Lucas Paya: the Genuine Article
Lucas Paya, Bar Centro, The Bazaar, SLS Hotel
Just as Picasso shown extraordinary talent decades before his journeys into cubism and surrealism, the best abstract painters can also replicate uncanny likeness of the human form. Accordingly, the controversy with molecular gastronomy is not arising with its innovators, but rather from tawdry imitators. And, when one participates, for the first time, in the proper execution of its unexpected contrasts, it all makes sense. Barcelona native, Lucas Paya, has earned the term ‘bar chef’ like few others. First, he has spent time behind the line, the bar and on the floor. It all started for Paya vicariously at his father’s table—where he would listen and learn about the virtues of wine. Then it was on to college at Escola Superior d’Hosteleria de Barcelona, where Lucas studied under José Maria Gotarda, a second-generation bar protégé, whose father earned mythical status as a bartender in the middle of the last century.
Paya went on to collaborate with two of the most important chefs in the world, Ferran Adrià, with whom he worked for five years as sommelier at El Bulli and José Andrés, in his current post at the SLS Hotel, in Beverly Hills, where Lucas serves as beverage director. Under his guidance, the cocktail program is incessantly pushing the boundaries of form and function, drawing upon his own roots and the notorious proclivities of his collaborator, José Andrés, replete with spherification, liquid olives, liquid nitrogen and calcium chloride. The remarkable thing is that would-be-gimmicks aside, the cocktails are delectable on their own merits—the show, as it were, is value-add. But, when Paya is at the helm, the performance is executed in such an expert meticulousness, that one cannot escape awe. Drinking sangria outside of someone’s private home almost invariably results in colossal failure. Bar Centro, at The Bazaar is redefining neglected libations, giving LA a reason to drink them again. The Individual Sangria—the cutest cocktail in town—is served in a mini pitcher, to scale, and features Pares Balta Cava, lime rounds, raspberry, verbena , gin, Cognac, Cointreau, simple syrup, orange skin and grapes. And, it has to be the best sangria you’ve ever drunk.
Among his cocktails, Paya—who is as erudite as he is gracious and consummately Spanish—is reviving classics, with his own twist, of course, and unapologetically affronting the limits of his confines. His version of the Dirty Martini calls for Ketel One and Noilly Prat, clean, topped with an olive brine air—the unexpected contrast of the salty foam, chased by the essence of pure distillate is brilliant. The Liquid Nitrogen Caipirinha, features cachaça, sugar, lime and is topped with edible petals, lime zest and verbena; the concoction is nitro-whisked until one eats it with a spoon. But Paya’s pièce de résistance has to be the Pisco Sour which is served in a pint glass, with Pisco 100, lemon & lime juices, simple syrup, fresh egg whites and Angostura bitters. The result is ridiculously decadent, while refreshing and simply elegant.
For the record, we had the great pleasure of spending an evening in Saam—the private dining room at Bazaar, where phenomenal wine dinners are held, on a regular basis—in which Lucas paired the entire twenty-two-course menu with the most elaborate, expertly-executed cocktails I’ve ever had. This is not to be missed in Los Angeles.
Ron Cooper—Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal—and Lucas Paya meet for the first time at SLS Hotel, in the Bazaar.
For a similar piece, from Los Angeles Times Magazine, click here.