“I’m not a cook. I’m a fixer man.”
It’s a striking opening line from anyone, but coming from Fabián Martín, it sounds particularly ominous.
“I’m not a cook. I’m a fixer man.”
Not only is Martín the head chef of a restaurant (the one I’m sitting in,) he’s also won countless prizes for his cooking (the food I’m about to eat) and on top of all that, he’s also a boxer (a skillset I’m hoping won’t come up today.)
He sprints and ducks and dives and raises his fists for the camera. I take a mouthful of fresh rocket, drizzled with balsamic vinegar, and wonder what he means by being a “fixer man.”
I decide to keep quiet.
We’re in the small (and I mean small) village of Llívia in Cerdanya in northern Spain. We’re so far north that the town itself sits completely surrounded by France.
In 1659, instead of choosing between “fixer man” and “cook,” the villages of Cerdanya (or Cerdagne in French) had to decide between “France” and “Spain.” Where some areas of the world have seen such division as a reason to fight to the death for generation after generation, in the green and mountainous area of the Pyrenees, folk took a different approach.
Some villages chose France; some chose Spain. Llívia lives on (I’m sorry, I just couldn’t help it) being just the way it wants to be: Spanish. In just the place it already is: France. With an identity that’s distinctly Catalan.
Fabián Martín himself has a healthy approach to changes and choice as well. When a car accident ruined his plans for the Olympics in Atlanta, he found himself at 25 years old with no money, no job and no future.
“I had been a bad student,” he confesses.
With few options left on the horizon, he got a job as a pizza delivery boy and turned his life around. He met his wife and together they worked to build up a pizza business. When she became pregnant, he had to learn to cook.
Where you or I might see a doughy base, a tomato topping, some cheese and whatever else you happen to have in the cupboard (or maybe that’s just me. If you’re interested in my experiences with Italian food then have a look over here), Martín saw ideas. Pizza ideas.
He took an Italian dish in the middle of Spain in the middle of France and turned it into something else.
He made pizza cocktails and sushi pizza. He deconstructed pizza and reconstructed it with coca cola and ice cream – and won award after award after award for his efforts.
All served on plastic tableware that Spanish children grow up with.
Martín, however, took an Italian dish in the middle of Spain in the middle of France and turned it into something else.
That’s the other interesting paradox about Martín. On the one hand high gourmet; on the other an egalitarian approach.
“I don’t want to be elitist,” he says as he pounds dough and spins it through the air. “My coca-cola and ice cream pizza isn’t on the menu, because I can’t make 100 of them in one go.
“If I can’t make it for everyone, then I won’t make it.”
He sprinkles herbs over the next round of pizzas and our drinks arrive: coca-cola, beer, cava, orange juice. At Martín’s pizzeria, you can eat and drink what you like. No pretensions, no obligations, no expectations.
I sip the pizza cocktail, a wafer of pizza dough on the side, a creamy cheese topping smothering a Virgin Bloody Mary. It’s certainly different, it’s certainly good, it’s certainly one of the most inventive things I’ve tasted.
Martín examines the next stage of his creation and continues to talk at the pace of a man in the ring, reflexes and instincts fighting for his life.
I take another bite.
A fixer man he may be. But he’s also a damn fine cook.
Find out more about Fabián Martín and his pizzerias here. Disclosure: I travelled through France to reach the pizzeria thanks to the Girona Tourist Board. Sounds complicated, but it isn’t. He gets to make pizza just the way he wants; I get to write about it just the way I want. As usual. As it should be.
Abigail King is a writer and photographer who swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. Now published by Lonely Planet, the BBC, CNN, National Geographic Traveler & more, she feels most at home experimenting here: covering unusual journeys, thoughtful travel and luxury on www.insidethetravellab.com