Benet Auténtics delicatessens in Palma, Sóller and Son Rapinya have now closed.
He offers much more than the dream restaurant Béns d´Avall in the Tramuntana mountains – with its breathtaking view across the Deià bay from the terrace. Benet Vicens is also celebrated for his sweet little sins, which are available in Benet Auténtics delicatessens in Palma, Sóller and Son Rapinya. What is the creative secret behind the colourful pralines called Macarons? Benet explains: The upper and lower shells – made of egg white, almond and sugar – don´t determine the taste experience. Much more important is the mousse in the middle, its composition is the key skill of every pastry cook.” The calm and likeable Mallorcan smiles meaningfully. He doesn´t tell us how chocolate, single cream and natural flavours are combined in the French ganache. As chef of Béns d´Avall he´s also the keeper of the company secret of his gourmet patisseries.
The production chef in the main confectionary in Sóller is Francisca “Kika” Ensenyat. She underwent a meticulous apprenticeship with Benet, who gives her a hand in the winter period, and Pierre Hermé in Paris, who was Benet´s taskmaster. Kika´s daughter Mónica and assistant Alexis complete the pastry staff. Only products and fruits grown on Mallorcan soil go into the preparation pots. Forty-five-year-old Benet – whose professional idea and thinking is strongly influenced by French Nouvelle Cuisine – wants to establish an all-time level of quality in pastry in Mallorca. He believes that quality will shine through in the end.
Depending on the season, flavours of carob, cherry, peach or other fruits are on offer. “The best sellers are macaroons with French Barry chocolate or Catalan Chokovic,” Benet tells us. The original way used in preparing them is something he learned from two of the world´s most celebrated pastry cooks: Pierre Hermé and Frédéric Bau.
In the matter of almonds, Benet has developed his personal Mallorcan style. He adores the product of the famous Mallorcan almond blossom: “Mallorcan almonds are not the biggest or the most beautiful, but their intense flavour is unique in the world.”
Benet has developed his own method of roasting to crown almonds as the local queen of candies. Crunchy and salted they are also a great appetizer. For this purpose Benet prepares the fruits like this: Fresh almonds are dipped in a paste made of egg white, white pepper and Flor de Sal (sea salt from Es Trenc). After that they´re quickly baked in the oven at a high temperature. Everybody who tastes the result, clicks their tongue. Benet´s love for almonds is so strong that he only uses almonds harvested from the trees in his own garden in Fornalutx for his cuisine.
His family have been growers, Mallorcan “Payéses”, and farm workers for generations. Benet´s parents always cultivated land with olive and orange trees. They´re still doing it. When mass tourism began to affect Mallorca in the 60s, the vocation of the Vicens family changed towards gastronomy. The plot of the Béns d´Avall restaurant was part of their manor. In 1971, Benet´s parents started a small bistro there, offering sandwiches and paella to the tourists. The “escape from agriculture” provided the family with a higher income. On the other hand they had returned to their roots. Benet´s maternal grandparents had been working in gastronomy in France.
The grandmother – a professional cook in the French town Beaune – taught her grandson the basics of cooking, when he was a child. As a teenager he joined Palma´s hotel business school. One of the then most celebrated chefs in Mallorca, Tomeu Esteva, was his instructor. He advised the young cook to try a new professional experience in Paris. Chef Claude Perraudin invited him and Benet obtained his gourmet fine-tuning over three years in the winter months. Parraudin was one member of the chefs gathering around Nouvelle Cuisine inventor Paul Bocuse in the 70s. Benet came back and started to raise rural Mallorcan cuisine to a new level in the 90s.
He was further inspired by the inventive Catalan chef Ferran Adrià (three Michelin stars), one of the best cooks in the world. The mix of local agriculture and French cuisine is Benet´s trademark. He applies the latest preparation methods and uses original local products if possible. His father supplies aromatic spices, tomatoes, olives, lemons, oranges and cherries. In Fornalutx there´re 800 ancient olive trees on the soil of the Vicens finca. The taste of the olive oil produced there is “one of the core characteristics of my cuisine”, Benet confirms. Tomatoes from Banyalbufar, and zucchini, potatoes and chickpeas from Mallorca he thinks are unmatchable.
Gaining a Michelin star himself is not his main target, although his creations fulfil the criteria by far, many experts say. Benet: “The Michelin jury demands formalisms. But we try to exclude any kind of strictness. The guests will feel at home in our restaurant. And overpriced food is not a synonym for quality.” If conceded he accepted the award, however: “Michelin awards stars and withdraws them. One can hardly calculate with this.” All his staff members are sommeliers and maïtre d’s. Their boss is Catalina Cifre, Benet´s wife since 1986. She helped her husband to modernize and establish the family restaurant.
The Béns d´Avall is only open in summer season. Almost all the guests are regulars. Benet: “The seasonal business offers advantages, because one finds time for journeys and retraining in winter.” The Benet Auténtics delicatessen is a year-round company. Founder Benet benefits from his excellent pastry skills, possibly even exceeding his cooking skills. The basic idea for Benet Auténtics was bringing Béns d´Avall´s famous desserts to a broader market.
The first pastry shop was opened in Sóller, attracting the visitor´s interest with a fancy interior design. Really special are the huge balloon lamps with a netted surface. “I wanted to create a both cosy and modernistic ambience, consistent with Sóller´s architecture,” Benet explains. Interior designer Gabriel Santos, Benet´s friend, and Miguel Capó realized the concept. The retail sales demanded luxury packaging. “Paradoxically the packing is the main reason for some high priced products,” Benet remarks. Soon he wants to put affordable “rural pralines” for sale.
The concept of Benet Auténtics 2 in Son Rapinya is a little bit different. The company includes a shop for patisserie products and a home catering service for clients living in the noble district of Son Vida. Benet: “We accept advance orders for exquisite cakes and meals. Anyone having a visit at home or organizing a party needn´t go the supermarket and struggle in the kitchen. We prepare everything to the customer´s requirements and deliver if desired.” This business will soon be extended through a collaboration with Palma´s Menu catering. Menu will include the package called Béns d´Avall in the order list. Initially it will be offered at Sa Font Seca restaurant in Bunyola.
Benet and Catalina have two sons. They help sometimes in their parents´ company, and study business management. It´s not so important for Benet whether they take over Béns d´Avall and Benet Auténtics one day: “We will see which vocation they choose. As long as I´m healthy I’ll steer the boat. I still have many projects in my mind.” Together with Menu´s director Joan Gual de Torrella he wants to found a cooking school in Palma. And he wants to write many books about Mallorcan cuisine: “One day I’ll make some time for this.”
Restaurante Béns d´Avall
Urb. Costa Deia
Tel: +34 971 632 381