From the very start of his tenure at La Gaia, the Ibiza fine dining hotspot located within Ibiza Gran Hotel, chef Óscar Molina has dedicated every day to achieving the pinnacle of gastronomic excellence. His single mindedness and talent finally paid off when La Gaia received its first Michelin star late last year. Molina’s memories of the award ceremony are foggy at best. “I can hardly remember it!” he recalls, happily back home in his natural habitat of the La Gaia kitchen. “The first person I called was my wife. I have no idea what I said to her.” Despite his dogged ambition, Molina is known as quiet and thoughtful, possessing a humility not often found in award-winning chefs. “I don’t like talking about myself,” he laughs, knowing full well he better get used to it. Because people are talking.
Considering the criteria required to be awarded a Michelin Star, it’s remarkable any are awarded at all. And La Gaia’s origin story makes the restaurant’s first star an even bigger achievement than most. When the much-anticipated grand luxe hotel opened in 2012, the space earmarked for the fine dining restaurant was usurped by a different concept and La Gaia was relegated to the lobby bar. When Molina joined the team, he tried his best within limited means to create an Ibiza fine dining restaurant worthy of a five-star resort, taking the concept from sushi bar to a Peruvian/Mediterranean fusion bar before being given the tools required to transform the space into what it is today – a Michelin-starred fine dining experience.
Michelin’s five guiding principles are quality of ingredients, a harmony of flavours, mastery of techniques, personality of the chef as expressed in the cuisine and consistency. Each of these criteria appears during every moment of the La Gaia experience. There are two tasting menus, the Posidonia and the Tanit. Both consist of 23 different culinary sensations. This is not eating in the normal sense of the word nor is it just about having an Ibiza fine dining story to tell the folks back home. This is an experience which is all about devouring the essence of the island.
Both menus start with what Molina called First Encounters. These are miniature renditions of some of the island’s most traditional flavours. Xeixa flour – a wheat native to Ibiza – is made into crispy biscuits, spiced bread is topped with local honey, a single nixtamalised strawberry is a stunning technical achievement while pickled tomato is topped with delicate caviar. Scarlet shrimp comes with a herbaceous cloud evocative of hierbas, Ibiza’s traditional digestif. From this point, La Gaia’s two tasting menus veer off on their own journeys around the island.
It’s impossible to describe the spectrum of flavours that traverse the La Gaia menus. “For me, the menus are a commitment to Ibiza,” says Molina. Each dish is representative not only of the flavours of the island but also the authenticity of what it means to live, work and play here. Local beetroot baked in beurre blanc and scattered with caviar tastes exactly like the journey from the island’s red earth centre to the sea. Scarlet shrimp with codium seaweed and a seafood foam is like taking a sunset swim in the Mediterranean. Ibiza’s springtime wildflower meadows are represented by apple, flower petals and jasmine tea as fragrant as a balmy evening in a candle lit garden. Molina’s gastronomy concept is illustrated with colour, texture and flavours that combine into a whole-body experience.
After the sommelier asks a couple of pertinent questions of each diner, some kind of alchemy takes place as he knows exactly which wine will excite and delight. There were two months of research before Molina and the sommelier sat down to scrutinise the short list. A restaurant like La Gaia must include wines from the island and there are nine local drops plus a core selection of bottles from across the world. Yet, diners are unlikely to repeat a glass on subsequent visits as the team enjoys introducing new concepts and flavours night after night, matching the experience not only with the food but with the preferences and moods of the diner as well. The wine, like the food, helps narrate the story of Ibiza’s culinary heritage. And for those eager to tap into the sommelier’s knowledge even further, the La Gaia private cellar stocks more than 150 examples.
The La Gaia experience is not a time to forgo dessert. These sweet creations are the perfect end note to a culinary symphony. The perfumed orange blossoms that proliferate across the island in spring are represented by a barely-there foam perched on a petit four. Creamy avocado with kefir lime and a hint of spice in jalapeño snow bridges the metaphysical gap between sweet and savoury, as does the hibiscus with ground black pepper and granulated yoghurt. Just as your Ibiza fine dining moment comes to an end, an ornate wooden box is opened to reveal six opulent bonbon sitting on a bed of cacao nibs. Each is devoured in a single mouthful, exploding like gourmet fireworks on first bite.
The Michelin Star represents years of hard work and fortitude on Molina’s part but is equally shared across the whole team. From housekeeping to kitchen hands and suppliers to guests, every person who has stepped over the threshold into the art-filled halls of Ibiza Gran Hotel and La Gaia has contributed in some way to this milestone. And it’s not only the hotel team that will benefit from this honour. La Gaia’s Michelin Star signifies a shift in perceptions, steering Ibiza towards becoming a destination known across the world for its beauty, both geographic and gastronomic.