Disfrutar Restaurant

Since tentatively starting out with their first restaurant Compartir, it wasn’t until five years later that Oriol Castro, Mateu Casañas and Eduard Xatruch acquired the business know-how, means and community to serve the vanguard cuisine they have a flair for.
Keywords: Restoration, Gastronomy
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Project by Asensio Comunicació Visual

A creative agency based in Barcelona available for work worldwide. We specialise in brand strategy, concept development, content marketing and visual storytelling in transmedia projects.

Text by Emma Darby
When the “best restaurant in the world” closed, many jumped for joy when the former head chefs at elBulli announced they were opening a restaurant of their own. Oriol, Mateu and Eduard were top of their game so everyone assumed they would just carry on where they left off. Fortunately they knew better. They were experienced and talented chefs but absolute novices when it came to managing a restaurant.

The trio responsible for Compartir in Cadaqués and Disfrutar in Barcelona talk to us about the difficult transition from being employee chefs to running their own Michelin starred restaurant.
Disfrutar Restaurant
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Cooking: passion or coincidence
Oriol Castro - In 1993-94 there was a congress on Catalan cuisine. It was the second edition of this congress and I went to all the presentations because I really wanted to learn. In order to reward the people who had gone to this congress, the regional authorities said each school could send two students and two teachers to do a course at elBulli restaurant. I was one of the lucky ones who went. I was very impressed by what I saw there. They ate together at that table…all those deconstructed dishes, it was amazing!

Mateu Casañas - Being a chef wasn’t a childhood dream for me, but it was a world I was very familiar with because my family had a restaurant since I was 6 years old. I was schooled just like any other boy, and just before reaching university I began to doubt about what I really wanted to do. It was in that moment I considered the hospitality trade and decided to start training as a chef.

Whilst I was trying to decide which school to go to we ran into Juli Soler one day. He was a friend of the family and as manager of elBulli he suggested doing some work experience there. So that’s what I did and that’s where I stayed!

Eduard Xatruch - I trained as a chef at a school in Cambrils. It was a five-year course and every year two students in their last year went to do work experience at elBulli. One year the students in the fifth year didn’t go, I was in the fourth year at the time and the head of the school asked if I was interested in going to a good restaurant called elBulli. I hadn’t heard of it, but I said yes! So off I went, knowing very little about where I was going. I remember buying their book El sabor del Mediterráneo. I loved it because the dishes were completely different to anything else I’d ever seen.
ElBulli: where it all began
Oriol Casto - I was doing work experience in different places and when I finished my training I went to Jean-Luc Figueras in Barcelona for a year. While I was there, Albert Adrià came to do work experience. We got to know each other and I told him I wanted to go to the elBulli. Just four months later I went to elBulli! It was the winter of 1996. The restaurant itself was closed, but they were testing out new creations at the restaurant Talaia. I was there as an apprentice with Albert and Ferran Adrià. After that I started as an apprentice pastry chef in the restaurant in 1996.

Mateu Casañas - At that time Ferran Adrià was in the kitchen all the time, working side by side with all the staff. Seeing all of that opened up a whole new world for me. We had constant inputs that began to shape us, and just as we evolved the cuisine of elBulli also evolved. ElBulli is without a doubt a big part of who we are today.

Eduard Xatruch - I met Oriol and Mateu thanks to elBulli. I went to Japan and met my wife and mother of my two daughters, thanks to elBulli. As a chef, it’s thanks to elBulli that I am the way I am, that I think the way I do and express myself through my craft. Every day I strive to be better than the day before. Aside from the techniques, concepts and everything that’s publically visible, elBulli leaves its mark on you as a person. It’s influenced the way we face the day-to-day and the future. It’s taught us to be humble and hardworking because a compliment one day could turn into a criticism the next.
When elBulli closed
Mateu Casañas - When Ferran Adrià told us that the restaurant elBulli was going to close, the first thing he set out for us was what he had in mind after closing. Conceptually speaking, he didn’t see it as a definitive end, but as a reinvention of the elBulli project. I was taken aback at first, because we’d all worked there for so many years. In my case, since 1997. I’d been working as part of the same project for 15 years, giving all I had for a common goal, working as part of a team. As you can imagine, I was a little stunned! I didn’t know what to think. I hadn’t seen it coming.

Oriol Casto - I thought - what will I do now? The only thing I can do is cook! It was difficult for me, because I didn’t know what I’d do. Ferran Adrià talked about Bullipedia, Bullifoundation and so on, but what he was proposing was radically different from what I was used to which was six months in the restaurant, six months creating new dishes. It was a tough moment.

Eduard Xatruch - When I was young I dreamt of being chef of my own restaurant one day. When we were working at elBulli we didn’t need anything, so I forgot about my dreams of a restaurant for many years. But in the last years at elBulli, when there was talk of refocusing the project, I thought about my future and weighed up my options.

