I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but signature cuisine is popping up all over the place, with Catalan chefs among the world’s most renowned. One such gastronomical entrepreneur is Sergi de Meià, as knowledgable and personable a chef as you’re likely to meet, and we were lucky enough to spend some time in Sergi’s company at his eponymous restaurant in Barcelona.
The first thing that strikes you about Sergi is his enthusiasm, not just for cooking and Catalan culinary tradition, but for life in general. Before we tried a few of his select dishes he regaled us with stories of his family’s passion for food and childhood tales of fishing, hunting and picking food with his grandparents and chopping fresh vegetables in the kitchen in the Lleida village of Vilanova de Meià. In fact, both his mother and grandmother were great cooks, the former having her own restaurant, and Sergi informed his family he wanted to be a chef pretty much as soon as he could talk. Once they believed him, he was sent to various schools to study the profession. Where he really learnt his trade, however, was in various restaurant and hotel kitchens, including El Racó d’en Freixa, and he even did a year’s apprenticeship in Alice Springs, Australia.
At the age of 22 he replaced the Torres brothers as head chef at the famed Reno in carrer Tuset, and later spent 7 years at Monvinic. He opened his own restaurant in carrer Aribau four years ago. Sergi describes his philosophy as slow food and is a committed ecologist, producing Catalan cuisine with ecological products from small producers located all around Catalonia. At Monvinic he put photos of the local producers on the walls in an innovative move to award them the recognition he believes they deserve.
The menu changes with and also during the season according to availability. For example, this summer he will have wild quail, but he’ll only receive 15 of them, so only a lucky few will be able to enjoy it. ”We cook what nature brings us”, is one of Sergi’s delightful sayings. Intriguingly, the restaurant also has a completely vegan menu, which may be construed as an unusual move for an haute cuisine restaurant, but Sergi says he loves making vegan dishes as the world of vegetables is immense and full of opportunities. With that renowned Catalan moderation, he notes, “The key to diet is awareness, thinking about what you eat. Historically, Catalan cuisine is very balanced, and that’s what we’re losing today. We should be cooking with our children; it’s an important part of their education that also includes the culture of listening to and learning from our elders. Today’s life full of mobiles and screens has taken away the pleasure of small everyday things.”
And so onto the restaurant itself, which aesthetically is all sleek décor and design. A plaque outside informs diners that Jordi Montañes was the architect and Mireia Feliu responsible for the interior design.
Sergi cooks but also comes out of the kitchen to interact with his diners, taking the time to chat with each table. We were served a canapé of peppery fuet with bread and tomato along with a superlative glass of Vilamajó Gran Reserva cava, before being treated to beetroot cream with cherries, courgette stuffed with black pudding, vegetables with herbs and flowers (the use of flowers to add colour and aroma to dishes appears to be a signature element of Sergi’s cuisine), organic chicken mole (Sergi’s currently on a mission to make the best mole), seafood rice (a speciality), and white tuna with vegetables.
Among the desserts you will find strawberry cheesecake, milk and honey fritters, and a strawberry, thyme and white chocolate confection, all home-made of course.
The extensive wine list has a mind-boggling selection from around the world, although the waiters are more than happy to advise you if you’re lost. In fact, service doesn’t get any better than this, and was even delivered in good English once they’d noted we were speaking English at the table.
The slow food experience combined with signature cuisine in stylish surroundings make a visit to Sergi’s restaurant unmissable.
A non-stop culinary life
As if he doesn’t have enough on his plate (pun intended), Sergi has numerous ongoing and future projects. He writes recipe and cookery books, and is president of the Catalan Institute of Gastronomic Culture and Cuisine, which is involved in historical recipe recovery projects and organising culinary fairs.
At the end of September he’s off to Japan to cook, invited by the country’s largest Catalan wine importer; and he is about to launch his own line of bottled ecological vegetables, with the name of local producers on the label of course.
He is also scheduled to cook for the UN in the US because Catalonia is only one of two countries to fulfil the 17 points of healthy living established by the UN’s healthy living directive.
Sergi’s dream of cooking in his home village led to the idea of the Sergi de Meià experience in Vilanova de Meià, which will involve him showing visitors the local area, its nature and his cooking. The idea is to provide a high-quality personalised tourist experience and show rural Catalonia and its ways to the world.