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Profile: Angel Castel Roqueta

21 Jun

Angel is one of 8 interns at Alicia this summer.

Considering that Angel was born and grew up in the gastronomic paradise of Girona, I was not surprised when I got to witness magic that this young aspiring catalan chef brings to the kitchen. Angel grew up in a home where much emphasis was placed on traditional catalan food; a home where his grandmother would embrace the traditional catalan recipes kept within the family for generations. Angel remembers: “during Christmas, the family always got together and cooked escudella – a traditional broth made with a myriad of ingredients, including carrot, ribs, lamb, pork and potatoes.”

His first own dish, however, was a lot simpler than a special broth that requires 3 hours of careful preparation. At 8 years of age, he decided to take charge of the brunyols (a form of Spanish doughnuts) during Easter, and he was surprised by the stunning result. “This is when I first realized how much I love cooking,” he says. Even though he started light, he quickly learned more advanced recipes, including baccalao xamfaina and catalan hamburgers.

It was not until he discovered Ferran Adria things became real. At 12 years of age, he started to see cooking through an entirely new set of prisms. After hearing about El Bulli, he became obsessed with Ferran Adria’s philosophy and techniques, and started teaching himself new skills. “Ferran Adria has remained my greatest role model ever since,” says Angel smiling.

This obsession led him to enroll at a 4-year gastronomy program at Escuela de Hosteleria de Girona shortly after he graduated from high school. The university, which is considered one of the best public culinary schools, has produced legendary chefs such as the Roca brothers and March Puig Pey – the pastry chef of El Bulli for 17 years.

Angel is just about to start his last year at the institution, and in retrospect, it is clear to Angel that “a combination of the school’s venerability and my own hard work brought me to where I am today.” As such, the rising catalan chef had the opportunity to work in several great restaurants. Among them are the Michelin star restaurants Restaurant Massana in Girona, l’hostellerie de la pomarede in France, and Can Jubany in Barcelona. While Angel has many rewarding (and frightening) experiences from the restaurant business, the experience at Can Jubany was the most meaningful. Not only did Angel learn a whole lot at this restaurant, but it also happened to be his way in to Fundacion Alicia.

Through his obsession with Ferran Adria, Angel had naturally gotten to know Fundacion Alicia. In his own words, “working for the foundation was my goal for a long time, but I never really found a way in.” At Can Jubany, however, Angel got to know two people who had worked for Alicia. Suddenly, Angel found himself in San Frugos the Bages developing products for a big Spanish enterprise.

For him, Alicia is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity. “To me, it is amazing to be at the only center in the world where top food scientists and cooks come together and learn from one another,” he says. He adds: “I am honored to be at Alicia, as I get to work some of the world’s best food scientists and chefs. For someone who is passionate about food, Alicia is amazing. Not only does Alicia have some great names behind it (Ferran Adria, Joan Roca, to mention a few), but the interdisciplinary and creative environment is incredibly stimulating; it is nothing like a restaurant, where time is as scarce as stress is ubiquitous.” The best part? “If I have a question, there is ALWAYS an answer.”

Angel is working at the foundation for the same amount of time as I am. According to Angel himself, this is not enough.  After graduation, he hopes to return to Alicia for 6 months to learn even more. In addition, he hopes to get a master’s degree in culinary arts at Basque culinary center, with the long-term goal of becoming a professor of culinary arts.

At present, though, Angel is incredibly happy to be at Alicia, and is pleased to have fulfilled yet another goal. As a true artist, however, Angel is never pleased; he always aims higher. At present, Angel has yet to fulfill what has been his dream since age twelve: to work for the El Bulli foundation when it opens in two years.

“If I get to work for El Bulli, my life is complete,” Angel says with glowing eyes.

Even after knowing Angel for less than two weeks, I have no doubt that this will happen.

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