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Dani García's feelings are mixed about the closure of his restaurant in the Big Apple but he is full of enthusiasm about new Marbella projects
02.04.14 - 10:12 -
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"I know I’ll go back to New York"
Dani García with the model of his new project at the Puente Romano Hotel. :: JOSELE-LANZA
Dani García is feeling a little displaced at present. He is still trying to understand why Manzanilla Nueva York, the restaurant to which he exported his style of cuisine a year ago, closed down. It shut on February 27th by decision of Yann de Rochefort, the owner of the Boquería restaurants and operator of the business, and much to the surprise of his investors and this chef from Marbella. Dani knew that discussions between the partners had intensified during the preceding weeks, but he was not expecting an imminent farewell. However, he will not allow himself to feel bitter. His disappointment is compensated by his two new projects, one of which is the Dani García Restaurante, which will open on April 15th in the Hotel Puente Romano. The other is next door, and offers something very different.
- It was only a year ago that you fulfilled your dream of opening a restaurant in New York. What went wrong?
-I think there were a lot of circumstances. It’s true that it was a dream, but I don’t see it as a failure. It’s New York. Think about it: even those like Robuchon, Ducasse and Acurio closed. I feel bittersweet about it because the restaurant was working, it was busy at night, most of the critics were positive about it, even the prestigious ‘Open Table’ website gave us 4.3 out of 5 and that is an almost unbeatable rating compared with the other restaurants in New York. The truth is that I don’t know what happened, really, but I think it was an accumulation of situations: it started much later than it was supposed to, the works cost more than expected, it was very big, it wasn’t the sort of place to go for lunch... it’s like a rucksack full of stones, it just weighs you down. But anyway, it wasn’t me who chose the place, or who organised the works or the budget; my job is the cooking and I wasn’t able to give 100 per cent to that. It has been a strange experience. I went along with what they told me I should do, and but it was a caricature of our cuisine.
- Why was that?
-Probably through fear of being Spanish and modern. They banned me from working with nitrogen, with avant-garde techniques, and I’m sure that was a mistake because people were looking for something different.
- Is New York more demanding?
- It’s different, without a doubt. In Spain it is unthinkable for a restaurant to be set up with an investment like that, and then close down a year later. There are always other possibilities.
- But they’re talking of losses of 600,000 euros
- Well, you also have to bear in mind that we started at minus 700,000 euros, so I don’t really know what happened. What is certain is that it affects your name and your brand. But a lot of people in the background are suffering too. They lost money, I stopped earning it. 28 people are affected. We all want to know what happened; it’s the operator who makes and breaks.
- So why do you think they wanted you?
- That’s the million-dollar question. I wouldn’t know how to answer. We were known for our tapas, but they imposed restrictions. I argued and I tried to fight for what I believed we should have been doing there. I wasn’t being a diva, I was battling and cooking.
- And how do you feel now?
- When you look at these things, there are always more good than bad. I have gained from a brutal experience. I have also had some very good moments and met a lot of people, like Rafa Nadal and Alejandro Sanz. And there was a lot of affection from the clients. On the last day there were 220 dining in the restaurant. It has been a learning experience in every way. I was there for 26 weeks and I have learned from all this. But on the negative side it has been very wearing, personally. On a professional level I have felt powerless because I wasn’t able to demonstrate what Spanish cuisine is capable of.
- And do you fear that this could affect your image?
- Well, Robuchon is still Robuchon. The problem is when the parent company closes you down, that’s what can hurt. I wasn’t prepared psychologically for the closure in New York. I found out 16 hours before the rest of the world, and that hurts. In the Tweet I sent that night I talked of the need to revise the business model.
- What do you mean by that? Are you thinking of going back?
- Yes, there is a part of me that is thinking about returning, but not yet. I know how the city works now and I liked it so much that I might try again, why not? I don’t feel bitter about it... I know I will return. What you mustn’t do is get bored, you have to try.
- And what are you doing now?
- I’m in the best process there can be in life: being able to create your own concept from zero. We are very excited about the new project. It doesn’t involve an operator or even a partner, it is something more, a marriage in which we understand the project in the same way and with the same enthusiasm; we’ll soon be making the official announcement.
- Can you tell us anything now?
- It will be two places, a restaurant which people already know but it will have more personality, the menu will be called ‘Once upon a time’, and it will all be based on the world of stories, it’s like creating a perpetual Cirque du Soleil; and the other will be very entertaining, fresh and dynamic, where people can find a bit of everything and from different countries. We have learned that you have to liberate the clients when it comes to eating. In the background, that’s also what we’re doing in the restaurant: putting a stop to the dictatorship of the tasting menu and creating a menu from which people can enjoy haute cuisine the way they want to. Many people want this, but don’t want to eat 25 dishes. Does that complicate things for us? Yes, but it’s a question of sensitivity and logic. Last year we gained 2,500 clients. It was the restaurant’s most profitable year.
- Despite the crisis?
- In haute cuisine the crisis is not only about numbers of people, the crisis is about the amount of resources you need. It makes no difference if you have one or two Michelin stars. This will make us better, because Puente Romano is probably the place where we should have been from the start.

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