Cuisine to excite the mind, as well as the palate

There is cuisine which aims to excite the palate, and cuisine to please the eye.

Argentine neurologist-turned-chef Miguel Sanchez Romera, however, has another proposition: restaurant fare which, with originality and purity, awakens and excites the brain.

When he opens his high-concept "Romera" restaurant next month in New York's edgy meatpacking district, the Michelin-ranked chef will be serving up what he calls "neurogastronomy" meant to deliver complete sensory experience on a plate.

"My formula is sensory hyperrealism. It is the same as when you are painting something, or sculpting something that is hyperreal," Sanchez Romera, who also studied fine arts but did not finish, told AFP.

Just as an artist who works in a hyperrealistic style aims to provide a high-definition version of reality, Sanchez Romera said his 12-course prix fixe menu will offer patrons a heightened culinary experience, nourishing the mind as well as the body.

"Cooking is a sensory event, neuro-sensorily speaking," the self-taught chef explained.

"It involves the five senses, it involves memory, it involves intelligence, it involves the emotions," said Sanchez Romera, who emigrated to Spain in 1979 and worked in medicine for more than a quarter century.

His high-concept food concept cuisine brings his expertise as a neurologist into the kitchen, drawing upon an understanding of how the human brain experiences dining.

"It is the beauty, and the impact, that bring home the extreme degree of reality," said the 57-year-old in his native Spanish.

Sanchez Romera's website expands on his culinary philosophy, which it says draws on "taste-memory and the emotions of food" in creating "the most unique cuisine in the world."

The new restaurant is housed in the luxury Dream Downtown Hotel, with funding from Indian-American entrepreneur Sant Chatwal.

Sanchez Romera's rise has been meteoric, beginning, inauspiciously enough, after he started regularly cooking elaborate meals for friends.

One, a French wine expert, was the first to ask why he was not in the food business as a professional "artist".

- 'Neurogastronomy' -


So at around the age of 40, Sanchez Romera traveled to France for the first time, a sojourn which led him to a restaurant near Lyon where the food mirrored his own culinary vision, inspiring him to try his hand at creating his own establishment.

The trendy restaurant L'Esguard near Barcelona, which the self-taught culinary star opened in 1996, ended up becoming Michelin ranked.

Sometime later, Sanchez Romera took a postgraduate course for neurologists entitled "neurogastronomy".

He said he ultimately took up a challenge to write a book on the subject, in which he says he was able to encapsulate years of his thinking, and ended up reinventing his life and his approach to food.

Typical of the new style is one signature dish "Isis," named for the Egyptian goddess of earth and vegetables. (Most dishes at Romera have names.)

Sanchez Romera said he sees the dish - with its emphasis on strong flavors and natural colors, as emblematic current vision of his updated vision of what transpires in the kitchen.

The dish is comprised by 48 tiny dried squares of vegetables from beets to potato and spinach, served with even tinier micro-veggies - leeks, onions, cabbage, carrots.

The vegetables all get steam-cooked and stewed together, then cooked in a homemade vegetable broth, a simple yet at the same time complex preparation.

Indeed, Sanchez Romera told AFP that award-winning cooking is "quite difficult."

He said it can take him three years to fully develop a culinary concept that he is happy enough with to put up on his menu.

"You do not create a dish that is going to make history in two weeks," he said.