement for now.”
Over the last two decades, Spain was at the forefront of a movement towards modernising, even revolutionising high-end cuisine. A movement, Quique thinks, that created a trend. He says: “These movements are not necessarily Spanish or Scandinavian for example, but more a vanguard movement in gastronomy. In this vanguard movement we are talking about techniques, surprise elements, sustainability, taste and look. It’s like Nouvelle Cuisine: no one does it anymore. It wasn’t a trend, but a movement because it shaped generations. Movements are important in order to move forward.”
What he doesn’t find necessary is everyone jumping on the bandwagon in order to succeed. He says it’s not about the technology that is used in the kitchen, but about elements of it that are implemented when creating dishes.
People want trends, year after year, so does he and his peers think that they have to reinvent themselves all the time? “I’m aware that it is important in the eye of the public, what with magazines like FOUR and the increasing number of bloggers. I have been in this circus for many years and I hope to be in it for years to come,” he says, smiling. In Dénia, Quique and his team serve two menus, one featuring 26 dishes and the other continually changing. With an average of 8,000 guests a year, people are asking for the classics, the signature dishes. But Quique knows just serving the classics would be too easy. Having created over 850 dishes, he feels that constant evolution is important for him and his guests.
However, changing the menu entirely is a big step, does he feel some trepidation? “I have done it three times and I didn’t sleep last night because I am exactly at that stage now. Luckily our guests want a change, so I am blessed. Our last big change took two years, starting in 2009. 2011 wasn’t a great year, it was a vast and complex undertaking, from the plates to the way we served the food, but ultimately now I can say it was a success.”
If one day he felt that the change went wrong or wasn’t accepted, it could potentially take a long time to recover. I ask Quique what he would do, whether he would return to the classics or keep on pushing forward with new ideas. Thoughtfully, he says: “There was a year when I really believed in something but it didn’t connect with the people. But consistency is key and believing in yourself will eventually allow you to succeed.”
Spanish chefs have generally remained in Spain and not ventured abroad, what might be the reason for that? “We are very romantic,” Quique laughs. “But speaking for myself, I want to open somewhere. I don’t have a place in mind yet. I rely on my team, so we have to see how they take to suggestions of certain cities, I won’t do it alone. It’s not about money or obtaining three Michelin stars. If we get them it means that we deserve them.”
His intuition, boldness and belief in himself and his team will surely get him the highest critical acclaim for whatever project he puts his mind to and I for one am looking forward to reading the next chapter in his success story.
Find out more about Quique’s culinary career