FERNANDO P. ARELLANO
TWO STARRED MICHELIN CHEF
“To be universal, you have to be local,” says two starred Michelin chef Fernando P. Arrellano.
Award-winning culinary master Fernando first decided to become a chef after watching them in action whilst washing dishes at a London restaurant aged just 18. Determined to break into this world he studied cooking for three years at the Dublin Institute of Technology graduating in 2000. He then managed to find work at some of the best restaurants in Europe such as Patrick Guilbaud and two-star Thorton’s in Dublin, Le Gavroche, three-star Waterside Inn and Gordon Ramsey’s three-star establishment in London, Don Alfonso 1890 in Naples, the famous three-star Maison Pic in Valence and three-star Can Fabes in Barcelona.“To absorb, filter and interpret,” says Fernando. “That´s always been my motto.” Which is just what he did.
Then aged just 27, he launched his own project in Madrid. In September 2005 he opened the Zaranda restaurant. Off the beaten track in a secluded side street in Madrid, this small restaurant only had room for 34 diners. But it made a big impression. Spanish newspaper El Mundo named it “Best new restaurant in Madrid 2005” that same year and the same award was given by American Food and Wine Magazine. Barely 11 months after it had opened, the Michelin Guide awarded it one star followed by the Repsol Guide which gave it two suns. Fernando was also named “Cook of the Year” by television channel Canal Cocina in 2008. The Lo Mejor de la Gastronomía guide presented him with the Al Grande del Mañana (Best Young Chef) prize for his pioneering efforts and in the following year with the Technical and Conceptual Innovation prize for his cutting-edge methods and style.
After five years in Madrid, the restaurant moved, along with all his team, to Mallorca, where they immediately recovered their Michelin star. Ten years later, Zaranda has established itself on the island as one of its leading restaurants receiving its second Michelin star in November 2015 – making it the only restaurant on the island with two stars. They cited “Excellent technique… and surprising fusion of flavours…” as some of Fernando’s many skills.
Spanish national newspaper El Pais has since named it the second-best hotel restaurant in Spain and German Restaurant Ranglisten considers it the number one restaurant in Mallorca. It has also been awarded “Best Restaurant of Mallorca” in the Grand Prix Gourmet two years in a row.
Fernando’s paprika spiced octopus and potato veloute and white onion and cuttlefish caviar are considered works of art. As is his traditional crispy fried razor – wrasse with peppers and garlic & parsley dressing. The creative process never ends for this most innovative of Spanish chefs but he remains modest. “I like to be effective but without going too far,” he says. “I´m not a magician.” Only, his fans and culinary experts worldwide know that he is…
MIGUEL BARRERA BARRACHINA
MICHELIN STARRED CHEF
Living on a farm until he was 11 was an inspiration to Chef Miguel Barrera.
“I grew up surrounded by wild herbs, fresh vegetables, fruit orchards and animals”, he says fondly. “This connection with nature influenced my style of cooking more than anything else.” His family moved soon after and set up a restaurant. Then aged 20, Miguel attended the Castellón Catering School in Valencia in 1982, at that time considered the best in Spain. There, teacher Dativo Pérez introduced him to the secrets of Nouvelle Cuisine. “I’d picked up a few things from my parents,” he says. “But learning new techniques opened up a new world of fascinating possibilities.”
Chef Miguel didn’t travel the country working in different restaurants like many chefs. Instead, he stayed put, honing his techniques, always curious to discover new combinations. In 2005, he remodeled his existing premises and re-named the restaurant Cal Paradís, meaning The House of Paradise. Intimate, cosy domesticity and a new way of understanding food was his signature identity. Penjar semi-dry tomatoes with sardine alioli and barbecued garlic was one of his first dishes. It still holds pride of place on his menu years on. As do his baby squid in meatballs. Wild hare rice with mushrooms and truffles was another of his creations along with hake cocoxa, fried cauliflower and vegetable couscous. “I wanted people to recognize my dishes instantly”, he says. “For my creations to have a distinct personality.”
