Pioneering Contemporary Catalan Chef Succumbs at 56
Jean Luc Figueras, who was Barcelona’s first modern-day star chef in the early 1990s, died last night after suffering cardiac arrest in Hatay, in southern Turkey. He was attending the first edition of Mediterranean Culinary Days, a celebration of Mediterranean cuisines sponsored by the local government and the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Spain opened the event, with Figueras as main chef serving a dinner for 180 alongside colleagues Jordi Jacas of El Molí de l'Escala on the Costa Brava and Juanjo Rodríguez of Barcelona’s Codium.
Jordi Jacas explained to the Barcelona daily La Vanguardia that Figueras had worked from five in the morning until 11 at night preparing a tasting menu comprised of signature dishes from all three chefs. "Jean-Luc was radiant, never happier, and treated us to an unforgettable evening during which he even sang and danced for us," Jacas reported. After dinner, the chef retired to his hotel room, where he died at 4 a.m.
Figueras’s partner Ángela Bolaños was with him at the time. Bolaños was quoted as saying that she hoped that Figueras’s friends would remember him for “his gift for making us laugh, for his kindness, for his vital irreverence, his human qualities and for the admiration we had for his creativity."
Figueras, a native of St-Antonin-Noble-Val, northwest of Toulouse, in France, became Barcelona’s top culinary media darling in the 1980s as chef at Eldorado Petit and at his own Azulete, both in the Sarrià-Sant Gervasi-Tres Torres reaches of upper Barcelona. Only in his late twenties when he burst upon the Barcelona restaurant scene, Figueras had both European good looks (think Alain Delon and Marcello Mastroianni) and charm, along a fresh approach to creative simplicity in the kitchen that him a huge success at a time when Ferran Adrià was still trying to make it as a dishwasher in Castelldefels. Madrileños were known to take the Talgo to Barcelona to dine at the young master’s table in the same way that Parisians used to hop the TGV to Lyon to try Paul Bocuse’s truffle soup. "Jean Luc was a great chef, but almost more important, he was a great cook. You always knew that a meal at his hands was going to be perfectly executed and absolutely delicious." - Colman Andrews
After over two decades (1995-2007) at the helm of his eponymous Michelin-starred restaurant in lower Gràcia, Figueras began a peripatetic period during which he served as gastronomic advisor to Grupo Sagardi and Osteria Ibai in Sant Pere de Ribas before returning to Barcelona to direct the restaurant Blanc at the newly opened Mandarin Oriental. In 2013, Figueras started a new phase as the chef of the Hotel Mercer’s gastronomic restaurant, where he worked with his son Edu and his daughter Claudia. The restaurant was recently named #75 in The Daily Meal's 101 Best Restaurants in Europe. Daily Meal editorial director Colman Andrews had known Figueras since his days at Eldorado Petit. "Jean Luc was a great chef," says Andrews, "but almost more important, he was a great cook. You always knew that a meal at his hands was going to be perfectly executed and absolutely delicious."
In April of this year, Figueras told The Daily Meal that he was happy he was to be working with his two children in the kitchen, and stressed how thrilled he was to be “starting again, filled with high hopes and ilusion[eagerness].”