Nowhere is this more apparent than in food-crazy Barcelona where a host of what some call "prêt-à-manger" restaurants have sprung up, making the country's Michelin-starred chefs look like economic fortune-tellers.
"The mood here is gray," said Pau Arenos, author and food writer for newspaper El Periódico where he coined the term "technoemotional' to describe the space-age cuisine chef Ferran Adria, who helped launch Spain into the culinary limelight in the last decade.
"Restaurants are fighting," confirms Chef Carles Gaig who runs the one-star Gaig Restaurant, along with the tradition-based Fonda Gaig.
"The future is uncertain and 2009 looks like it will be even tougher than 2008, particularly for high-priced gourmet restaurants. Every day, people are spending less, so (high-end) chefs are looking for alternatives – whether that's opening a new style of restaurant, incorporating different offers at their existing places, or simply battening down the hatches."
Classics that don't melt the credit card
Gaig and several other Michelin-starred chefs have gone for the first option, opening new restaurants that concentrate on the classics without melting the credit card.
Chef psyche has been forced to swing with their clientele's needs, switching from out-of-this-world technique and expensive products like foie gras and truffles, to making the best of the basics.
For in a curious twist of fate, these avant-garde chefs are now rekindling interest in traditional Catalan cuisine, pouring energies once devoted to "airs," "spherificiations" and foams into updating the classics.
"They're using new methods like "sous vide" (vac-pac cooking), new products and new appliances," says journalist Arenos, "but what appears in the dining room looks like it came out of grandma's kitchen."
After a while, it's hard to tell if the overall trend is pushing Catalan cuisine ahead, or back to its origins.
"Forward," affirms chef Gaig. "Catalan gastronomy is based on its roots."
"Actually, both," counters chef Freixa, "There is no evolution without tradition."