Although it wasn't apparent in the dishes coming out of that kitchen, Mr. García frequently uses liquid nitrogen to create certain effects, which are in no way Modernist or Molecular. The culinary disappointment of virtually tasteless and completely hollow squid croquettes is rectified when the diner removes the ceramic saucer holding them to find a richly textured soup and squid in the bowl below. Another dish appears to be a glazed tomato but is in fact solidified tomato juice, enveloping a brandada de bacalao of cod.
"I use nitrogen quite a lot in my kitchen, but I am quite pleased that people do not notice it or other Modernist techniques, as it is merely a means to an end and not important," he says. "Too many chefs think they are artists rather than cooks. For me, it is critical to always remember that you are a chef and that you only have one objective and that is to provide pleasure for your guests. It is perfectly acceptable to have a concept and philosophy behind your cooking, but first and foremost the diners have to enjoy themselves—that is more important than the concept." He sums up his beliefs with the phrase La técnica debe estar siempre al servicio del gusto ("It is fine to use technique, but only if it enhances the flavors").
That philosophy is nowhere more evident than in a tiny bowl of clear soup with what appears to be three chickpeas in the middle. The "chickpeas" have a delicious, unctuous texture and a depth of flavor I have never experienced before. When I mention this to Mr. García, he laughs because the dish is, again, a molecular creation—using a silicon mold, he shapes sesame butter into the form of a chickpea. "This dish is one that demonstrates perfectly that technique can be successfully used in the service of taste and flavor."
There is one other fundamental difference between the cuisine of El Bulli and Calima: Virtually no fine wine matched or complemented the multiplated cuisine of Mr. Adrià, but at Calima, sommelier Jose Godoy manages to enhance the experience with his selection of Spanish white wines and aged sherry.
While Mr. García is determined to remain in Marbella, running his flagship restaurant from Easter until the end of October, he has also created a number of more casual restaurants called La Moraga (www.lamoraga.com), which he hopes to export around the world in the coming year. "Because of the economic crisis in Spain at present, I would prefer to expand abroad," he says. The chef is planning to open these simple tapas bars in Beirut, Morocco, Dubai, Germany and New York.
Restaurant Calima's site