December 16, 2019
Love for the sea
Eating at Estimar and talking with its chef are one and the same thing. This Seville-born 37-year-old has the words and hands to bring joy to your day. And now he has a hipster beard, to boot. He went to Catalonia for work and for love, and has recently opened a branch of his Barcelona eatery, Estimar, in Madrid, getting a little closer to his land, geographically and gastronomically, ‘because in Madrid the frying techniques we use are more like those of Andalusia,’ explains one of the latest frequent users of the AVE (fast-speed train).
In the past, his journeys took him farther afield, and although he trained with Arzak, Dacosta, and Dani Garcia, it was his experience with Ferran Adrià at EelBulli, and at the Hacienda Benazuza, in particular – from 2003 to 2011 – that truly ignited his future path. In fact, thanks to his work in Seville in that part of the Adrià universe, he became one of the youngest cooks to be awarded a Michelin star. In 2015, he joined the Heart Ibiza project where he was a chef until recently, when his to-ing and fro-ing between Barcelona and Madrid made it impractical.
At Estimar, Zafra is happy. His food is Mediterranean and inseparable from the sea, from his char-grill, and the freshness of the excellent produce supplied by his in-laws. Married to Anna Gotanegra, she is the fifth generation of a fishing family from Roses whose relationship with the sea began in 1895 on becoming suppliers of quality fish and seafood. What is bred in the bone will never come out of the flesh.
With the best and most outstanding produce assured, the chef’s hands and mind embark on a cuisine that minimally transforms the ingredients – a declaration of love for the sea that is conveyed to dishes consisting of a main component and one extra, at the most, which never overpowers the protagonist but just accompanies it. A gastronomic feast of produce to which he applies his ad hoc techniques, sometimes more than one to the same ingredient. Why can’t you cook the tail, fillets and head of a red mullet in completely different ways from each other?
Rafa Zafra has become Estimar, culinary perfection, the know-how and flavour of a restaurant – in this case the one Barcelona – which has been ranked number 1 for two years in a row on the Top 100+ European Gourmet Casual Restaurants by OAD; it also has two Repsol Suns. He is nonchalant about the star. ‘It’s at home, and it’s called Anna.’