It could easily be the back door of the recently opened Hard Rock Hotel in Ibiza, if not for the fact that star chef Paco Roncero is standing in front of it. The avant-garde food guru pulls the door open, and a flight attendant leads 12 people to a freight elevator. “Fasten your seatbelts!” she says. Then all the lights go out except for a red bulb, and loudspeakers start blaring The Ramones: “Hey! Ho! Let’s go!” Everything is shaking. The elevator leads out into a bare room about 70 square meters in size, presided by a spotless porcelain table. Fluorescent lights on the floor break the darkness. A beam of light spells out each diner’s name.
“Do not attempt to tell anyone about what you are about to experience; nobody will believe you,” says the master of ceremonies.
I like things to be done well, I am in no rush to rule the world”
A 360º screen surrounding the room lights up. Throughout the next three hours, it will change with every new dish, taking viewers to the Arctic Circle, Central Park, the bottom of the sea, the farmed fields of Toledo (where Roncero is from), and the very gates of hell.
This is Sublimotion, the latest crazy venture by the two-Michelin-starred chef with support from Land Rover. It is located on the island of Ibiza, and the price per person is €1,650, likely making this the most expensive restaurant in the world.
Is it worth it? Roncero frowns.
“Sublimotion is worth whatever you want to pay. I like to say that it’s not so much expensive as costly,” he says, noting there are 30 employees to serve a dozen diners each night.
Roncero also denies that the entire project was created with Russian millionaires in mind (although there are many of them among his clients). “This is for everyone seeking a unique experience; there are people working on the island who have told me they are saving all their tips to come dine here at the end of the season,” he says.
Sublimotion adopts today’s trend of making the dining experience something for all the senses, and takes it to the next level. One of the first proponents of sensorial stimulation was Ferran Adrià, the Catalan master whose elBulli restaurant redefined contemporary cuisine. It is perhaps no coincidence that Roncero trained at elBulli. For the last 23 years, he has worked at the Casino de Madrid, where his La Terraza restaurant has earned two Michelin stars. He also owns the Estado Puro gastrobars and has developed cooking-related software.
The Sublimation project began two years ago, when Roncero opened up a small culinary workshop in the Casino de Madrid.
“It would seem that we chefs only focus on what’s on the plate and forget about everything else, about how to improve that experience with your surroundings. I wanted to break with all that. My challenge has always been to take it further,” he says.
A self-confessed hyperactive person, he gets by on four hours of sleep and trains for two hours a day. Four years ago, he weighed 112 kilos. Now, he has just participated in the Half Ironman triathlon in Vitoria, and in November will run in the New York Marathon for the second time. He is also working on a book that will come out in the fall: Correr, comer y ser feliz (Run, eat and be happy).
“I was a professionally successful person, I had everything it took to be happy, but I felt empty. I had just opened up my first [gastrobar], Estado Puro, and I was caught up with work. I put on my running shoes one week when I was visiting Roses [where elBulli is located]. Since I had nothing to do in the mornings, and I can’t sit still, I started running on the beach. And I never stopped.”
One of the first proponents of sensorial stimulation was Ferran Adrià
Fame came through his tutor, Ferran Adrià. They and Juan Mari Arzak organized the dinner at El Pardo palace on the evening before Felipe VI, then the crown prince, married Letizia Ortiz. The couple were regulars at his Casino de Madrid restaurant.
He has also cooked for the likes of Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher and Chloë Sevigny. In 2011, Elton John was looking for someone to prepare a Spanish-type meal for his charity AIDS event at Battersea Park, and someone recommended Roncero. One person put in a bid of over €35,000 for a dinner at Roncero’s gastronomy lab in Toledo.
The chef says he now wants to turn Sublimotion into a franchise and export it beyond Ibiza, as he has done with Estado Puro, which is now also in Shanghai.
“I like things to be done well, I am in no rush to rule the world,” he says. “Like I always say, I am a distance runner.”