Eduard Xatruch, Oriol Castro, Mateu Casañas [Photos: Compartir]
Six months ago, the three chefs de cuisine of elBulli — Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch, and Mateu Casañas — opened an informal restaurant in the coastal town of Cadaqués, Spain. Setting out to create a place that could serve locals and vacationers throughout the year, they called it Compartir ("to share") and composed for it a menu focused on traditional Catalonian products and flavors. In the process, they unsurprisingly applied — in measured fashion — techniques and tricks they developed at elBulli to give their dishes "an added value," as Castro describes it. And so, the gastronomes have started to make a pilgrimage to Cadaqués similar to the one they used to make for Ferran Adrià's restaurant in nearby Cala Montjoi.
In the following interview, Castro talks about the idea behind the restaurant, the dishes he's most excited about, and the fact that he and the team have decided to keep the business open throughout the winter months. He also discusses his role at Adrià's forthcoming think tank, and the fact that the final volume of elBulli books is practically around the corner.
How did the idea for Compartir come about?
Compartir started when elBulli was about to close. A regular client of elBulli told Mateu, Eduard, and me that he had a space we could use, we took a look at it, and we loved it. The main idea was to do something, the three of us, together. We had been working at elBulli for seventeen years leading up to that. We decided on the name Compartir ("to share") because it has a lot of significances: it extends to the food, the environment, the mood.
And the main idea is that every dish is shareable.
Every single dish has to be shared, which more or less follows the tradition of the pica-pica here in Cataluña. We're doing it in the context of a restaurant and not a bar.
One of the things you demonstrated at Gastronomika is that you aren't making terribly elaborate food. Instead, you're taking traditional recipes and applying a few modern techniques to improve the preparations. Can you talk about that?
First off, we're using really great, fresh products. Then we follow fairly traditional recipes and give them a slightly modern twist. You have the razor clams, which are perfectly cooked, the cod buñuelos, to which we add a honey air, the anchovies, to which we add truffle oil and a corn purée. It's about applying a few touches here and there that elevate the dishes but don't undermine the main thing, which is this very nice product.
I'd also point to the salads. One has a vinaigrette made of lettuce, another with watermelon and tomato topped with an ajoblanco sauce. These are summery dishes, flavors you can find at a lot of places, so the goal is to make them just a bit different and make them worth coming here for.
Video: Compartir Cadaqués
What's your clientele like?
It's interesting. There are people who come specifically to eat at the restaurant, people that come upon it while they are are in Cadaques, and people from the area. It's hard to pin down.
Is it hard to get in?
In the summer, yes. But now it's getting a bit difficult, since we're on the coast. It's like when elBulli wasn't famous and opened in the winter months, yet no customers would show up. But Cadaques does have its charms in the winter.
I read that you plan to stay open throughout the year.
We decided that we couldn't close after only being open for six or so months. You have to risk it and see what happens.
How will that affect the menu? What are some things you're working on that might be different from the summery stuff you just described?
We're currently testing out the new menu. One of the things we're working on is anchovies with wild mushrooms. We also want to incorporate more game into the menu for the winter months, but we'll see what happens. We're in the very early stages, still.
How do you divide your time between Compartir and your job at elBulli Foundation and the workshop in Barcelona?
I'm working a lot of the time out of the elBulli workshop in Barcelona. Mateu and Eduard have been spending more time at the restaurant recently.
So you're at the taller now?
Yes, I am.
How has the nature of that job changed since elBulli closed?
It's gotten, well, more relaxed [laughs]. The nature of the work has changed, and you don't have that pressure to create so quickly, against the clock, like we did when the restaurant was running. One of the big things we're working on now is the final set of books on elBulli, which covers the last seven years of the restaurant. I'm still cooking here, but it's for the purposes of that.
How are the books coming along?
We don't have much left to do, aside from some texts, so I'd imagine it'll be ready early next year. But, of course, that's not my call. This volume is extremely important. It still wows me. There's so much.
I'll end with a sappy question: Ferran says that there isn't any nostalgia and that he's just excited for the future. Do you miss elBulli, the restaurant?
There isn't nostalgia, but there are a lot of memories. We did a lot there, we spent a lot of time working, and it was a huge part of my life. Well, maybe there's a bit of nostalgia [laughs]. But the next phase is going to be great. We'll be able to share even more with the world, every day.