Greatly influenced by his childhood spent on the farm, he based his dishes around local products. “I aimed to use 90% local and seasonal produce”, he says. Keen to pick the best catch of the day, Chef Miguel goes to his local fish market every morning at 8am. Nestling in between mountains and the sea, his restaurant boasts the best fish and seafood as well as wild mushrooms, truffles and artichokes.
In 2012, the Valencian Gastronomy Academy named Cal Paradís the Revelation Restaurant of the year. “Of all the prizes we received over the years, which number some 20 awards, this was the most significant because it was the first.” he reveals. “Getting outside recognition was such a boost.” The following year his restaurant received a Repsol Guide Sun Award and then a Michelin Star. “It meant so much,” he recalls. “Suddenly your clientele grows and becomes more international.”
In 2016, he took charge of the Mindoro de Castelló hotel restaurant. He was also voted Best National Chef 2017, awarded by the Spanish Federation of Wine and Gastronomy Associations. This year he designed the menu at a new NH establishment due to open in Valencia. Chef Miguel, who has since been awarded a second Repsol Guide Sun Award, has also just launched a book this June called La Despensa Perfecta. La cocina de Miquel Barrera (The Perfect Pantry. Miguel Barrera’s kitchen). In it he tracks Valencian gastronomy from the 14th Century until the present day, of which he is one of its leading lights. “Spanish gastronomy is one of the ones which has most evolved in the world”, he says. “It’s all about simple, tasty food which has a close connection with nature and feels like coming home with the first bite. Regardless of whether it’s the first time you’ve ever tried it. That’s magic.”
RAFAEL CENTENO MOYER
MICHELIN STARRED CHEF
Chef Rafael Centeno came across the wonders of the culinary world by chance… and discovered he had a huge talent for it.
Chef Rafael who heads Maruja Limón, is a genuine phenomenon. A completely self-taught chef, who accidentally walked into the kitchen of his wife’s restaurant and a decade later received his city´s only Michelin star. Furthermore, he was listed as one the 100 best chefs in Spain by Lo Mejor de la Gastronomía.
The restaurant, named after Rafael’s mother in law (Limón is a homage to an old, famous Flamenco song), has operated for the past 15 years in the Galician city of Vigo, located on the Atlantic coast near the border with Portugal. In the late 90´s, after Rafael’s Olympic pentathlon career abruptly ended with a knee injury, he was searching for something new. He joined his wife’s restaurant as a manager. After watching a documentary on the legendary restaurant El Celler de Can Roca in Cataluña he realised he´d found his new vocation. Rafael discovered the philosophy and complexity of the culinary world and was hooked. “I was mesmerised and eager to learn everything,” he says.“I spent hours training.”
Today, together with chef Inés Abril, who participated in the popular Spanish TV program 2014 Top Chef – the restaurant offers a fresh, light, richly flavored and textured interpretation of local Galician cuisine, with its abundance of fish and seafood (befitting Europe’s largest fishing port).
The menu is updated every few months, based on the best available seasonal ingredients. “I want to capture the true nature of the produce in my dishes,” he says. “To create a simple cuisine with traditional roots, which relies on the freshest ingredients, found every day in the market. The use of sauces and condiments is always minimal, because I want to ensure that the original flavors remain clear and distinct.” His aspiration has certainly paid off. In 2010 the restaurant received a Michelin star, which it maintains up to this day.
MICHELIN STARRED CHEF
One of the youngest chefs of his generation to receive a Michelin Star, Yayo Daporta, has always had a strong emotional connection with food.
“My whole family cooked together and my grandmother’s Pepitoria chicken was legendary,” he says. “At 16 I regularly prepared clam fideuà and cheesecake for my friends.” Chef Yayo was awarded his Michelin star in 2007 at the age of 31, just two years after he opened his restaurant, Yayo Daporta. “I was shocked and elated,” he says. “I hadn’t expected such instant recognition.”
