In just two weeks time, chef Diego Guerrero's so-called "silent revolution" will get louder. The chef from Vitoria (located in Basque Country, in the north of Spain) — who worked at Madrid's El Club Allard for more than 10 years, earning it two Michelin stars – will open his first restaurant in Madrid that is 100 percent his own.
DSTAgE is no doubt one of the most anticipated restaurants in Spain in 2014. Why? Guerrero is known for a personal style of cooking using the highest quality ingredients and standards in a discreet and humble way. Far away from culinary congresses, magazine covers, and media events, he has implemented a cuisine based on a combination of creativity, cutting-edge techniques, perfectionism in execution, and refined appearance. It's haute cuisine, but unpretentious, with only the aim of developing dishes that are more than recipes: they are emotions, passion, dedication, and love. They are Guerrero's soul reaching out, trying to change the rules for classic haute cuisine.
In DSTAgE, the kitchen will be the center of the restaurant, and the guest will be able to enjoy a great meal in a way they have never experienced before. The kitchen and dining room share one space, with all the details that are normally behind the scenes now within the diner's reach. It's democratization for haute cuisine. DSTAgE opens in July; here now, an interview with Guerrero:
Why did you decide to leave the comfort you had already established at your former restaurant in the middle of the economic crisis in Spain?
After reaching stability [at El Club Allard], I realized we had only two options: Stay comfortable with success or take a risk. After devoting all my life and time to my cooking passion, I realized I couldn't stop now. Haute cuisine has changed a lot in the last 12 years, and I felt I had to implement a project in which we could break the rules for high gastronomy and provide the most complete experience possible to the guest. DSTAgE will have a haute cuisine heart but casual appearance.
What do you mean by this "complete experience"? What does that mean to you?
Especially during my last years at my former restaurant, I realized the real meaning of luxury and haute cuisine for my guests: They came to the restaurant not just for eating, but for feeling, watching the techniques, discussing about the dishes with the chef, and sharing the whole experience with the rest of the guests or through social networks.
The best chef is not the one with more dishes on the tasting menu.
The best chef is not the one who serves more dishes on the tasting menu, but the one who can offer the complete experience. At El Club Allard, we had just one table (for a maximum of eight guests per meal) from which you could see the kitchen. We called it the Aquarium because you could have your meal while watching through a great glass window the real situation in the kitchen: the rush, the stress, the fire, the running up and down, the magic of real cooking. It was no doubt the most requested table of the restaurant. At the end of the meal, I always passed into the Aquarium to greet the guests and speak with them about the experience. In DSTAgE, my aim is that all the guests will be able to have this experience.
How will you provide this complete experience at DSTAgE?
The concept is very simple: we cannot put all tables in the kitchen. DSTAgE will be receiving an average of 40 people per service. So the only solution was to take the kitchen outside and let it become the center and the soul of the restaurant.
That is one of the reasons why the restaurant is called DSTAgE. As you can see on the restaurant's logo, we write the "g" for DSTAgE the same way my logo for Diego Guerrero appears. I didn't like the idea that my first restaurant would be named after me, but with this G and with the D at the beginning — which sounds like "the" — I am present in the name of the project. In addition, every single letter has a deeper meaning if you read them in vertical direction:
D – Days to, as a reference to the long – and short at the same time – process to be able to open my first restaurant.
S – Smell, as one of the senses you will be able to develop in my restaurant.
T – Taste in the center of the word and as my main goal in my dishes.
A - Amaze, my aim with the clients.
G – Grow, not fearing change and evolution. I still feel I am learning and growing up, and I hope this will be just the beginning.
E – Enjoy. This is what I want to provide to all my guests. I want them to enter the door and not think about anything. I will even try to have them choose the menu and main details on the phone when they make the reservation. This way, once you enter the door, there isn't anything you have to think about or decide. Everything will be about enjoyment.
Video: Days to... DSTAGE
Could you explain more specifically how you have managed to take the kitchen out and place it in the dining room?
The kitchen will be visible from every table. This created a great handicap when we were searching for the space, and even during the design and construction stages. We had no references in high gastronomy, so we had to create everything from scratch. It was a great challenge and we are very proud about the fact we designed it by ourselves.
We will have to coordinate like dancers on a stage.
This is also a great challenge in terms of kitchen management: everything should be tidy and smooth, and we will have to coordinate like dancers on a stage. We will have to create our own language in the kitchen so as not to interrupt the guest experience with kitchen issues and regular problems.
We will have around 10 people working in the kitchen in front of the public. However, we will have probably five more chefs working from the demonstration cooking studio and private dining room we have downstairs, our BACKDSTAgE. This area will be devoted to private events, private tables, cooking demos, courses, and presentations. During service, however, it will be the backup for us.
Could you describe the place and the experience?
In DSTAgE, the experience begins when you enter the restaurant into the bar and snack area in which the chosen menu will start appearing. There will be two optional menus:
1. DTASTE, 10 courses, 88 euros (VAT included)
2. DSTAgE, 13 courses, 118 euros (VAT included)
Making this experience affordable was one of my premises. If not, how could I dare to democratize haute cuisine? The other detail was the extension of the menu. You cannot require your guest to spend three hours or more sitting down in your restaurant. This should be an option, and that is why we have short and long menu.
Once you enter the dining room, you will see the kitchen at the back of the restaurant, dominating the place, and the tables placed around a charming SoHo-loft-style courtyard with a urban garden inside. Me and my team — my family – will be cooking in front of the public and will be serving directly to the tables. We will become waiters and chefs at the same time. At the end of the meal, you can stay at the table or have a drink at the bar located in the entrance. It's a 360º experience.
DSTAgE, Madrid. [Photo: Alvaro Fernández Prieto]
Can you provide any details about the menu?
The idea is to provide a full experience with the menu itself, too: there will be snacks, casual, and then more sophisticated dishes. We will always have a dish that reflects overall simplicity, the product. For example, a potato dish that you will never forget. In addition, we will have some of my classic dishes but reinvented. For example, my poached egg dessert or my "aquarium." These dishes were created by me and will be "copied" by me as well. We will call them "copying myself" dishes, with the aim of claiming my authorship for some of my most popular dishes – which are still on the menu of some of the restaurants where I worked in the past.
I'm planning a garlic dish you have to literally take out of the pot.
We also want the urban garden in the courtyard to have a special role on the menu. I am planning to make a dish with garlic that you will have to literally take out of the pot, with the soil (which won't be real soil), and eat it.
Until now, I have been the only person creating dishes and concepts in my restaurants. However, I want this to change in DSTAgE. I trust the members of my team 100 percent, and I want them to feel part of the project. They will be able to create dishes, courses, concepts. I am very open to suggestions.
What is your expectation with DSTAgE?
I hope it will work. I'm trying to be very optimistic, and I am very excited about the opening to the public in July. In June, we will begin heating up the engines with private events in which we will mix up classic dishes that I created in other restaurants, along with the new dishes for my menu. I hope we will have a waiting list from the very beginning. We will do our best.
I also hope that after one year we can begin thinking about creating more concepts, writing books, begin thinking about opening more restaurants. Above all, I expect me and my team will be like family. I have been very inspired by elBulli in this sense. Like what happened with Ferran Adrià's team, I would love our staff to share one philosophy based on humility, professionalism, good vibes, close but polite treatment of the guest, fellowship, and never look over anyone's shoulder. That is my goal.
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