Last week, El Celler de Can Roca was named Best Restaurant in the World by a panel of 900 gastronomes that includes chefs, critics and rich people. It’s where, for €165, you can have a 21 course lunch, and if you want to spend real money you can have twice as much for dinner.
The menus include creative dishes such as: a grilled prawn with foam and sea-water, sponge cake of plankton, white asparagus and truffle vienetta. But first there are the olives:
Scientists began seriously to get into the business of cooking fifty years ago with what they called “Molecular and Physical Gastronomy”, applying the laws of physical chemistry and knowledge of microbiology. An Oxford physicist Nicholas Kurti is famous for reviewing its progress: “It is a sad reflection on our civilisation that while we can and do measure the temperature in the atmosphere of Venus, we do not know what goes on inside our own soufflés.”
The panel that chose El Celler would be the first to recognise that cooking is as much an art as a science. As well as measurable ingredients and describable characters such as taste, touch and aroma, the kitchen must also provide food that relates to the ambiance, the region and season, social class and memories of childhood.
The olive tree can give such a complex mix of unexpected elements and essences. The wood contains calcium oxalate crystals and little is known of how the oil is metabolised. Most of the 33 species of Olea are likely to have evolved in Europe since the last ice age, though the only prolific remains are of the pollen. The olives are closely related to privet, ash, jasmine and forsythia, all members of the Family Oleaceae.