Curiously, Yayo had not always been certain he would be a chef. After training at the Escuela de Hostelería de Santiago de Compostela, he chose to work at his family’s seafood business instead. “I was only 21 and not ready to commit to the long hours and demands of a kitchen.” he explains. But a chance to work with Michelin star chef Pepe Solla at his restaurant Casa Solla at 27, changed the course of his life. “The creativity and sophistication of his dishes blew my mind,” he remembers. “I knew then, my place was in the kitchen.” A stint at Michelin star restaurant Alejandro in Almería, followed by Carmen Guasp’s legendary restaurant El Amparo in Madrid sealed his fate.
“I learnt to treat each ingredient with respect and was taught to draw out the essential essence of their flavour,” he says, especially proud of working alongside Basque chef Carlos Posada. Aged 29, Yayo opened his restaurant in 2005 in his home town of Cambados, Northwest Spain, an area famous for having some of the best seafood and fish in the world. An 18th century former royal hospital, the restaurant exudes a traditional charm with a modern twist which matched the young chef’s dishes.
“Spanish gastronomy is very special because each region preserves its culinary identity and heritage,” he says. “This was what we try to transmit, but updated and unexpected.” The restaurant which he runs with his sister Esther, a professional sommelier, has since also been awarded two Repsol Sun Awards.
A judge on Spain’s top ranking show Top Chef in 2014, Chef Yayo remains modest about his success. “I simply cook from the heart, always respecting the product, striving to improve every day”. His signature dishes confirm his deep love of the sea and commitment to drawing out the essence of fresh, honest, lovingly-prepared ingredients. Cambados oyster ceviche, inshore-fished hake in mollusc fumet and marinated and baked horse-mackerel sashimi… all a testament to Chef Yayo’s love affair with food.
MICHELIN STARRED CHEF
Iván Domínguez’s motto is respect for the product, elegance and flavour…
Iván Domínguez is a chef who doesn’t do things by halves. He joined the Spanish Navy when he was 17 and worked in the kitchens preparing daily meals for up to 600 soldiers during the Iraq war in 2003. After he left the Navy, he returned to his home city of La Coruña in Galicia, Northwest Spain and enrolled at the Fraga do Eume Cookery School.
“I knew this profession required vocation, passion, creativity and sacrifice,” he says, due to his life at sea. “But I wanted to be an innovative chef. I wanted to learn more.” Working for a catering company at the weekends he learnt to work with huge quantities of food for weddings and events. “Not using tins like we had on board the ship,” he says. “But with fresh and high quality ingredients.” “That’s when I realised the sheer physical and psychological effort which was needed.” And a star was born.
Soon after he went to work at the Casa Pendás restaurant, famous for its stews and other restaurants such as Loxe Mareiro, specializing in fish and seafood and O Retiro da Costiña which has one Michelin star. Iván also worked at Casa Marcelo, a Michelin star restaurant in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, famous for its avant-garde dishes such as cafetocaldo (consomé in a coffeepot), tomate kinder (tomato filled with cream), the miniempanada, a mini pie cooked in a tin of cockles. Perhaps its most attention grabbing dish was a liquid aerosol bread…
“Our team was so close we had breakfast together in the market every day an hour before work and bought all the food there for the restaurant, just like that, without intermediaries.” Iván was headhunted soon after by his current restaurant Alborada in La Coruña which attained a Michelin star in 2010 which it preserves up till this day and two Respol Guide Sun Awards.
As the head chef and gastronomic director, he defines his style as Atlantic Gastronomy. “We use fresh, quality products from the sea and local farms,” he explains. “Our dishes are very personal, artisan and we use locally-sourced organic products.” “We surround ourselves with the very best seasonal products. We understand why farmers feed their chickens the way they do and what time of year sole is most delicious. We want to rely on technique but no solely on that in designing a dish. Above all, the most fundamental thing is that it needs to taste amazing.”
MICHELIN STARRED CHEF
Lucía Freitas always wanted to be a chef. “As a child I spent hours in the kitchen” she says. “I´d open the fridge and create something special using four ingredients inside it.”
