I frankly do not have words to express how special this particular visit was. I was aware of this pastry shop and it was on my itinerary to visit, and fortunately, I was able to get a private tour with the chef-owner, Christian Escriba and his project director Xavier Marco, through PRODECA, the government arm of Catalonia that sponsored our trip.
This is a fourth generation owned pastry shop, 104 years old. Mr. Escriba, is the 4th generation, and his son is now in pastry school, readying himself to be the 5th generation to own the shop.
I was first dawn to Ecriba from word of mouth, and I came upon their website, which you can see here: http://www.escriba.es/ ; there you can see that they definitely have a different twist on pastry.
I went to the shop the day before I was to return to New York, on December 17th. My appointment with Mr. Escriba was set to last from 9 to 11 a.m. It lasted a total of 3.5 hours in the end.
When I first met him, he was nothing but warm and welcoming, and what I noticed almost instantly was the fact that he was wearing golden sneakers. I would never be able to pull something like that off. He first showed me around the shop, which was nice enough, with a great assortment of pastries and turrones (traditional Spanish holiday candy bars) and some of he sugar rings he has become well known for.
He also showed me the back of the house, where production takes place, and it was rustic to say the least, but they were in the process of upgrading it little by little. Keep in mind hat it is a 104 year old establishment. That was all good and well, and I thought the tour was over for the most part, until he took me to the second floor of the building. It used to be where he, his brothers and his parents used to live. In other words, where he grew up as a child, directly above the shop. He transformed the entire place to be a showroom to display what he feels is his specialty: wedding cakes and his sugar rings. The video below is a room where he has a... well, just look at it. I took the video with the camera positioned vertically, so you may need to tilt your head to the left or turn your computer around 90 degrees.
The images below are the main foyer before you enter the cake display room:
These are some of the items he makes out of chocolate; also for display only. There are in the hallway, on the way to the display room:
When I say that wedding cakes are his specialty I cannot even begin to describe how much this man has put into making an impact in this market. I have never seen anything like it. I mean, sure, there are many talented wedding cake makers out there (I am so not one of them, never had and interest in manipulating fondant), but this man really takes it to a place where it is immensely inspiring.
He has this space which is a showroom where he talks to potential customers and shows them what he can do for them. The table he works on was made by him using different textures of chocolate, then framed (see here):
They have a projector and a screen in this room (which is always dimly lit, to kind of set the mood) where they show clips of the cakes they have made. I saw many that truly moved me, almost to tears (what!?). You see, he doesn't just make the cake and drop it off, he is almost a performance artist. Not almost. He is. He has blurred the line between pastry and art, making pastry truly an art (look at this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CRMuN7aAWk how cool is this?). The cakes are part of a performance that he puts together, a show if you will, with dancers and actors in costume. You should see the faces of the people who are present at these weddings. Nothing but sheer happiness. Just take a look at this clip, where there is a "flying cake"; basically an actual cake that is hidden by a square canvas with helium filled balloons attached to it; the guests then post their wishes for the bride and groom on the canvas, and once they are all the notes are attached to the canvas, they release it and then it flies up in the air taking all of the good wishes with it, and the actual cake is revealed:
And, as he says, that is what it is all about. He casually mentioned that Ferran Adria had prepared his first banquet gig ever for his wedding, and then he (Mr. Escriba) returned the favor by making Ferran Adria's wedding cake in 2002. Look at the clip:
He also showed me a new technique he has invented (discovered?), which he says is the next step in wedding cake making, and he calls it "augmented reality", where the cake is but a canvas, and you can virtually do anything with it. I found this clip on you tube which explains it better:
Wow! Have you ever thought this could be possible?
Just next to the wedding cake display area is the chocolate room, where all confections and chocolates are made. The walls were painted by an artist, commissioned by Mr. Escriba. I mean, who does that these days? Usually all the money spent for decoration is in the FOH not the BOH!
I was honored that he gave me so much of his time. He didn't know me from Adam and yet he spent a good chunk of his day showing me what he does. This was one of the best experiences pastry-wise of my life. I wish that one day you can also have a similar experience. It opened my eyes for sure.
One last thing, he has come up with this new concept (well, new to me) of a mural wedding cake, where instead of the normal stacked cake format, the cake is on a mural and attached to it are a variety of petit fours and mignardises, and the guests just grab what they want from the mural. Cool. Check it out here:
This is officially the longest posting in the short history of thequenelle.