They say a leopard never changes its spots! We’re chefs, and the only thing a chef wants to do is cook. We also had a sense of professional pride. We were head chefs at elBulli, the best restaurant in the world. That was all well and good, but we thought - what if we opened our own restaurant now?
Compartir restaurant
Mateu Casañas - After so many years working at elBulli towards a common goal, we had developed our own ideas about lots of things, not just in terms of creativity and gastronomy, but also in professional and personal terms. We each had our own concerns, but we got to a point when we thought - do we want to spend the rest of our lives wondering what would’ve happened if we had tried to go it alone?

Eduard Xatruch - We decided one day on a trip to Turkey. The three of us sat down in a hotel room and decided we would open a restaurant. We didn’t define where it would be, or anything else. Later on, after certain events and conversations we finally decided to open Compartir in Cadaqués.

Mateu Casañas - Once elBulli restaurant had closed definitively, we spoke to Ferran Adrià and explained that we were going to take the plunge and start a new project of our own. Our initial idea was very modest. We wanted a restaurant that wouldn’t require our physical presence so that we could balance the work of the elBullifoundation with Compartir in Cadaqués. We opened Compartir in 2012.

Oriol Casto - We created Compartir in order to learn how to run a restaurant. We knew how to cook but we didn’t have a clue about how to manage a business. We wanted to learn the ropes, so the idea was to start out with a very modest restaurant, with two chefs, serving simple things like grilled meat. That initial idea evolved and became our first restaurant Compartir.

Mateu Casañas - You end up creating your business as best you can. We rented a former Italian trattoria in Cadaqués in January 2012, and when the money that had come from our pockets ran out we opened the restaurant. We didn’t have any parasols on the terrace, or air conditioning inside, we didn’t have new chairs or many other things we had thought were necessary. But when our savings dried up we had to open as best we could.

Eduard Xatruch - People said - the ex-head chefs at elBulli are opening a new restaurant called Compartir! There was a lot of speculation about what kind of restaurant it was going to be, but we made it very clear from the beginning that Compartir was going to serve modern style dishes, made to be shared, without any kind of creative aspirations. It was a totally different concept that had nothing to do with elBulli.

Oriol Casto - The press had big expectations and once the idea went public everything escalated. We had to improve lots of things, invest a lot more time. We hadn’t wanted to be in the restaurant ourselves but Eduard and Mateu had to be there, in charge of the day-to-day. I was working at elBullifoundation in Barcelona.
Disfrutar restaurant
Mateu Casañas - It soon became clear to us that Cadaqués wasn’t the right place to guarantee a year-round flow of customers that would demand the type of dishes we were serving in Compartir. That was when we decided to set up the restaurant Disfrutar. I‘m from the town of Roses, Eduard is from Vila-seca and Oriol is from Torredembarra, near Barcelona. We considered our options and decided to take the plunge in Barcelona.

Eduard Xatruch - When we opened Disfrutar, we were very careful not to use certain labels to define it. We never talked about creative innovation or vanguard cuisine. We said we were setting up a restaurant that would serve a tasting menu of modern cuisine, without any creative aspirations. So what happened? There was a lot of media interest in us because of who we were. So when we opened Disfrutar people would come and say - let’s see what the ex-head chefs at elBulli are capable of!

Mateu Casañas - It was then that our restaurants required our full attention. We didn’t have time for Ferran Adrià’s new projects and our own, so we split off definitively in that moment and started to go it alone.

Oriol Casto - Before opening Disfrutar we planned on having tapas at the bar and a tasting menu. This idea progressively evolved right up to the same week we opened. It changed because we like to push ourselves hard.
Clockwork service
Eduard Xatruch - When you serve long tasting menus like ours, made up of many dishes, you need to have a good team to ensure the dishes leave the kitchen as they should. It’s a kind of cuisine that requires major precision, because the tiniest slip can easily turn a brilliant dish into a mess.

Oriol Casto - Eduard runs the pass. I work with Mateu when he comes down from Cadaqués, checking the tables, the pace, looking to see when a client finishes a dish, and making sure that everything is well synchronised. It’s important that the whole operation is well structured and organised, and that we have the know-how to deliver high quality.

Eduard Xatruch - The service has to be fast. People shouldn’t have to wait five minutes between dishes,which is the time you’d expect in a restaurant serving a starter, main course and dessert. When you have a menu of thirty dishes, making the client wait five minutes between each dish would mean more than two hours of waiting. It’d be unbearable! The restaurant has to run like a well-oiled machine.

Oriol Casto - We learnt the importance of efficient service when we worked at elBulli. We pushed the limits of the tasting menu there with 49 dishes, so the pace was crucial. Here at Disfrutar we also have a long tasting menu, so the pace is very important.
The legacy of Ferran Adrià
Eduard Xatruch - We’re very grateful to everyone that comes to eat at our restaurant. Many of them have no idea before coming that we were head chefs at elBulli. But it’s thanks to these people who come for the first time, love the experience and come again that Disfrutar and Compartir are open and running. It’s thanks to these people that we’ve been able to evolve.

Mateu Casañas - People only give you one chance. People don’t give you two chances just because you worked at elBulli. They give you one, and if they like it they come back. If they don’t like it you never see them again. It’s as simple as that!
Vanguard cuisine
Eduard Xatruch - For the last year and a half Disfrutar has been serving up innovative cuisine. We’re capable of creating new techniques, finding new products and developing new concepts. But that wasn’t our intention at the beginning, because we thought it was unrealistic. We didn’t think that serious vanguard cuisine was viable, but that’s what we’re doing now!