After studying at the Escuela de Hostelería de Artxanda in Bilbao and dessert school Espai Sucre in Barcelona, she worked at world famous restaurants Celler de Can Roca, Mugaritz, Bohio, Tápies de la Seu de Urgell and Bensd Avall in Mallorca. She opened her restaurant A Tafona Casa de Xantar in Santiago de Compostela, Northwest Spain when she was 27.
Since then, Lucia has gone on to win countless awards. Six-times winner of the Best Tapa Award in Santiago de Compostela, her tapas tasting menu is legendary. In 2016, Lucía came second in the Spanish Chef of the Year competition at Alimentaria in Barcelona.
“I believe in fresh, local, seasonal products,” says the innovative chef who designs the daily menu at her restaurant based on the best quality products from the nearby local market and her own garden. Last September she also opened a new restaurant in New York, Tomiño NYC. As the Executive Chef at this Manhattan eaterie, she relishes the challenge of her new American dream. “Establishing myself in New York is a dream come true.” she says.
MICHELIN STARRED CHEF
When Chef Toni picks a freshly-caught fish, he knows it is the very best from that day’s catch. That’s the kind of dedication which makes his restaurant the ultimate food experience.
It’s all about the product for Chef Toni González. Whether it’s his exquisitely tender teardrop peas served with smoked sardines in a sherry broth. Or the intensely aromatic Tudanca beef stew, a rare heritage breed of Cantabrian cow, slow cooked for 48 hours and served in a pepper and wild mushroom sauce. The ingredients are the magic.
“I love going to the fish market every day,” says Toni whose menus don’t offer regular fish dishes, but instead include the best specimens the sea has to offer every day. “But I also have a friend with a boat who sends me the pictures of that day’s catch so you will often find me staring lovingly at a photo of a seven-kilo turbot!”
Toni didn’t always know he wanted to be a chef. “My uncle encouraged me to enter this profession when I was 20,” he explains. “You have to work very hard and you end up having a very different life from other people of your age but it is so exciting to feel so passionate about something.”
After graduating from the Cantabrian School of Cuisine in 1992, Toni went to work at Michelin star restaurant Aldebaran, with famous Spanish chef Fernándo Bárcena.
“I learnt all about the hard work and dedication needed to succeed,” he says. “You also have to love eating and be open to new ideas, otherwise you don’t evolve,” he adds.
He worked at other restaurants in Spain before taking over El Serbal in Santander in 1999 blending tradition and innovation with every dish. His Michelin star followed barely four years later.
“Getting a Michelin star was amazing,” he recalls. “Some people had thought we were a bit mad with our innovation but here was the just reward. Suddenly, we were full every day and every evening.”
Then in 2004, he took over the emblematic Cantabrian restaurant El Nuevo Molino, originally built to be a water mill in the 18th century. The restaurant had been awarded a Michelin star in the 70’s under the iconic chef Victor Merino. Chef Toni got it a new Michelin star in 2009.
Since then it has gone from strength to strength. Chef Toni doesn’t have a favourite dish nor ingredient. But his customers do. His famous rabas, a type of fried squid covered in prawn breadcrumbs served with a black ink alioli foam is the most popular. His Mountain ramen is another dish people travel miles to eat. An Asian broth but with traditional Cantabrian ingredients like scalded cabbage, chorizo maki, pancetta and morcilla, a type of black pudding, noodles and egg.
“Spanish gastronomy is constantly evolving,” he says. “That’s the beauty of it. The quality of our vegetables, seafood and meat is second to none and our regional variety is astounding. This coupled with a legion of chefs intent on respecting tradition and yet creating new wonderful things to eat is why we lead the way internationally. The Spanish Extravaganza festival is the perfect vehicle to take all this amazing food knowledge to different countries around the world. I can’t wait!”
MICHELIN STARRED CHEF
When Chef Alvaro fell in love with his Auntie Luisa´s stews as a child it sealed his future…
Awarded the Michelin star in 2017 and named Chef of the Year at Spain’s most prestigious food fair, Alimentaria 2018, Chef Alvaro is at the top of his game.
