I’D made a point of arriving an hour before the allotted time for the culinary love-in when two dozen Michelin-starred chefs descended on Marbella from around the world.
Being a seasoned food and travel writer – spanning nearly two decades, since my first article on Burgundy for the Daily Mail in 1998 – I was not going to miss the chance to meet culinary geniuses Ferran Adria, Joan Roca and Joel Robuchon, all in the same room.
I soon found myself chatting to Madrid’s two-star chef Ramon Freixa and friendly German Sebastian Frank, from Horvath, in Berlin, who was as happy as jamon to see his face on page 49 of the last Olive Press.
After catching up with Rodrigo de la Calle, who I had reviewed in Madrid last year, I had a laugh with Daniel Humm, the world’s Number Five chef, from New York restaurant Eleven Madison Park, who was as excited as me to be meeting some of his culinary heroes.
They were here for Dani Garcia’s A Cuatro Manos event and they were all in their classic white (or black) tunics, including Robuchon himself, who I chatted to in pidgin French, while holding court in the dining room.
Well all but one!
For prowling around the premises with nervous energy and a distinct glint in his eye, was one super-chef who didn’t need to wear a uniform.
In a buttoned cardigan and slacks, he was immediately recognisable as THE chef of the 21st century.
Having held the World’s Best spot in Restaurant magazine’s annual awards for El Bulli from 2002 to 2009 (coming second twice), Ferran Adria, 53, can also rightfully claim to be Spain’s best cook of all time.
But, as he explained to me, he isn’t fussed about awards or stars one bit these days, leaving that to his younger brother Albert, from Barcelona’s Tickets (who was also at the event by the way).
These days running cookery schools and trying to encourage youngsters to be creative, he travels around as a kind of Spanish food ambassador… and he loves it, particularly the south, where it emerges his grandmother is from.
“I love it down here, particularly as Andalucia is in my blood, with my grandmother coming from Huercal Overa, in Almeria,” he explains.
“The region really is extraordinary now and just keeps getting better and better.
“There are at least five or six really amazing restaurants here that did not exist a decade ago and creativity is now very much at the fore, with some talented young chefs like Dani Garcia.”
It was at his sister restaurant near Sevilla, at Hacienda Benazuza, that I was first introduced to the greatness of Ferran, some 10 years ago.
Over a four-hour, 25-course master-class, I discovered why Spanish chefs are now credited as being the most creative in the world, having easily overtaken the French.
It was mind-blowingly original, but not just that, it was sumptuous and tasty, unlike some of the more modern, over-the-top creative geniuses, I prefer not to name.
It was my first three-Michelin starred meal in Spain and it did not disappoint.
“But there is a whole world out there past Michelin stars,” insisted Ferran. “People need to inspire and create and not worry about awards and what people think and say.
“Just keep forging away and working hard and you will get there in the end.”
There have never been truer words said… and it was one of the reasons I launched my book and website DiningSecretsofAndalucia.com six years ago… to locate, track down and encourage new and up-and-coming chefs around the region, which the Michelin guide never got anywher near.
It is true to this day that dozens, even hundreds, of brilliant restaurants in Andalucia are not even getting a look in from the so-called French food bible. So hopefully I am helping to make a difference.