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The Ultimate Tapas Experience(s), courtesy of Dani Garcia and other top Andalucian chefs

May 31, 2012 – 9:00 am

GUEST POST: REBEKAH THOMPSON

Rebekah with top chef Dani Garcia - she feasted on his creations not once but twice in one week.

Last week I celebrated my birthday – which, apart from anything else, was extra-special because I was in Spain and the sun was shining. This almost never happens on my UK-based birthdays.

It got even better when, for an amazing birthday treat, I went with my family to Restaurante Calima in Marbella. Calima is owned and run by world-famous, Marbella-born and bred chef, Dani García, and is situated in the Hotel Melía Don Pepe. The restaurant is highly prestigious and the food is delicious enough to have earned it not one but TWO Michelin stars. The night before my birthday treat, none other than Eva Longoria had eaten there. Naturally I was too excited for words – which for a journalist is quite an achievement.

When we arrived at Calima we were immediately awestruck by the breathtaking view from the terrace. It had been a particularly hot day and the sea was as flat as a millpond; the sky melted into the sea and the horizon was barely visible. But for the occasional passing boat, we could have been on the edge of the world.

The waiters and the sommelier were friendly and helpful, not at all stuck-up as we had anticipated. I was particularly pleased to see that Dani himself was in the kitchen – I had expected he would be far too busy working with Eva Longoria and Maria Bravo on their charity Walkathon project, for which there had been a press conference earlier in the day. It was great to see Dani working and overseeing, making sure every plate left his kitchen in a state of perfection.

The menu we were served was a taster menu, of 22 courses (yes, that’s not a typo, there were 22). The menu was Dani´s “Oxymoron” menu, and it was; bagels that weren´t bagels, cherries that weren´t cherries and a salted fish – well, it was fish but the salt certainly was not salt. Every mouthful was a surprise, some tastier than others, but every bite was an experience that left you desperate to see what was coming next. Even the bread and oil were exquisite, with up to eight different varieties to choose from – I could go into more detail about the dishes but I don´t want to spoil the surprise for those who might be lucky enough to eat there too. We had to blinker ourselves from looking to the next table to make sure the awe and curiosity continued.

By the end of the night we had spent four memorable hours munching, ooh-ing and ah-ing our way through the 22-bite sized dishes and were full to bursting with exotic and delicious morsels. As a digestif we were brewed (from fresh herbs cut right in front of you) a variety of teas and infusions to suit our choices and requirements. We left feeling exhausted, full and thoroughly content. I waved at Dani through the glass of the kitchen walls and was pleased when he waved back.

It was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience – or so I thought…

22 TapeArte chefs at the Estepona Kempinski hotel - Rebekah's personal chef Dani is back row, far left.

The following day I was invited to another gastronomic event: TapeArte, at the Kempinski Hotel in Estepona, with photographer Michelle Chaplow. TapeArte is a play on the Spanish verb tapearse – to eat tapas – plus the “art” of tapas: Tape-Arte; a combination of two of Spain´s greatest offerings: Tapas and art. TapeArte was launched in November 2010, as a meeting point for friends with a love for tapas and traditional Andalucian cuisine. The TapeArte events are sponsored by Málaga-based international beer company Mahou-San Miguel. Since its outset, TapeArte has become a well-known brand; its aim is to increase awareness of the rich gastronomy of the region, by producing high quality dishes in small portions – tapas.

Dani Garcia with Miguel de Hoyos Martín of Malaga beer company San Miguel, which sponsors TapeArte.

There are four TapeArte events every year; the participating chefs come together in one of their kitchens to create new tapas – this time it was the turn of the Kempinski Hotel´s Jordi Bataller. To further promote Andalucía´s rich cultural gastronomy abroad, and to attract more foreign visitors, organiser Fernando Rueda and the chefs of TapeArte are set to hold events in Saudi Arabia, the USA and Germany.

Tartar Tibio de Atún y Nisperos by host venue Kempinski´s chef, Jordi-Bataller.

The Estepona event saw the convergence of Andalucía’s gastronomic elite: 22 chefs from restaurants all over the region, with a combined six Michelin stars, including of course, Dani García’s two. The evening consisted of another 22 courses, one from each chef, 18 savoury and four sweets. The dishes presented to us were once again exceptionally tasty and stunningly presented – even en masse with a room full of hungry journalists and photographers, the service was astonishing, each tapa as tasty as the next.

Rebekah with the Piruleta de Langostino Crujiente by Richard Alcayde.

The variety of the tapas was immense, from fish and shellfish to traditional Iberian ham in a sashimi style – the food lived up to its name both in terms of art and flavour; combining Spanish classics with international spices, styles and presentations. I ate a langoustine from a stick as if it were a giant lollipop, and apple and mango sardines with my fingers – a little messy but fun and of course, scrumptious.

Presa Iberica en Adobo by Kisko Garcia of Restaurante Choco - Cordoba


As the dishes trailed out of the kitchen, Michelle and I ended up with a pile of plates surrounding us; Michelle to photograph the intricacy of each tiny dish, and myself to tweet to Andalucia.com followers (to make them all very jealous and excited to visit) and write notes on each chef, and the restaurant to which each dish belonged (and naturally to finally meet and have my photo taken with Dani García, whom I thanked for both of my unforgettable dining experiences).

Intercalado de Chocolate y Avellana con Frutos Rojos Dulces.

I almost felt sorry for those that presented the desserts, as by the time the sweet tapas (which I had never tasted before my evening at Calima) came around, I was struggling to finish even these mini-sized portions. I confess I did power through to the last mouthwatering bite, promising my hips that I would make it up to them later with a very long run.

At the end of the 22-course marathon, the chefs came out of the kitchen; we chatted to host chef Kempinski´s Jordi Bataller and a few others, and congratulated them on a successful evening and they then presented a birthday cake to the TapeArte organiser Fernando Rueda – a lovely end to a thoroughly enjoyable, tantalising and satiating evening.

What a gluttonous week – 44 courses in total; Wednesday: two Michelín stars; Thursday: six Michelín stars, Friday … DIET!

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