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Carles Abellán: The entrepreneur who wants to keep cooking

Texto: Juan Pedro Chuet-Missé. Fotos: Carles Abellán Press.

Carles Abellán started studying to be a chef because he didn’t know what he wanted to do. And his first job was as a dishwasher. In 1987 he started working in Cala Monjoi’s at the El Bulli restaurant, during its inaugural years, and he was left fascinated by Ferran Adriá’s gastronomic concept. Today, he oversees nine gastronomic establishments, of diverse kitchens and trends. However, this entrepreneur prefers to continue to be known as a chef.

As if managing a restaurant was not easy enough, imagine what it must be like to pour your body and soul into nine establishments. That’s what Carles Abellán does, and after his time at El Bulli went to Talaia Mar not only to cook, but to also manage the premises. His first experience between the stoves and the accountancy books served him to fine tune his skills for Comerç 24, “where he did everything, from cooking to being the financial manager”.

This is his flagship restaurant, where he got a Michelin star and the place that lent its name to all the other restaurants. Under Abellán management are, besides the Comerç, Tapas 24, Bravo 24, Suculent, La Taverna del Suculent, La Guingueta de la Barceloneta, Tapas 24 Montreal (open in this Canadian city), Ena Sevilla and Yango (an urban food project, supported by a food truck).

- With so many businesses, you spend less and less time working at the stoves, do you miss cooking like you used to?
- Well, it’s like being a footballer. When they stop playing on the field, they become trainers, and then technical directors. And later on, they can also become club presidents.

- You manage different types and classes of restaurants, from experimental restaurants such as Bravo to traditional restaurants like Tapas 24…
- Yes, every restaurant has a different cuisine concept, so there is a lot of research done, things that need to be put into context, and you have to understand a little bit of everything: finance, accountancy, human resources, design, cooking, winery, everything.

Abellán affirms that he learnt “along the way, at the university of life” for his foray into the world of business, and confirms that the secret to maintaining his nine establishments being profitable “is to have a good management team, as well as good teams of chefs, sommeliers and maîtres”. “It is necessary to know how to delegate, and to structure the company into departments well. What is complicated is when you hire a finance director and you have to explain to them what they have to do. And I have had to do that”, he adds.

This Catalan cook is grateful for having achieved an award such as the Michelin star, which he got at Comerç 24, but he also knows that it is a double edged sword, and that he has had to invest a lot to maintain that level. “It is true that the profitability has gone down, but that is not the Michelin star’s fault, but the fault of oneself, because when you have the star you want to change the cutlery and the linens so everything looks a little better, or to add new wines, and that goes against the idea of business”.

- Do you still have any projects pending?
- Not so many, because I’m getting short of time. I would like to cover new projects with Yango, which is an urban food art project. I would like to have different types of establishments, first in Barcelona, then in other cities in Spain, and then we will take the international leap.

- Will there be new Tapas 24 in other places?
- No, in Sevilla we already have Ena, and for the moment there will be no more. From among his establishments, one of the most exclusive is Bravo 24, located in the W Hotel, on Barcelona’s coast. There he applies the concept of “historic cuisine”, with a culinary tour across the dishes of the last five centuries.

- Are there any other restaurants that apply this concept, or is this an innovation?
- It is an innovation, or better, the fruit of chance. I had the restaurant in W Hotel, with a cuisine elaborated with local produce, but it wasn’t working well and I had to change the concept. Then, talking to Ferran Adrià and other colleagues we thought about doing something different, for people to know where they are going. What to do? Mediterranean, Catalan, Spanish cuisine? And I thought: ‘and why not cuisine from Barcelona?’ I said this to the chef, but nobody was able to give me an example of not even one dish from Barcelona, and I thought to myself ‘this is it, you’ve found the goldmine’.

Besides managing the conglomerate that employs 150 people, thinking about how to renew the menus and the decor at each of the restaurants, Abellán restaurants also do charity, working with Pare Manel Foundation and the Xiringuito of God. Not to mention attendances at conferences, interviews, presentation cooking shows, etc.

- Is there anything you miss from your time as a chef?
- Yes. Time. When I had more free time.