World's top chefs pay tribute to Spain's Santamaria

A gathering of the world's top chefs paid tribute to one of their own Thursday as they mourned Spain's Michelin-starred Santi Santamaria who died in Singapore.

Santamaria, who was 53, collapsed on Tuesday while serving guests gathered to inaugurate the opening of Singapore's Marina Bay Sands resort and died following a reported heart attack while being taken to hospital.

Michelin-starred Daniel Boulud, Guy Savoy and Wolfgang Puck - along with acclaimed Asian chefs Justin Quek and Tetsuya Wakuda - gathered on stage to pay their respects to Santamaria, who like those five had in the past year opened a restaurant at the US$5.7 billion resort.

"Santi was crazy about cooking, his cooking, and he was crazy about the one thing we all love - great cuisine," said the Austrian-born Puck, famous for his two-Michelin-starred Spago Beverly Hills.

"I really think that Santi is looking down us and saying, you know, you guys should live your life the way I lived it - with passion for food, with passion for friends, passion for family, and with passion to live life they way you see is fit for yourself.

"With Santi you felt like he was your brother and your best friend."

Santamaria was generally acknowledged as the man who took Catalan cooking to the world and his Can Fabes restaurant in the Spanish city of Sant Celoni has been rated with three Michelin stars since 1994.

The chef was given two further Michelin stars for his restaurant in Madrid, Sant Celoni, one more star for his Barcelona establishment Evo, and another for Tierra, in Valdepalacios, just outside of Madrid.

A visibly shaken Boulud - who runs the three-Michelin-starred Daniel in New York - said too that the world of cooking had lost a "great friend, an inspiration."

"He taught the world about the importance of Spanish cuisine, Calatan cuisine, and his passion and love for Spanish cuisine was quite unique," said the Frenchman.

"He will be greatly missed. But I don't think he'd want to be remembered for anything less than what he did for Spanish cuisine and his country as well.

"Santi has left a huge legacy and we are all proud to have known him."

Santamaria was a fierce advocate of using only the freshest produce in his cooking and had been a sometime vocal critic of the advent of "molecular gastronomy."

"Santi loved to eat," said France's Savoy, a pioneer of the "Nouvelle Cuisine" movement at his three-Michelin-starred Guy Savoy in Paris.

"He has left us way too early. In its way, for him to leave us in his kitchen was a beautiful way for him to leave us."

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