Vincenzo Digifico: one year with Paco Pérez

After exactly 12 months in Spain, the young pastry chef at Catalan restaurant Miramar tells us about his experience

09-05-2018

Vincenzo Digifico

«For me, cooking, and pastry making in particular, is the most effective way to express myself. When I see a white, empty plate, I see the opportunity to transform my ideas in something concrete, good, that can surprise and charm the person eating it». These are the words of Vincenzo Digifico, born in 1992 in Vieste, in Puglia, who one year ago became pastry chef at restaurant Miramar in Paco Pérez (two Michelin stars and many bet on the third one), in Llançà, in the most northern part of Catalonia, close to the French border. Exactly one year after his arrival in Spain, we asked him to tell his story. 

«I first became passionate about cooking when I was a child – continues Digifico -. Perhaps also because of my southern origins, my family was always together when it was time to cook. So I can say I have learnt by watching my grandmother and mother, and by helping them more and more. I then attended catering school and started my career».

Paco Pérez: on top of two Michelin stars for his Miramar, the Catalan chef received two more for his restaurant Enoteca, inside the Hotel Arts in Barcelona, and one at Cinco by Paco Pérez in Berlin. He also directs Terra in S'Agarò, and themed restaurants Eggs, Royale and Bao Bar in Barcelona (respectively dedicated to eggs, burgers and bao panini)

Paco Pérez: on top of two Michelin stars for his Miramar, the Catalan chef received two more for his restaurant Enoteca, inside the Hotel Arts in Barcelona, and one at Cinco by Paco Pérez in Berlin. He also directs Terra in S'Agarò, and themed restaurants EggsRoyale and Bao Bar in Barcelona (respectively dedicated to eggs, burgers and bao panini)

What were the most significant steps in your training?
My first significant experience was with Sergio Mei, when he was still directing the kitchen at the Four Seasons in Milan: I arrived there at 17, right after finishing school, as an intern. I then stayed a while. Besides, Mei made me really understand what my profession was going to be. After that I travelled a lot. I grew both professionally and in terms of character and person: I’ve also worked at the Four Seasons in Florence, with Vito Mollica, then with Gianfranco Vissani and at Armani in Milan with Gozzoli, when we finally got a star. When I was at Armani, Paco Pérez came for a fourhanded dinner. So I met him and then, thanks to chef Antonio Arcieri [for nine years sous chef at Miramar and now chef at restaurant Terra a S’Agaró, also directed by Pérez], I went to work in Spain with him.

Did you know Pérez and his cuisine?
I did. I’ve always followed the international fine dining scene and was particularly interested in Adrià, the Rocas, and Pérez. This is why I asked Arcieri to help me, because I was very curious to understand this different approach to cuisine. So I went there, on May 3rd 2017.

Mousse of yogurt with black sesame crumble, raspberry sponge cake with red fruit spirit, vanilla custard and red fruit nitrogenised and lyophilised sponge cake: one of Vincenzo Digifico’s cakes at Miramar

Mousse of yogurt with black sesame crumble, raspberry sponge cake with red fruit spirit, vanilla custard and red fruit nitrogenised and lyophilised sponge cake: one of Vincenzo Digifico’s cakes at Miramar

Paco Pérez made you responsible of the pastry making at his restaurant Miramar. After one year working in Spain, what do you believe are the main differences between the Italian and the Spanish approach to pastry making in fine dining restaurants?
The main difference between my experiences in Italy and in Spain is the greater attention paid to aesthetics and to a French style rigour in the creation of recipes that I’ve found in Italy. Here in Spain instead we always go against the rules: what’s relevant is ingredients, which we must respect to the fullest. But apart from that, we’re absolutely free. For sure we’re also able to work in the best possible conditions thanks to the many avant-garde technologies available to us. All this made me understand the infinite possibilities that every product has to offer. I’ve learnt to look at every ingredient from a thousand different point of views: this was certainly missing in my experience in Italy. 

Tabla Azteca. Says Digifico: «The base is made with a powder of 70% nitrogenised chocolate with a gelatine of caramelised rum, a chocolate and salt crumble, a nitro-mousse of chocolate and rum, a texturized chocolate flan, a brioche with chocolate custard, vanilla ice cream, quenelle of 85% chocolate, chocolate emulsion and finally a drawing of 70% chocolate printed with a 3D print and lyophilised. We wanted to see chocolate in different textures» 

Tabla Azteca. Says Digifico: «The base is made with a powder of 70% nitrogenised chocolate with a gelatine of caramelised rum, a chocolate and salt crumble, a nitro-mousse of chocolate and rum, a texturized chocolate flan, a brioche with chocolate custard, vanilla ice cream, quenelle of 85% chocolate, chocolate emulsion and finally a drawing of 70% chocolate printed with a 3D print and lyophilised. We wanted to see chocolate in different textures» 

So based on this vision have you also renewed your pastry-making style?
Yes, in the past, my style was decidedly French, geometric. With this experience, however, I’ve understood how you can convey something true and important even with just a squirt on the plate. When I’m creating a dessert to present to the chef, I always try to start from my so-called “pyramid”: seasonality, and raw materials, which you must second in all its evolutions, are the foundations. Then there’s emotional creativity, because a dessert must be an experience and must tell a story. The journey finishes with research, drawings, with sharing thoughts, and discussing. I believe that even in this type of avant-garde cuisine it is crucial to draw from your memories, without forgetting your roots, and family, and most of all your homeland and its products.

Your homeland is Italy, but you now live and work in Spain. Do you think you will stay a while or do you have different plans?
No, I don’t think I’m going to stay in Spain for long. I have ambitious projects for the future. I want to grow a lot and establish myself, even though in pastry making it’s even harder. However, I want to travel, work hard, acquire experience in places such as Japan and Australia, but I must also say that I have a strong desire to return to Italy. 

Coco coco. Vincenzo Digifico explains: «It’s a milk tube filled with coconut mousse, a micro-mousse of coconut with nitrogenised coconut scales, coconut toffee with coconut ice cream and a piece of lyophilised coconut mousse»

Coco coco. Vincenzo Digifico explains: «It’s a milk tube filled with coconut mousse, a micro-mousse of coconut with nitrogenised coconut scales, coconut toffee with coconut ice cream and a piece of lyophilised coconut mousse»

Paco Pérez is today one of the most esteemed and prominent chefs in Spain: can you describe this chef in your own words?
He’s a very special person, and I’m not saying this out of flattery. He pays a strong attention to the team, to teamwork. He always tries to explain his ideas to his collaborators, so as to help us all to be more involved. It’s not always easy to understand what he has in mind, because he’s a visionary, an avant-garde professional. In our tasting menu there’s a strong attention to local products, which shows his connection with this area. He’s also an art lover and in fact among others we have a dessert called Pan de Dalì, in which we try to recreate an artwork by Salvador Dalì that has the same name, as a tribute to an artist that Pérez adores. In Italia he’s still not very well known, but I believe that those who will come to Miramar and try his cuisine, will realise he’s on the same level as the greatest chefs in Spain, from the Rocas to Adrià.

Arroz meloso de sepia y bogavante by Paco Pérez

Arroz meloso de sepia y bogavante by Paco Pérez

Before parting, can you tell us what’s the most delicious dish you’ve ever had at Miramar?
I’d say Arroz meloso de sepia y bogavante, a risotto with honey, squid ink and lobster. There are many extraordinary dishes being created in this kitchen, but I believe this classic from Miramar is the best I’ve ever tasted.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso 


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