Rice, salt and a shrimp

This year I have returned to Denia, to Quique Dacosta's restaurant.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
23 May 2023 Tuesday 23:10
40 Reads
Rice, salt and a shrimp

This year I have returned to Denia, to Quique Dacosta's restaurant.

I have the feeling that Quique's overwhelming and dazzling presence at the Ritz in Madrid has made his cuisine in Denia freer, more daring. As if the trench had moved to the capital and protected the place where everything was born.

I really enjoyed myself again, and to observe something that made me think. I would say at least three things.

The first.

Quique always proposes rice on the menu. It doesn't really matter which one. It is usually new, interesting, round. He has acquired a proven and recognized mastery in a very difficult and very local art. But Quique is from Extremadura. Rice is not their landscape.

In my trade, I defend that a poorly informed approach to a brand's problem allows for a clearer understanding of the solution. The client knows so much about himself that he needs the vision of someone who is outside, who is far away, who does not know him. Exaggerating a little, but not much, the vision of an ignoramus.

The Atlantic and rainy landscape that one eats in Culler de Pau arises from the entrails of Javier Olleros, it is himself, it is his life. He doesn't understand it, he feels it. He leaves him. Ricard Camarena's approach to rice is neither intellectual nor rational, it is an instinctive feeling that emerges from within. Like the cuisine that, born from the unconscious memory of Josean Alija, seems so Basque to be Japanese. They are the landscape, they don't see it. They will never be able to have the gaze of the spectator, the amazed gaze.

Quique has approached rice from ignorance. The landscape is outside, she understands it, she doesn't feel it. Or feel it later. His look lacks religious prejudices, unconscious gestures. There is no instinct. There is understanding.

Borges, in an article on Max Nordau, an eminent Zionist, and quoting Thorstein Veblen, ventures that what allows Jews to be innovative and formulate lucid criticism is their condition as outsiders in each country: "criticism, precisely, of those facts that they are hidden from people who were born into the culture of each country. These people accept such facts as an inevitable portion of reality; they do not perceive, or cannot perceive, the conventional or the false that may be in them.” And he concludes: “The Jew, on the other hand, looks objectively at Western cultures; that is why he can innovate in them.”

Second observation.

One of the most intense moments on the menu in Denia is the salted fish pass. I have spoken on other occasions about the opening to the infinite that the Bullinian revolution represented. It is curious how in this case the jump to the unfathomable is based on such an ancient conservation technique. It is enough to vary the exposure time of food to salt, and the intensity of that salinity. The possibilities are countless. From certainty to doubt. From the answer to the question. From comfortable routine to surprise.

Paradoxically, the scientific approach to cooking has been filled with uncertainty, with hypotheses. So many options open up that nothing is true anymore, and what remains is that deep emotion of approaching the sacred. The feeling. Being close, but never getting there. The kitchen has always been more like religion, ideology. to faith. Things are done this way because they have always been done this way, and because this is how it should be. The recipe. The text revealed, certain, immovable. Word of God, who was always French.

In this search for the deep we can stumble upon some universal truth (never with the Truth). In the same way that Gabriel García Márquez found himself with a reproduction of the world in the stories that his grandmother told him in Aracataca, in Lera's pigeon a revelation that transcends geographies is intuited.

Each potato is the first potato in history if one contemplates it from the freedom of those who have permission to question everything.

The other day I listened to Pedro Sánchez, the magician of Bagá, in a video hosted on Lacrème (that essential app that orders gastronomy from the unbeatable logic of the best dishes). Pedrito talks about the creative process using words with the same care, both surgical and poetic, with which he cooks. He uses the perfect verb to talk about his relationship with the ingredient: figure it out. It is exactly that, to feel that it is a mystery that must be unraveled.

And the third.

Quique always offers a red prawn from Denia on his menu. An extraordinary shrimp, perfect, barely cooked. Year after year he renews all his dishes, but the shrimp remains. I had never thought about it, really, but this time I thought I understood what that gesture means (it is true that being close to José Antonio Navarrete stimulates abstract thought).

When Quique keeps that shrimp, what he does is establish a point of reference for his menu. The same is true of Mario Sandoval's suckling pig at Coque, or Francis Paniego's croquette at El Portal.

It is an act of enormous value to face your dishes with the perfection of a canonical, invincible, irreproachable ingredient. It's like comparing yourself to God. A tragic gesture doomed to fail.

Rafael Argullol describes it with his usual lucidity in Damn Perfection, a title that already explains practically everything: "In this fight to achieve perfect beauty, in this insatiability punctuated by the most sublime creations and the most terrible despair, we recognize the tragedy of Michelangelo For her her contemporaries found a beautiful word: terribilità".

There are three issues that obsess me, and perhaps for this reason I tend to recognize them anywhere. Ignorance that opens the gaze in the face of expert knowledge that narrows it, openness to infinity and doubt that overcomes dogma, perfection understood as an honest and tragic search. I also believe that they are the three essential characteristics of the Spanish revolution that changed universal gastronomy forever: the unprejudiced look, the freedom to think, the obsession with excellence.

And speaking of Denia: everything was delicious.