Oriol Casto - We run a vanguard restaurant that aims to serve cutting-edge cuisine. Making that a reality involves careful logistics of the space, the equipment and the staff. Serving our tasting menus at noon and night to 45 guests in each service requires a considerable amount of resources.
Chefs or rock stars?
Mateu Casañas - We take a team approach to our work. It’s true that we lead, we’re the ones pushing things forward, the ones who create new dishes, but it’s also true that the three of us alone wouldn’t be able to do very much in terms of making the restaurant work. Disfrutar is what it is today thanks to a team of 50 people who help us make our ideas a reality. They make it possible to reproduce the dishes we create for 50 diners, they allow us to provide a service that ensures clients are satisfied.

Oriol Casto - When one of the apprentices in the kitchen calls me chef I say, ''don’t call me chef, call me Oriol! I'm not one of those high and mighty chefs, I’m Oriol, a person like you!'' We’re all equal here. We all believe in a project called Compartir and Disfrutar which has nothing to do with creating a cult around ourselves as chefs. We’re everyday people and that’s important for us.
Michelin stars
Eduard Xatruch - We got our first Michelin star doing the same as what we were doing when we got our second star and the same as when we didn’t have any stars, which is being ourselves. Being true to our style and our way of doing things. What do you have to do to get a Michelin star? The first thing I’d say is don’t create restaurant like we’ve done here at Disfrutar! If we had wanted an award-winning restaurant we wouldn’t have done it the way we did.

Oriol Casto - The Michelin guide doesn’t want a restaurant with ups and downs, it wants something regular and constant. We try to be very regular which is we’re here every day, making sure the work’s done well and overseeing all the details. When we began Disfrutar we didn’t have staff for the bathroom, now we have two people, one at midday and one in the evening. It’s just one example of how the restaurant has evolved and how we try to cater to the details.

Eduard Xatruch - In just three and a half years we’ve got two Michelin stars, three Repsol suns and we’ve been ranked 18 of the Fifty Best Restaurants. It’s amazing! When we first met you, if you’d told us that in three years we’d have all these awards, we’d have said ''pigs might fly!''
A piece of advice
Mateu Casañas - When you start from scratch you need to have your feet firmly on the ground. That’s a basic premise for anyone going freelance or starting their own business. You have to fight to make your own way, so you need to know what you want, where you're going and what you want to sell. If you’re not clear about all those things nobody will understand you. If one day you’re selling meat, and the next day fish, you won’t get anywhere. You have to be very focused from the beginning. You have to be prepared to carry a lot of weight if you want to make it.
Disfrutar Restaurant Barcelona
C/Villaroel, 163 Barcelona
+34 933 486 896
Oriol Castro.
Estudia en la Escola Joviat de Manresa, En el periodo que va desde el año 1992 y 1993 estudia simultáneamente en la escuela Gremi de Pastisseria de Barcelona. En 1995 obtiene el primer premio de repostería de España. Trabajó en diversos restaurantes de Barcelona y en 1997 se incorpora en el equipo de cocina de El Bulli. Durante los periodos de cierre de El Bulli realizó prácticas en el restaurante de Michel Bras en Francia. En 2008, junto Albert Adrià (hermano de Ferrán), se hace cargo del taller innovador de El Bulli: elBullitaller.

Mateu Casañas.
Mateu Casañas (Gerona, 1977) entró a trabajar en elBulli en 1997 y formó parte del equipo del restaurante de Ferran Adriá hasta que en 2011 cerró el restaurante. En 2012 abrió con Oriol Castro y Eduard Xatruch el restaurante Compartir (2 Soles Repsol) en Cadaqués y en 2014 abrieron su segundo restaurante, Disfrutar (1 estrella Michelin y 2 Soles Repsol) en Barcelona.

Eduard Xatruch.
Eduard Xatruch (Tarragona, 1981) estudió en la Escuela de Hostelería y Turismo de Cambrils. Al inicio de su trayectoria profesional trabajó en el restaurante Quim Font de Salou, en el restaurante chino de Port Aventura, en el restaurante El celler del Padrí, en el restaurante Arzak, y en el restaurante Talaia Mar. En el año 2000, y después de haber sido stagier en elBulli, entró a formar parte de la plantilla del restaurante de Ferran Adriá ejerciendo como jefe de cocina.
About Beyond the Stars project
The hospitality industry in Spain is big business and it’s a sector that’s still growing. But it isn’t always easy to make a go of it; competition is fierce and ensuring a return on investment can prove challenging if you don’t have a well-defined strategy.

Despite all the enthusiasm and hard work that goes into many new hospitality ventures only half of them last more than four years, and only two out of ten last more than ten years!

In order to help you create a successful business, we’ve handpicked leading professionals from the hotel and restaurant industry in Spain and asked them to talk about their experience on camera. We hope their insight and words of advice will inspire you to to do great things. Good luck!

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