Catalonia’s first Michelin-starred chef, Santi Santamaria died 16th February of a heart attack while visiting his restaurant in Singapore.
The news hit my desk at about 5 o'clock in the afternoon, heralding a significant loss in the Catalan stable of great chefs. Santamaria was the first of the new wave Catalan chefs to receive a Michelin star way back in 1988. By 1994 he had earned himself another two stars for his cooking at Can Fabes, a family-run restaurant near to Barcelona in the town of Sant Celoni that was celebrated for a style that was true to Catalan traditions and rooted in fine ingredients and local produce. Since then, he went on to open several more, including the one in Singapore where his life abruptly came to an end.
He is also credited with kick-starting what became known as the ‘War of the Stoves’ when he publically questioned the ethical soundness of ‘molecular gastronomy’ and went head to head with his contemporary, Ferran Adrià of El Bulli, considered by many to be the best restaurant in the world. “Can we be proud of a cuisine ... which fills plates with gelling agents and laboratory emulsifiers?” Santamaria asked. He was among the first to question the price of such creativity.
Today their differences were put aside. “Today is a very sad one for me, all the team at El Bulli, and all of Spanish society,” Adrià told El Pais. “We have lost one of our greatest chefs.”
Santamaria was 53 years old when he died.