One of the biggest winners of Tuesday’s Michelin gala in Toledo, Spain, was welcome, if not particularly surprising, and was Cocina Hermanos Torres. The project of twin brothers Sergio and Javier Torres in Barcelona, it is one of the most innovative restaurants around.
It’s a place of contradictions. The brothers took over an 800-square-foot old industrial building and somehow translated that into the feeling of being in the family kitchen of their youth—both cite their grandmother, who “inadvertently instilled in us the love of cooking,” as their guiding light. Many years after somehow getting into culinary school at the age of 14, starting their careers strategically in different stations in different esteemed kitchens and learning as much as they can, they have created their own tour de force. They call it their dream ship.
The twins – who are unusual in the fine dining world in that they share absolutely equal bills with chefs – have effectively turned their restaurant inside out, breaking down the usual walls and lines that separate the chefs and servers from the diners. They’ve also created their own world, one they demurely call “a big kitchen with tables around it.” (It’s worth noting that they’ve done it sustainably, too, earning one of the green Michelin stars to go with the three shiny stars.)
After a welcome drink, guests enter a dream dining room with three large kitchen stations in the middle. These are remarkably quiet, despite all the activity – the chefs create an ambitious 15-course tasting menu – and extremely well ventilated. The white table cloths and staff uniforms stand out against the all black background. That cliché about fine dining as theater comes to mind, because guests only experience the balletic parts, minus the stress and the unwanted smells.
And it’s only once you’re settled in that you notice that the patisserie department, the research and development room (which is about to be expanded), the cold department, the chefs’ offices and all the other elements needed to make restaurant magic , are fully operational. Screen. You entered the family kitchen.
The brothers’ reaction to the announcement was fitting. “It is certainly one of the happiest days of our lives,” Javier said in a statement. “We are excited! Not only because we see the fruits of our efforts, but because this is also a recognition of what our families, our team and all the people around Cocina Hermanos Torres have done over these years to help us where we now are.”
Where they are, serving up a cuisine that is equally creative and playful – and one that no doubt supports dozens of farmers, cheesemakers and other purveyors – is a tribute to Spanish tradition and childhood memories. “Cocina Hermanos Torres represents our memory, our upbringing, our experiences, our traditional tastes, but very up-to-date and refined,” they say, following their habit of wanting to be quoted as a unit. “Very clean and extremely emotional. It is a kitchen of taste and we are very proud of what we have achieved with it. The bases and sauces, the timing of each element, the temperatures, the cooking, the seasonings. Everything is very well controlled.”
It’s also infused with international influences from their time spent in France and Brazil (where they opened two restaurants in the early 2000s), avant-garde wizardry, and an embrace of 3D printing. Many chefs like to say their menus tell a story, but the Torres brothers’ menu really does. It includes dishes such as salted squid with caviar and poultry broth inspired by a trip to Japan, which is called “Sea and Mountains” on the menu. The moqueca of mussels with shrimp, king crab, saffron and noodles is artfully presented on a cherry red plate and subtitled “Barcelona, Brazil.”
Of course, earning three stars also puts pressure on a restaurant to work to keep those three stars, and the innovation at Cocina Hermanos Torres shows no signs of stopping. Their creative process is “complex,” they say. “The idea comes from us (Javier and Sergio) and we contribute to each other. Then we have an R&D team working on these ideas and together we polish and test until we get what we want after many demands. Let’s say it’s orderly chaos, because creating with four hands and two minds will always be a more complex process.”