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36. Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel

"My good friend Gerry Dawes, the unbridled Spanish food and wine enthusiast cum expert whose writing, photography, and countless crisscrossings of the peninsula have done the most to introduce Americans—and especially American food professionals—to my country's culinary life. . .” - - Chef-restaurateur-humanitarian José Andrés, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Oscar Presenter 2019; Chef-partner of Mercado Little Spain at Hudson Yards, New York 2019


Gastronomic Adventures in Alicante Province: Quique Dacosta Gets His Well-deserved Third Michelin Star; Plus Personal Adventures with Quique & Casa Elías in Xinorelet

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Quique Dacosta at Casa Elías, Xinorlet (Alicante), October 18, 2012.
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2011.

Quique Dacosta has long been a friend of mine.  I was very happy to hear that is was announced in November that he had received his third Michelin star, for which he has worked so hard for so many years.  I last ate at Restaurante Quique Dacosta in October 2011, when I was staying in Denia at Hotel La Posada del Mar.  I was traveling with Ryan Mcilwraith, Michael Chiarello's executive sous chef and we were supposed to go to Quique Dacosta that night.  Ryan was sick with a bad stomach, so I decided not to go either, but Quique called me on my cell phone at 10:30 p.m. and demanded that I get my ass over there (it is about 2 kilometers from the hotel), so I ended up going by myself.  I was pretty wiped out from ten days of taking Michael and Ryan around northern Spain (Michael had left the day before from Barcelona), so I told Quique I was only up for an abbreviated menu.  He sent out a dazzling parade of his incredible cocina de vanguardia estilo Quique dishes, then came out and sat with me for half an hour.

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Quique Dacosta, Denia (Alicante). Dish with the spooky vapors of the dry ice beneath swirling around your food.
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2011.

In October 2012, I was the inaugural speaker at the annual Turismo conference in Benidorm (Alicante) and I met Director General de Turismo de Valencia Sebastian Fernández, who told me he was going for lunch at one of my favorite restaurantes in Spain, Casa Elías, a exceptional family place in the small village of Xinorlet.   Casa Elías specializes in wonderful thin-layered arroses (rice dishes, call them paellas) con conejo y caracoles (rabbit and local snails [with fresh rosemary]) cooked over grape vine cuttings, usually from the local Monastrell vineyards.  Casa Elías also serves a number of other authentic local speciaties (see photos of the luncheon here: Xinorlet (Alicante) Casa Elias Rabbit & Snail Paella Paco Torreblanca - Quique Dacosta Oct 18, 2012).  Sr. Fernández also told me that two great friends--two of my favorite Spanish chefs--Quique Dacosta and Paco Torreblanca were also coming.  I managed to wrangle (not wangle) an invitation to accompany Sr. Fernández to the luncheon.  

We got to Casa Elías first and I hid in a private dining room until Paco, his wife Chelo, Quique and journalist Maria Canabal ( were in the main dining, then came out to surprise them (I took it as a good sign that they didn't flee).  I felt like I had hit the lottery.  Not only did I get to schmooze the Director of Tourism for Valencia on the hour-long ride from Benidorm to Xinorlet and have a chance to eat the terrific food at Casa Elías again, among my dining companions for the next two hours were two of Spain's real culinary super stars:  Paco Torreblanca may be the top chocolatier in Europe and Quique Dacosta could well be the heir apparent to Ferran Adrià's throne, now that elBulli has closed. 

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Paco Torreblanca Slideshow, Including the Full Food Arts Article.

I never see Quique without remembering (how could I not?) that on September 11, 2001 I was having lunch with Santa Fe Chef Mark Miller (then owner of Coyote Cafe) at Quique's restaurant in Denia, at the time called El Poblet.  Halfway through a terrific meal--we were having a course of supernal grilled gambas de Denia  (superb rosa-colored shrimp that actually come from deep water off the Balearic island of Ibiza), when my Spanish cell phone rang.  It was chef Teresa Barrenechea, who then owned Marichu restaurant in Manhattan.  She, too, was traveling in Spain.  She told me that a plane had hit The World Trade Center.  I thought, "Wow, someone has had the misfortune to have crashed a private plane into The World Trade Center!"   Soon enough, Quique called us to the bar, where we saw the rest in real time, including the second plane crashing into the second tower.  Mark Miller, Quique, myself and his employees watched dumbfounded as we the events unfolded on television.  Mark Miller's Coyote Cafe restaurant managers from Santa Fe and Las Vegas were still in-flight headed for Valencia, where we were supposed to pick them up after lunch.  