For this most versatile and creative of chefs, food is the past, present and future. “I knew as soon as I set foot in a restaurant kitchen that this was the life for me,” he says.
Álvaro grew up in Jaen, Andalucia and the region’s vibrant gastronomy made a mark at a very young age. “My auntie Luisa’s stews tasted of home,” he says. Aged just 16, he began his training in Córdoba and did internships at Michelin star restaurant El Tragabuches in Malaga and two-star restaurant El Portal-Echaurren in La Rioja. “I loved the discipline, dedication and the perfect results they achieved,” he recalls.
Soon after he landed a job at La Seda in Murcia with top chef Jose Carlos Fuentes and then worked at Sergui Arola`s restaurant Gastro in Madrid which boasted two Michelin stars. “I learnt so much from both these two great chefs,” he says. “But you learn all the time from everyone. From the sacrifice and creativity shown by the best in the business to the trainee whose grandmother adds spearmint to her gazpacho. You pick up new things all the time.”
Private events and catering services in París followed where he gave molecular gastronomy presentations and there was even seven months spent cooking for the Kuwait Royal family in 2010.
“It was a fascinating time,” he says. “They loved all the Spanish food I cooked for them. They were already big fans of Marbella and all its culinary delights.” For Álvaro, who tried camel for the first time there, it was a gastronomic experience too. “They had good seafood but I missed the exquisite flavour of Spanish Mediterranean prawns!”
Álvaro kept busy for the next few years working at Parr Restaurant in Mallorca. But it was when he took over as Executive Chef at Argos on the island that things really took off.
Far removed from any stereotypical concepts of food and with a focus on simplicity, Álvaro based his dishes on his origins, travels and imagination. He also fought against the elitism which often accompanies ingredients. “A sardine is just as noble as lobster,” he reasons. “If anything, it is more interesting.”
Originality was also an essential part if his game plan. “If we discovered a recipe was similar to another already existing one, we rejected it and started again,” he says.
Dishes such as barbecued sardine ice cream or marinaded eel gazpachuelo soup as well as delicacies such as baked sweetbreads with beetroot glaze became star attractions.
Barely a year and half after opening, Argos received a Michelin star. “It was so rewarding for myself and the team to receive such an important prize,” he says. “It’s like an acknowledgement that you are doing things right.”
The star put his restaurant on the map. “Our reservations doubled overnight,” he grins.
It was around this time that he was also named Chef of the Year in Mallorca in 2017. “Being the first non-Mallorcan chef to receive the honour meant a lot to me,” he says proudly.
Then came his award for Best Chef of the Year at Alimentaria. The panel of judges included the Spanish chef with the most Michelin stars, Martin Berasategui, who has a staggering ten, three-star chef Jordi Cruz and two-star chef Sebastian Frank.
“It was a tough competition,” admits Álvaro, whose luggage went missing with vital ingredients and equipment which meant he had to improvise some parts of his winning dishes.
But his signature barbecued beef sweetbreads with teardrop peas and an innovative dessert made from parsnips, carrots, cocoa and aniseed liqueur won the day.
Since then he is on a new mission. He took over the Voro restaurant at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Mallorca in 2018 and is set on conquering the culinary world yet again with his unique brand of gastronomy. “Voro means to devour in Latin,” he explains with a twinkle in his eye.
He adds: “The Hyatt has been wonderful and has not set any limits which is a dream come true,” he says. “I have complete freedom.” Music to any chef’s ears.
One of his favourite dishes there is a vegan creation called Homage to Umbellifers. “We´ve put together roasted celery, carrots, parnips and fennel, all very common in the Mallorcan countryside, with cumin infused butter and fried lentils,” he explains.
So how does he see Spanish gastronomy in international terms? “Spain has contributed hugely in talent over the past few years,” he says. “But also in terms of training. Many chefs from all over the world trained at El Bulli with the master, Ferran Adrià which means there is an extremely high standard everywhere.”
Which is why festivals such as Spanish Extravaganza are hugely positive opportunities to take the very best from Spain all over the world.
