Paco Roncero: the appliance of kitchen science

The Madrid chef is picking up where elBulli left off, with his new project, Hisia Diners will enjoy a "theatrical" culinary experience, which stimulates all the senses

Chef Paco Roncero.
Chef Paco Roncero.

For the last 11 years, La Terraza del Casino, in the palatial Casino de Madrid, just off the capital's emblematic Puerta del Sol square, has been Paco Roncero's operational base. His restaurant there has earned him two Michelin stars, while the venue also houses his research laboratory, El Taller de La Terraza del Casino, where he produces such culinary creations as apple and virgin olive oil ravioli, dragon oil (using liquid nitrogen), nori seaweed lollipops, rose petals in tempura, olive oil jam, and many more.

Roncero's latest project is Hisia, which will offer eight lucky diners what the chef calls a "theatrical" culinary experience, which aims to stimulate all the senses. Using a computer program of his own design, Roncero immerses his guests in the creative process involving three chefs, attended by three waiters, including a sommelier. Seated at a specially designed table, the eight diners will be immersed in a spectacular sound and light show involving images of fields, the sea and olive groves, accompanied by recordings of waves, wind and rain.

Roncero's scientific approach to the culinary arts comes from his years working under Ferran Adrià, the founder of gastronomic mecca elBulli and advisor at La Terraza since 1998. Following the closure of elBulli last summer, Roncero says the Terraza del Casino will continue Adrià's mission of applying the latest technology to produce unique flavors. At the same time, Roncero also imposes his own personality on the Casino's menus, particularly on the main dishes such as his knuckle of veal or lobster with pink pineapple and Arbequina olive oil soup.

Olive oil lies at the heart of Roncero's cooking: he says he is "fascinated" by this most elemental Mediterranean ingredient. Since he set up his laboratory in 2006, he has been researching the different textures and flavors that can be achieved with olive oil, resulting in an ambitious menu of 13 dishes, each based on the ingredient, from starters to desserts.

After finishing his studies at the Madrid Higher School for Hospitality and Tourism, Roncero began working at Zalacaín, the capital's first three-starred Michelin restaurant. His reputation was further enhanced by his time at the Hotel Ritz, during which he played a key role in putting Madrid on the global gastronomic map. In 2003 he also created his Kitchen Manager software for calculating costs and optimizing returns in restaurants. The program is now on its fourth release.

Roncero, who describes his mission as "developing Spanish cuisine through innovation and experimentation, while preserving its origins," has also published a book on 21st-century tapas. Indeed, tapas are Roncero's passion, and he now has two Estado Puro gastrobars in Madrid based on the principle of producing classic recipes with a touch of sophistication and top-quality produce. He is also a regular on Spanish TV and attends culinary conferences and events around the world. And he still finds time for his other passion: photographing his food.

As well as his position as chef at La Terraza, Roncero is general manager at El Casino and advises a number of food companies. He has also created the menu for Iberia's first-class passengers. And the secret of his success? "I sleep only four hours a day."

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