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Mark Miller (at the end of the table) and some friends tasting wines with me at Taberna La Boca in Santa Fe 
during the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta in September 2012

Miller's managers were able to get to Valencia on time, but, as we soon found out, there would be no going back to the U.S. right away, since all flights were grounded, so we continued on our planned intinerary to Barcelona, Navarra, The Basque Country, la Rioja and back to Madrid.   In Navarra, we had lunch in Tudela, and found out the next day that an Al-Qaeda operative who had planned to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Paris had been apprehended in a nearby village, where he had been living for several months.

For several days, I was sure that I had lost friends in The World Trade Center attack, including Michael Lomonaco, one of the original members of my Chefs From Hell Club, who was then Executive Chef of Windows on the World, Cellar in the Sky and The World Trade Center Club; Jules Roinnel, the Managing Director of The World Trade Center Club; and a number of others who had been on a trip to Spain with me that spring.

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Chef Michael Lomonaco, now Chef-partner at Porterhouse New York.

Ironically, in May of 2001, I had led a group of 26 people from The World Trade Center Club around Spain for eleven days.  The group include Jules Roinnel, the Club's Director and my old friend, Michael Lomonaco, Executive Chef of Windows on the World, Cellar in the Sky and The World Trade Center Club.  Ironically, on that trip, we had gone for lunch one day in Madrid at a great seafood restaurant, La Trainera, on calle Lagasca.  Since the street was too narrow for our bus, the driver double-parked the bus alongside some parked cars on calle Goya across the street from Bar Goya and in front of a BBVA bank branch and we walked a block or so to the restaurant.  After a terrific lunch, at which on old friend of mine, John Ewing, joined the group, we drove back to our hotel and continuing touring Madrid in the afternoon.  

After dinner, some of us decided to have a drink in the Hemingway Bar at the Hotel Palace. John Ewing, who had also joined us for dinner, decided to call it night and took a cab back to his hotel, which coincidentally was the Hotel Lagasca, on the street where we had had lunch.  Within half an hour, Ewing called me on my cell phone and told me, "You won't believe what just happened!  A bomb just exploded and damned near blew me out of bed."The Basque separatist group ETA had planted a bomb in a car parked in front of that BBVA bank branch where our bus was parked during lunch.  

For all we knew the bomb could have been there while our bus was there.  The bomb injured 14 people, destroyed a number of cars and wrecked a number of business along calle Goya, including the Bar Goya, which got destroyed and was where John Ewing had considered stopping for a nightcap, but opted to return to his hotel, go to bed and read a book, a decision that may have saved his life.

The next morning, our World Trade Center Club group was preparing to leave for Ribera del Duero, Burgos and The Basque Country.  The Deputy Security Inspector for The Bridge and Tunnel Authority (in charge of The World Trade Center), had his offices on the 77th Floor of the tower that was home to the World Trade Center Club, Windows on the World, Cellar in the Sky and City Lights Bar.  He stood outside the cargo compartments of the bus and made sure that each bag belonged to its owner and was verified.  Looking back, I have always considered that Basque bomb on calle Goya as a harbinger of things to come.

As Mark Miller, his Coyote Cafe managers and I continued our trip, I checked newspapers at every stop and listened to Spanish radio in the car, but, in the absence of any direct news about my friends, I was almost sure that they had perished.  Then three days later, my daughter, Elena, who had dined with me at Windows on the World in August, called crying about the attacks, but told me that she had seen my friend, Chef Lomonaco, on television.  Michael had survived because he took 15 minutes to have his glasses repaired and did not catch the elevator that would have taken him 110 stories to his kitchens at Windows on the World and to certain death.  

Later I would find out that Jules Roinnel had switched shifts and planned to work that evening.  Mike Nester, the Deputy Inspector who had checked the bags going on the bus in front of the Hotel Ritz in May had had breakfast at The World Trade Center Club and had just reached the 77th floor when the first plane hit.  He was able to get out in time by walking down all those flights of stairs, helping and injured person to get out as well, injuring his neck in the process.  But, of the some 24 people on that Spain trip with me, not a one perished.  Pardon me if I have digressed in reporting about Quique Dacosta's third Michelin star, but I spent one of the most unforgettable days of my life in his restaurant.  

Subsequent meals at Quique Dacosta have fortunately had a much happier outcome, but we seldom see one another for any length of time without recalling that incredible afternoon that we watched unfold on television together.  

(A video trailer on Valencia and Alicante showing Quique Dacosta, Paco Torreblanca and Casa Elías.)

About Gerry Dawes 

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. 

He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. 

He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià. 

In 2009, Dawes was awarded the Food Arts Silver Spoon Award in a profile written by José Andrés

". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts.
Gerry Dawes would like to host a reality television series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain that features a different star American chef in each episode.  Serious inquiries welcome.

Gerry Dawes can be reached at


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