Miguel Sánchez Romera
Alchemy and Art
Text: Rodrigo García Fernández /©ICEX
Translation: Jenny McDonald /©ICEX
Photographer: Spanish chef Miguel Sánchez Romera. Photo by: Romera Restaurant
The profession of chef was not spelled out in his destiny but Miguel Sánchez Romera knew how to read between the lines. Born in Argentina to Spanish immigrants, he first studied Medicine, specializing in neurology and certain diseases such as epilepsy. He then travelled to Spain to work as a doctor but soon felt there was something missing. His sense of frustration stemmed from not having studied art, a discipline he was keen to combine with another of his passions, cooking.
His scientific training and his love of art led him to tread new paths in gastronomy, and he coined the term Total Cooking, reflecting a conception of life in which cooking leads to order, creation, harmony. The idea is that life should be lived using our senses to the full, and that this can be applied to cuisine.
Sánchez Romera sees his work as culinary artistic constructionism, starting out with known elements and formulae but generating a very novel, artistic result. He aims to bring out the natural flavor of every ingredient, and his dishes reach the table as an invitation to almost pictorial appreciation by the senses.
Another important element in this philosophy of gastronomy is that haute cuisine dishes be healthy. He is not in favor of competing with engineers from the food industry. In his small workshop, he works with a gas flame, a pressure cooker, charcoal, and standard gas ovens, and displays extreme care in the handling of food. One of his creations, patented and used by chefs the world over is Micri, a neutral, tasteless, colorless and odorless base that does not interfere with the flavors, aromas and textures of the other ingredients in the dish.
In 2008, Miguel decided to move on to the United States, and closed down his restaurant L'Esguard.At the beggining of 2011 Sánchez Romera announced thar he was set to launch a new venture, Romera New York, in the Dream Downtown Hotel. But this isn’t just any new restaurant and this isn’t just any chef. Sánchez Romera is trying out a whole new concept he and his team describe as “neurogastronomy” and “holistic cuisine”. What does this entail?
The author of a NY newspaper article on the chef attended a tasting at his house. What did he eat? No food and no calories. He had been served a series of multicolored waters at body temperature with items the chef picked up at the farmer’s market. Yet the author was full! Satiated even! Romera explained: "People think you eat with your stomach. But you don't—you eat with your brain…
[The flavored waters produce] a trick to the satiety system in the hypothalamus, having ingested water instead of food, but associated with the work of our taste buds and our olfactory system, very much like the associations you make with the full gastronomic experience." Going even further, Romera invented his own foodstuff, which he calls Cassavia. It’s a fat-free paste made from yucca root and, like magic, it can transmit any flavor and take on any texture. Unsurprisingly, some Spanish food critics have called his cuisine “the most radical on the global food scene.” His food, which resembles modern art, also looks and tastes as it should; the flavors are authentic. Nothing is altered. His concoctions include ingredients ranging from snapdragons, coffee flowers and mandarin rind to daikon radish, bonito flakes and black truffle.
The design of Romera New York, like the food, promised to be astounding, with transparent walls, a spotlight above each plate to highlight it, and a “space-age-meets-urban-garden” vibe. In September 2012 Romera Restaurant was a dream come true. Unfortunately, it did not last forever. In March 2012 its closing was announced. The official closing statement said: "It is with great sadness that we announce the closing of Romera. We are so very proud that we have been able to present the cuisine of Dr. Miguel Sanchez Romera to New York and we thank those who have shared our vision. Over the last six months we have been able to expose many people to the food and philosophy of Dr. Romera, and it certainly captured the attention of New Yorkers...Dr. Romera does not close the door on New York, he still believes it is the culinary capital of the world, and he will continue on his path to educate and expose diners to neuro-gastronomy and his collection of flavors."