“Spanish gastronomy has an infinite variety that the world has yet to discover,” says Álvaro. “Who has heard of the paparajote from Murcia in southern Spain, a deliciously fresh breaded lemon leaf covered in sugar and cinnamon or the Pella de Gofio, a type of bread from the Canary Islands or even the Olla Podrida, a hearty red bean and cured meat stew which goes back to the Spanish Middle Ages?”
With chefs like Álvaro in the mix it won’t be long before foodies in the furthest flung corners of the globe are nibbling on Spanish lemon leaves like seasoned professionals.
IGNACIO SOLANA PÉREZ
MICHELIN STARRED CHEF
Cooking in chef Ignacio Solana’s family goes back four generations.
His great-grandparents opened the original establishment just after the Spanish Civil War in 1938 – the same restaurant Solana which he still runs today. Aged just 13, Ignacio studied at the respected catering school – Escuela de Hostelería in Laredo, Cantabria, northern Spain. “It wasn’t a passion back then” he reveals. “It was a way of life, something I fitted into naturally”.
Five years on, Ignacio began working at some of the top restaurants in Spain such as Real Club Náutico in Laredo, (Cantabria) the then Michelin star restaurant Aldebarán in Badajoz, (Extremadura), Túbal in Tafalla, (Navarra) and Michelin star restaurant Europa in Pamplona, (Navarra) where he became the second in command. “That’s when I truly fell in love with cooking,” he says. Along with the huge variations in Spanish gastronomy. “You only have to travel 100 miles in Spain to discover different climates, food and traditions,” he says. “That’s what makes our gastronomy so special.”
Then in 2004, aged just 24, he took over his family´s restaurant giving it a contemporary twist but not forgetting his mother’s legendary stews. “People came from miles away to try her chicken Picasuelos, Cantabrian mountain cocido and hake stews,” he says proudly. Now critics raved about dishes like roasted leeks with salted cod in a pil-pil sauce and black garlic and green mustard, poached egg, wild mushrooms and truffles, fresh oysters in Cantabrian gazpacho, Alaskan wild salmon tartar with cucumber ice cream. “We made a green pepper caviar which was simple and amazing and we did lots of wonderful things with tomatoes and lobster,” he says. “We loved combining vegetables with seafood.”
Three years later, he had an annex built and then in 2012, aged just 31, he received the acclaimed Michelin star. One of just ten of the youngest Spanish young chefs to receive the coveted award. Chef Ignacio began to travel, meeting other chefs. “My world opened up,” he adds.
More prizes and awards followed such as a Respol Guide Sun Award, the 2014 Premio Arco-Atlántico awarded to the best chef in Cantabria and the Prize for the Best Croquette in the World in 2017 awarded at Madrid Fusion. “The secret to our croquette is that we make the béchamel with raw milk, which makes it creamier and then we add some of the best Spanish pata negra ham,” he says.
Spaniards will literally travel hundreds of miles for an exceptional croquette, one of the most iconic of tapas in Spain. Now, instead of making 10 litres of béchamel a week, Ignacio makes 10 litres every day.
Chef Ignacio continues to be one of the most well-respected chefs in Spain, applauded by critics and public alike, regularly giving conferences all over the world. His philosophy is simple. Use the best available local products which have been lovingly cared for and prepare them with flair and respect. “For the Spanish, food is like a religion” he says. “We eat for pleasure and a chef’s mission is to provide that.”
Something about the sight of a hot twin-handled pan of lovingly prepared paella fills Spaniards with happiness.
“This is the essence of communal Spanish eating.” says Santi Almuiña, an extraordinary chef and Paella Master with over 24 years of experience preparing Spain´s most emblematic dish.
Sharing a delicious paella with family and friends is a special tradition that goes back hundreds of years. Originating in Valencia, on the Mediterranean coast, paella originates in the 19th century. But its ancient roots go right back to the 10th century when the Moors introduced rice to Spain.
