Country : Spain
Restaurant : EspaiSucre
Fifteen years ago, an extraordinary restaurant opened its doors in Barcelona's Born neighbourhood. It was the first known restaurant where the menu was based entirely on sweet dishes. Desserts? Any uninformed diner might have asked at that time. No, not desserts. It was and is sweet cuisine, a branch of contemporary cuisine that has seen an authentic revolution in recent decades.
Its principles are very different, although many of them are included in the commandments published by Butrón and his partner Xano Saguer in 2007. Butrón has introduced countless dishes and new techniques since we first read this synoptic explanation. His own Barcelona restaurant has undergone some minor modifications, like the dessert bar where it is now possible to taste his work divided into separate elements, now not necessarily part of a full menu, but served as sweet tapas. But what’s essential, what motivates it all, his ideas, remains strong in each of the creations he presents and in his culinary dialogue, a geometric coherence.
Only from this consistency is it possible to speak of desserts as he makes them. As abstract concepts made into reality they are reflected in concrete manifestations of what he originally presented as an idea. His understanding of the creative process of a dessert –in which, let us not forget, taste comes first– is a bit like the way the great sages conceive reality through perfect mathematical equations which reality does not create but rather confirms when science advances enough. In this case we are lucky in that we do not need to wait: we can visit Espai Sucre. Enjoy every materialised idea. See for ourselves that his is a mathematical approach as sweet as it is precise.
It is worth recalling some of those commandments that underpin his work on restaurant desserts. They are summarised below:
1. Flavour is the priority. The other variables (technique, plating, aesthetics) are vehicles, means, not ends. Flavours should be marked by remaining faithful to the original product.
2. Contrasting flavours, flavour points, are distinguished to tone down the different sugar components. The range of tasty possibilities is widened (sweet, salty, bitter, acidic, spicy, sweet and sour…). Sugar’s monopoly is a thing of the past.
3. The introduction of new techniques, products and tools allows greater control over flavour. These should be used alongside traditional baking techniques.
4. The arrangement of food is an essential variable as flavour may differ according to ingredient placement. Flavour, not aesthetic, is the main priority.
5. Immediacy, a new approach in restaurant desserts, with all that entails in terms of preparation and temperature (plates with volume, plays on hot-cold and its many combinations).
6. Relationship with the world of savoury cuisine: synergy.
7. Not only is the perfect combination of taste, technique and plating crucial in a restaurant dessert, but there are also intangible elements that can turn into something more complex. Of these, the most important is the existence or not of a dialogue.
Above all, Butrón has built more than a unique restaurant. Both he and his partner have launched what is perhaps the most influential schools of sweet cuisine in Spain today and have managed to successfully expand to Mexico, where they have a second centre, and have launched an annual competition, Best Restaurant Dessert, which has become an undisputed leader on the international scene.
It’s no small feat.