A new year brings with it an ending, or even endings. We look forward to the days and nights that stretch before us, but we also, if we are so predisposed, think about what we are leaving behind, be they people, places or things.
During this first week of 2014 I am doing my fair share of wondering about what lies ahead, making plans, writing down goals and intentions.
And I’m thinking of people and places that are no more, especially these three: Marcella Hazan, Charlie Trotter, and El Racó de Can Fabes. Each made an impression on my life, and made me a better cook.
I never met Ms. Hazan, but she did comment on several Facebook posts of mine, asking questions and giving her opinions in a straightforward and probing manner. I did meet Trotter, when he cooked at a dinner in Abu Dhabi that I attended. Two monumental individuals, Hazan and Trotter. They influenced more people than they would ever know, and made my life richer. Our world is poorer without them.
El Racó de Can Fabes, a fabled restaurant, closed its doors forever in 2013. One day in September 2012 I was in a rental car, having left Barcelona headed to France. It was nearing lunchtime and I spotted a road sign indicating an exit for Sant Celoni. Sant Celoni … The name meant something to me, but I could not place it. I slowed the car, my brain all the while attempting to make the connection. It did about two minutes later: Sant Celoni is the village that is home (was home) to Can Fabes. I exited the highway, then pulled over and keyed the words into my GPS. About 15 minutes later I was parked near the restaurant; it was around 12:30, and I walked to the entrance, hoping that they would seat me without a reservation. They did, and that afternoon has been with me constantly since. (See photo slideshow above.)
You might be aware that the building that housed Can Fabes belonged to the Santamaria family for more than 200 years. You might also know that it had operated as a restaurant for 32 years and earned its first Michelin star in 1988, seven years after Santi Santimaria opened it as a casual bistro. It was awarded a third Michelin star in 1994. Then, as it sometimes will, life dealt a cruel hand. Santimaria died of a heart attack while at his restaurant in Singapore; he was 53.
Regina Santimaria, his daughter, took over, and made a valiant effort to keep Can Fabes open. Losing a man as original and vibrant as Santimaria, however, is, in my opinion, a fatal blow. The restaurant lost one of its Michelin stars, the global economy fell apart, and things were grim in Sant Celoni.
Today I leafed through an online catalogue for an auction of Can Fabe possessions that took place in December 2013. It included plates and glasses and cutlery and pots and pans. But what one could not bid on, the item that created the magic that was Can Fabes, was Santi Santimaria’s soul, and it was nowhere in that catalogue. It was, however, in the meal I had in Sant Celoni that day, and it will be in me forever.