When it comes to food, Barcelona is one of the world's premier meccas. The cuisine here can compete head-to-head with that of the most sophisticated cities in the world— from New York to Paris, and London to Hong Kong. One of the reasons for its culinary success is the "golden" generation of chefs that has been performing feats of wizardry in the city since the early 1990s. Albert and Ferran Adrià, Carles Gaig, Carme Ruscalleda, Fermi Puig, Santi Santamaria, and many others in this group have modernized Catalan cuisine and fearlessly explored other styles, as well.
In 2014, Catalan chefs are still at the top of their game, with the opening of the long-awaited El Bulli Foundation in 2015, Barcelona will continue to be on the very short list of food capitals of the world. Here I recommend my five favorite local chefs—although with so many excellent new chefs in the city, I could easily write another five lists without repeating a single name.
Albert & Ferran Adrià
The Adrià brothers need no introduction; they are two of the city’s primary attractions. They changed the very shape of the gastronomic world with El Bulli, the most famous, most celebrated restaurant in the history of cooking. Though the groundbreaking El Bulli is now closed, the Adrià brothers share in the management of four new restaurants in Barcelona: a Mexican restaurant, Hoja Santa; a Peruvian-Japanese restaurant, Pakta; a tapas bar, Tickets; and a vermuteria (or vermouth bar, also serving great cured meats) called 1900. With a cocktail school and another restaurant opening in 2015, the brothers seem poised to start a new culinary revolution.
This great chef represents the best of Catalan cooking, with an approach that has embraced traditional recipes and techniques and made them popular again. He was the brain behind Drolma, one of the first restaurants to put Barcelona on the culinary map, and since he has been involved in many other projects. The latest, Restaurant Fermí Puig, is, once again, a beautiful tribute to Catalan tradition, serving dishes like duck-liver salad and suquet de rap (a very old fisherman’s recipe for monkfish soup, reborn).
Like so many other notable modern-day chefs, Abellan started out in the kitchen of El Bulli—and has since built his own culinary empire. The first piece of this kingdom was the phenomenal Comerç 24, followed by Bar El Velódromo and Tapas 24, both of which attracted a young crowd thanks to a very personal approach to tapas. Their success pushed him toward opening his most recent restaurant in the Vela Hotel, Bravo. He has so many projects going on that it is difficult to follow his tracks, but a visit to Tapas 24 (go early, they don’t take reservations) will be all you need to recognize his talent.
Gaig is the most respected chef in Catalonia when it comes to traditional Catalan cuisine. His macarrons (macaroni), cap i pota (a dish incorporating parts of the pig like the snout and feet that are very popular in Catalan recipes), and bunyols (fried fritters filled with cod) have no equal in Barcelona. Gaig has a Michelin star and his eponymous restaurant, always crowded, is a good choice for a fantastic lunch.
The most important woman in Catalan cuisine, Ruscalleda is also the female chef with the most Michelin stars in the world. Carme first changed the male-centric world of culinary fame with her restaurant, Sant Pau (set in a small town outside Barcelona), which showcased her delicate sense of flavor and preparation. This philosophy brought her to Tokyo (where she owns one of the best restaurants in this city, also named Sant Pau), and finally to the Mandarin Hotel in Barcelona where she now runs Moments. Splurge and try the unforgettable tasting menu there.