Helena Garriga mixes the strength of tradition with the charm of a homely gastronomic experience at her establishment in Barcelona, La Cuina d'en Garriga, a top-level grocery store with a deserving restaurant where you can enjoy lifelong delicacies made both with the hand and the heart. The final product is always at the forefront, creating a savory French-Catalan cuisine marinated in a friendly atmosphere. Here, the good taste reigns in every sense.
The beginnings of the culinary tradition in your family date back to the introduction of the siphon in Spain, for which your great-great-grandfather was responsible. So, is it true that we owe him the combination of siphon and vermouth?
Said like that, it sounds great! (Laughs). By the year 1876, on a trip to Paris he found a utensil capable of alleviating heavy digestion, and he brought it here for pharmaceutical purposes. With the mere use of it, he found that it mixed perfectly with vermouth, and he ended up setting up the factory, Sifones Garriga.
Where you spent the first years of your life.
Maybe that's why I feel this connection with gastronomy. And, of course, La Cuina d'en Garriga is full of siphons, some of them pertain to a personal collection, some are for sale. The siphon has become a symbol for us and a culinary reference in Spain. We are now investigating new ways to introduce it in new recipes.
Tell me, tell me.
The only clue that I can give you is that it will be possible for you to taste a very original cocktail in La Cuina very soon.
I guess the siphon hasn’t been the only reason that made you set up La Cuina d'en Garriga. Although you lived in New York and worked with the major fashion players, you decided to restart the familiar culinary tradition in Barcelona.
During my 10 years in Manhattan I met many people, friends who later would come to see me in Barcelona and to whom I loved to show our gastronomy. I thought I would love to show it at my own place, with my own selection of products. Barcelona is a gastronomic reference worldwide, so what a better place than this in which to do it?
Your husband, Olivier Guilland, is a cooking lover and he conceived the menu of your restaurant. What is his source of inspiration?
Fundamentally, our trips. Olivier is very aware of our favorite dishes, of those that have surprised us on a getaway and also those that customers demand the most. Many recipes are from his hometown in Megève, French Alps, like our Steak Tartar or the Coulant; recipes that he prefers to keep unrevealed. Thus, we combine French and Catalan reminiscences and focus on the product, not on signature cuisine.
Then, the product is the centerpiece of La Cuina d'en Garriga. What moves you when making the selection?
Without good-quality raw material, it is difficult to get good results. We try to offer products of which we know where they come from and how they are treated because, for us, friendship and trust with suppliers is essential. For example, Cal Rovira sausage or eggs from Can Magí are fresh farm products and of excellent quality. The 'carquiñolis' have been created in Sant Quintí de Mediona along with several family generations. We receive fresh burrata directly from the Puglia twice a week...
And by combining gourmet and traditional products you create typical dishes with a genuine taste.
A perfect example for that is our 'esmorzars de forquilla'. You might know the typical English brunch, about which we have heard so much lately... But here, in Catalonia, we already had this kind of meal, although it was under another name. The peasants have always followed this tradition, so why not raise the value of what is ours?
What about your macaroni? When you go to a restaurant, you often expect to eat a delicious steak or seafood but come on, where can you find a memorable macaroni dish? Almost all of your reviews have given it this commendation...
Many people wonder why they have set aside this dish as a 'dish for children' (laughs). Our effort lies in that: surprising with simple things but with superb products. The same happens with the lentils with foie from Olivier's hometown, or with the truffled bikini, a cheese that we hand-produce ourselves.
At La Cuina d'en Garriga you have local products, but also many foreign products. Nowadays, is it possible to get a good restaurant with only KM0 food?
Of course. In fact, all the products in our menu, excluding the French cheese, are KM0.
And following your preferences, what products are part of the line-up of a larder?
A good bread baked in a wood fired oven, ugly tomatoes from Tudela, raw milk cheese, olive oil and lots of wine.
In your establishment, the cooked products can be acquired and the products you sell can be found in your menu. This is a trend that, although has taken a little time to get recognition in Spain, is living in its prime. Why did you join in?
La Cuina d'en Garriga began as a grocery store, and it still is. However, we started doing some small tastings, then cooking cakes and selling them, and suddenly realized that customers were asking for more. Today our breakfasts, lunches and dinners are all working well.
Like wine... It improves with age.
Who would not want that! (laughs).
Perhaps France hasn’t had the same luck with wine. While this country has provided the basis for the cuisine and has led the international culinary scene for many years, it now seems as if Spain has stolen the limelight...
I should point out Ferrán Adrià and his entourage, shouldn’t I?
And what about America? Since you have lived there, how do they understand the importance of gastronomy? Do they eat to live, as they say, or do they live to eat?
In New York you can travel the world through food... You find the best Italian, Indian or Japanese restaurants, it's fascinating. For them, food culture has no boundaries. And they have also been pioneers in culinary trends such as bio-food, veganism and raw food among others.
You designed the décor of the space yourself. How did you want the restaurant to look?
I have decorated it as if it were my kitchen. Well, actually it is pretty similar... Recalling both an industrial look from New York and romanticism from French Provence.
Luckily, in this case the importance of interior design does not overwhelm the product, as happens in many places within Barcelona’s tourist center.
It is true that, in city centers, there is a trend of inflating prices and giving little importance to the product, dressing this mistake up with an attractive establishment or terrace. But if we had acted like that, we would have never gotten a loyal clientele that keeps coming back.
Among the faithful customers of La Cuina d'en Garriga, there are the chef Carme Ruscalleda, fashion photographer Mario Testino, outstanding athletes as Carles Puyol... But with whom would you like to share a table at your restaurant?
My favorite diners are the ones who are already coming to La Cuina every day, wanting to have some fun... I love to share a table with people who love what they do.