Santi Santamaria, a chef who discovered his vocation by first practicing it as a hobby, will be remembered for one of those paradoxes that we are so fond of in Spanish: a revolutionary in defending the traditional stove in a world that had left the kitchen behind to move into a laboratory… Something that resulted in him having a lot of debates.
But let’s start Santi’s story from the beginning: he was born in 1957 in San Celoni (Barcelona) in the same house that would become his restaurant. He worked as a technical draftsman, cooking only as a hobby, but he soon decided to put down the pencils and pick up an apron. He did it in a self-taught manner, going in person to meet different chefs. In 1981, he renovated the home of his birth to inaugurate Can Fabes, putting everything towards a kitchen that would revitalize traditional Mediterranean cuisine. It was a success: Can Fabes became a benchmark in Spanish dining, Santamaria opened new restaurants and he became the most decorated Spanish chef in terms of Michelin stars, with a total of seven.
Among connoisseurs and food critics, he was always quite a figure; but surely everyone else will remember him for his passionate defense of traditional concepts, and his vehement criticism of the new techniques of molecular cuisine. Several of his books, especially “The Kitchen Undressed” said how the Spanish kitchen had lost its essence to become an experimental cuisine in which processes are using too many chemicals, some of which may affect the health of customers. Needless to say there were chefs like Ferran Adrià, who were particularly targeted. There were some experts that attacked Santamaría; calling him "opportunistic" thinking his complaints were more a way of promoting himself, rather than a sincere reflection of his beliefs.
But do not think that Santamaria was a cook in the same style as Gordon Ramsay. Everyone remembers him –at least among friends- as a kind, eloquent and funny man…perhaps more in the style of Jean-Piere Coffe.
However, at the peak of his career and fame, Satamaría died after a surprise heart attack. It was in 2011, to be precise in Singapore, while he was presenting a new restaurant. Such was his popularity and personal style that Can Fabes could not recover from the blow and had to close down. In December 2013 his kitchen utensils were put up for auction. Santamaria's family continues to carry on his legacy, which will hopefully continue into the distant future.