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How Catalonia's Fight for Independence Is Impacting Local Restaurants

"Already, reservations are down and cancellations are up across the region."

by Lisa Abend
Oct 30 2017, 4:00pm

Photo by Craig Cavallo

By now, most of the world knows what happened during Catalonia's October 1st referendum on independence from Spain. The vote itself—in which 90 percent voted in favor or independence, but only 43 percent of the eligible population cast a ballot—images of Spanish police confiscating ballot boxes and smashing heads outraged people around the world, and drove more Catalans to support secession. Just over three weeks later, they got their wish: on Octobery 27, after weeks filled with tension and uncertainty, the Catalan parliament declared independence. Immediately after, the Spanish government, led by prime minister Mariano Rajoy, imposed direct rule, announcing that it would remove Catalan government officials and hold new elections on December 21.

Like everyone in Catalonia, chefs have been caught up in the events. On the day of the referendum itself, the brothers from Celler de Can Roca in Girona cooked up a noodle casserole, along with a dessert in the colors of the Catalan flag, for volunteers at their neighborhood polling station. And in the wake of the referendum, a group of chefs signed a statement saying that they were joining the general strike held two days to protest the violence that had occurred. But in Catalonia and Spain, where tensions are running high, even an innocuous statement against violence was seen by some as a provocation. Although some supported their action, others, including restaurant critic Carlos Maribona, denounced the chefs' action. "We were called 'delinquents' and 'criminals,' even 'terrorists,'" said one who wishes to remain anonymous. "It's really sad that that's what things have come to."

Conscious of the conflict, many chefs in the region will only speak guardedly, if at all, about their opinions of the independence movement. But the one thing they openly worry about what the uncertainty—sure to continue in the wake of the independence declaration and Madrid's take over—will do to business. Already, reservations are down and cancellations are up across the region. I sat down with some of the chefs to get their perspective on what's happening. Here are their thoughts below:

Albert Adrià (Enigma, Tickets, and others)

It's a very delicate subject, and no matter what you say, someone gets offended. Because of that, no one wants to talk now. But the truth is that, across elBarri [my restaurant group], we're down 2000 clients this month. Everyone is just waiting to see what happens next, and there's no end in sight. It's an unreal situation.

Albert Raurich (Dos Palillos and Dos Pebrots)

I'm Catalan, I'm a Catalanista; I feel more Catalan than Spanish. I'm Spanish because that's what it says on my national identity card, and I can't do anything about that. But at work, I'm neutral. I have guests from all over, and I have staff from all over, and as their boss, it's my responsibility to make sure everyone gets along and acts professionally.

I was an independentista when I was young, but then my values changed. Now, however, I'm re-evaluating again. I understand that the law prohibits the referendum, but if the majority of citizens wants to vote on something, shouldn't their politicians listen to them? Can't the law change? Think about blacks during the Civil Rights movement in America—were they criminals for jumping over the law? Laws that restrict freedom of expression are bad.

The most important thing though is to keep the peace. We've arrived at a point of no return, a position of checkmate. The solutions are all drastic now because we've let the problems become drastic. What we need is dialogue. It's like an old married couple who are fighting, with each person believing they're right. If they still love each other, and they want to stay together, then they go to a therapist and look for points where they can meet each other half way. We need a therapist. Europe has to intervene. Because the best thing for Europe is a strong Spain and a strong Catalonia.

Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch (Disfrutar)

No one thought that what happened during the referendum was going to happen, and two days after on a Tuesday, there was a strike in protest of the police violence. We're normally open on Tuesdays, but we realized that because of the strike, the wholesale market was going to be closed, the fishermen weren't fishing. So we didn't think that we were going to be able get the kind of quality produce that we need. Because of that, and because we also need to protect the people who work here, we decided to close. We have 50 employees in the restaurant and they're from all over—from Madrid, from the Basque Country, from the US, from Japan—and have their own beliefs so we try to keep politics out of it. But we've had a ton of cancellations—probably a 20 percent drop in reservations. People who don't live here don't really understand that Barcelona isn't in chaos, that day-to-day life is normal, and the streets are full. Still, the sooner this is resolved, the better. We just want to do our jobs, run our restaurant, and cook good food.

Toni Romero (Suculent)

I'm from Castellón [a province in the region of Valencia], but I've been living in Catalonia for twelve years. The truth is, I don't know who to believe; there's so much smoke, it's impossible to understand what's really going on. It seems normal to me that people would want to express themselves, and I don't think the government should ever use violence. At the same time, I'm not an independentista, and the idea of Catalonia seceding makes me nervous because of the economic impact it might have. Right now things work here, there's no lack of employment. The only thing we can do is keep working, and hope that nothing happens. It's is a wild time we live in.

Paco Mendez (Hoja Santa and El Niño Viejo)

I've been here six years, which is enough time to get to know a place pretty well. But one night about a month ago I went into Niño Viejo, and heard this loud, strange noise—clank clank clank. I couldn't figure it out. Where was it coming from? It turns out it was a cacerolada; everyone was banging pots and pans to protest for the right to vote. It blew me away—it seemed so medieval. I was like, what year is this? As a Mexican, I'm outside all this, but I have a hard time understanding it. The distance from Yucatan to Tijuana is further than the distance from Barcelona to Berlin, but people in both Yucatan and Tijuana manage to feel Mexican. Why can't Spaniards and Catalans both just feel European?

Ferran Adrià (ElBulli Foundation)

I never talk about politics. I'm for everyone.