The story of Cristian Periscal could be perfectly made into a film. One of those textbook stories that inspire people into taking a turn in their lives. Nobody would say that the captain manning the only ship with the single Michelin star in the Pityusic Islands would have plunged into culinary waters only 8 years ago. Compared to other chefs, it can’t be said that Cristian has dedicated a lifetime to this art.
The current head chef of Can Dani in Formentera didn’t grow up between stoves and knives, nor has great prizes behind him. Yet, all that seems insignificant when a great talent emerges. Cristian Periscal is the vivid image of passion for gastronomy and represents the hard work involved in reaching the top. With 38 years and only 8 in his curriculum, the chef of Can Dani has achieved what many are still chasing: running a restaurant awarded with a prestigious Michelin star.
The journey has not been easy, not even from the beginning. The kitchen is something tough in which, if you are not passionate enough about, you won’t last. “I started out of necessity,” he says. “I was formerly a managing director”. He took his first steps in Marc Clément in Berlin, until 5 years ago when he decided to return to Spain and start working for the Melia chain in Mallorca. That was the turning point in which he realized that in order to build a future and climb up in this profession he had to smarten up and do important things.
After studying at the Basque Culinary Center he worked for Ferrán Adriá in Barcelona. Not only that but he has also cooked with Marc Fosh in Mallorca and has even directed his own kitchen in San Sebastian in a “very special and beautiful project in front of Kursaal Auditorium” he recalls.
“I started out of necessity. I used to be a managing director.”
How did you get started in the kitchen and when did you realize you wanted to pursue it professionally?
Actually only 8 years ago. I am 38 so it is fairly recent. I’ve been trying different cuisines, different places in Germany, Majorca, San Sebastian… A year after that I was like “I want to dedicate myself to this” and so I had to make future plans to start, train myself well and do what I really liked.
It was a very abrupt change.
It was rough but I was always very clear that I would do what I wanted to do: I wasn’t going to settle. It was indeed a bit challenging but then again, imagine yourself being like a machine doing things just for money and then having the power to do whatever you wanted and actually enjoying it.
Working in hostelry can many times be very hard. Many people do 16 to 18 hours a day and they completely disappear. But the thing is that if you don’t really like that, it is going to be hell for you.
How has your style evolved?
As I said before I take the time to look into the different sides inside a kitchen; from something very classic to international cuisine. The past 2 years there has been a turning point [in my career] since I have finished my studies at Basque Culinary Center in Donosti. [For me] gastronomy went from being something that is everywhere to something special.
My style is a mix of doing what I want but always thinking about what arrives to the table; always putting myself in the shoes of those who are going to enjoy it and inside the gastronomic experience that our clients will live.
On this basis and knowing that we are now in Formentera with a super nice project using “Cocina de Raíz” [roots gastronomy], we try to play a little with products offered by our surroundings, and also with products we can get from the outskirts – we depend a lot on Ibiza and the peninsula – winking at the traditional cuisine of this city. But always thinking about the final customer, so that he or she understands the concept and enjoys it.
How did you get to work in Can Dani?
It was Dani who contacted me. He asked around, he wanted a very specific profile to bring to his kitchen, and so he got in touch with two or three people we share in common who gave him my name. From that moment on we started talking. He came to Mallorca, we sat down and realized we had very similar needs. It was an interview slash conversation of 5 hours in a hotel lobby. We both enjoyed it a lot.
The next day we spoke again to take the next step. We smarted up and focused all our efforts on this new season that started in April. Can Dani is open from April to October. And this all took place in November and December, not even a year ago.
Is it hard to keep up a restaurant that has won a Michelin star?
The right word is “challenging”. It is an all-encompassing challenge because I think in many ways it is great but in other ways it is a huge responsibility because they [clients] have outsized expectations in your kitchen. The people who sit at the table to eat here, with all the right in the world, expect a Michelin star. We fight for it every day. I have a fantastic team and the truth is that if it wasn’t for them we could not really pull it forward with all the responsibilities a star carries with: it would be too complicated.
Who is part of Can Dani?
As in every restaurant there’s the kitchen and the dining room. One thing is as important as the other. I can talk about the kitchen. There’s Ricki and Marc, two warriors. Then a boy who came from San Sebastian, Lucas. There’s also Robert from Ferrán Adriá’s last year project in Barcelona. And of course a guy from the island, Tato.
Among the 5 or 6 of us we buckle down everyday. Oh! And there’s Rosa, the greatest of all (laughs). We take care of her and she takes care of us.
It seems everyone knows everyone in the culinary world.
We all know each other…yes and no. You kind of know where that person comes from, what he or she has done; everyone knows or has worked at some point with that person. They are people who you welcome inside your home and so you must trust them in order to get them to work with you. At the end of the day you know they are going to make the cut, you know they are with you because they care, they are hungry and therefore you like to choose someone you are familiar with rather than someone who you don’t know. However newcomers are as welcome as anyone else!
What do you most enjoy cooking?
What I like the most is the tasting menu. We have the menu divided into two. We try to change the tasting every so often, or even if there are people who came last week, then this week we try to give them something different from our 10 dishes. On the other hand we have another menu (maybe the word is not that inviting): more “normal”. Very amusing as well. I think that what we all enjoy the most is the tasting because we have green light and freedom to do whatever we want thus being able to play a lot with the client.
Is there a dish that you are especially fond of?
There is a dish we have not removed from the tasting menu since we opened. It combines a base of tongue (beef tongue) with capers typical from Mallorca and the Balearics. We are offering a crispy tongue snack with apple and capers: it’s so much fun! I believe the taste retains the true essence of the dish but also the fact that even in a single snack you have a crispy tongue that you can put inside your mouth and eat. Many people are not so sure about it (laughs). Conceptually it is very strong as well as delicious and fun to try. I think it’s my favorite one! And I’m trying to convince everyone around about it! It might cause some rejection to people. But the thing is that once you try it… it is not what you imagined.
But is that something you have not removed because you don’t want to or because people have actually asked a lot for it?
A bit of both. In hostelry you would love to do whatever you wanted without listening to others but obviously there are some rules so when you get a hundred people for dinner, obviously not everyone has the same taste and is sated in the same places nor eats the same things. We have an alternative to that dish. If we keep it it’s because we like it but also because we have a plan B.
What do you usually cook on a normal day vs. a weekend?
Never ask that to a che! (laughs)
Others have answered it!
Personally, I do not have the time or the need. It is not about cooking, I love cooking! But the fact of going shopping, preparing everything… You know you live in a roller coaster. You don’t know if tomorrow you will have time to cook. Most of the time I either snack in the kitchen or I eat outside. What nobody will take away from me are my breakfasts! I love pa amb tumaca. Bread, tomato, and garlic. I would not change it for anything.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Within 5 years it is very difficult for someone to be certain. What I can tell you is that impressions have been and are still very good here in Formentera. I am very comfortable: I could not ask for more. There is a very good relationship with the island and with Can Dani. I see myself here, I really do. Time will tell.