There are as many paella recipes as villages on the Mediterranean coast and Santi prepares this most authentic of dishes in a myriad of ways. There are meat paellas with duck, rabbit, chicken and even snails and green and white beans infused with sweet paprika, garlic, tomatoes, saffron and fresh rosemary. Then there are seafood paellas as well as vegetarian varieties – there’s even a very special black Paella Negra – prepared with squid ink.
An expert in these traditional paellas, innovation is also key in Santi Almuiña’s quest for new frontiers. “Don’t assume things are what they seem.” is his motto. His latest creation – lobster paella with codium seaweed – has been a huge hit. As has his octopus, scallop and plankton paella.
Spain has some of the best seafood in the world and Santi’s emphasis on organically grown, natural ingredients means his paellas bring together the very best Spain has to offer. As senior advisor to the Extravaganza Culinary Consultancy, Chef Santi Almuiña exemplifies leadership qualities and professionalism, backed by a consistent, verifiable record of achievement.
JACOBO ASTRAY TUDELA
What Chef Jacobo Astray doesn’t know about tapas isn’t worth knowing.
Tapas master Jacobo has literally worked with the very best in the business.
Three seasons as chef de partie at the world-famous El Bulli restaurant alongside cooking legend Ferran Adrià taught him a thing or two.
The Michelin three-star restaurant, considered number one in the world a record five times, was once described by UK newspaper The Guardian as “the most imaginative generator of haute cuisine on the planet” .
A long way to go for Jacobo whose sole claim to culinary fame at 16 was frying a mean egg. “That was basically the only thing I could cook!” he laughs.
But a summer job working as a waiter changed all that. “I saw the magic that went on in the kitchen and was hooked! he grins.
After completing a three-year culinary diploma, Jacobo worked in restaurants in Galicia, northwest Spain, Mallorca and Finland. Then two years at award-winning restaurant Artabria in La Coruña and he was ready – to land the coveted job of sous chef at Ferran and brother Albert Adrià´s tapas haven, Inopia Classic, then named one of the leading eateries in Spain.
“I was lucky to get in,” he admits. “Very lucky.”
Ferran, still thought by many to be the best chef in the world, and his younger brother Albert, since named the best pastry chef on the planet left their mark on Jacobo. “It was an incredibly creative and exciting time for me,” he says.
Jacobo made such an impression at Inopia that he finally got the chance to work with Ferran. “I’d been working at Inopia for a year and quite a few of my dishes had made it onto the menu, one of them being my Santiago Tart, a traditional dessert from my homeland, Galicia, North West Spain,” he remembers. “Ferran tried it and called me over to his table to tell me it was the best he had ever tasted in his life. That was a moment I won’t ever forget.”
It wasn’t long after that he landed a job at El Bulli. “I learnt so much there,” he says. One of his favourite concepts was the thin sliver of ice dusted with mint and sugar served to diners between courses to refresh their palates. “Genius!” he says simply. The sheer level of organisation needed to run a kitchen of 50 staff serving 1,500 meals a day also blew him away. “Ferran ran it with military precision,” he says.
After three seasons, El Bulli closed and Jacobo packed his bags and flew to Thailand on holiday and he never left. “The aromas on the streets or roast pork, noodles and spices, the beaches, mountains, the people and the way of understanding life without all the stress of European cities,” he says- “I fell in love with all of it.”
Jacobo found work in top hotels in Phuket and Bangkok. Then in 2015, he opened his private fine dining service in Bangkok, Gula Private Chef, and shortly after a tapas gastro bar, Broken Eggs, a clear reference to his favourite Spanish dish, ‘huevos rotos’.
His challenge was simple – to blend Mediterranean and Thai flavours and create something new. Which he has, to great acclaim.
Jacobo’s unique take on the classic Spanish dish, Arroz Negro (Black Rice) is one such example. Served with a ginger and garlic aioli, it is one of the most demanded dishes by the local clientele.
Other tapas include that staple of every bar in Spain, Russian Salad, but made with marinated salmon instead of tuna, aubergines fried in honey with miso, fried calamari in a Mexican taco with alioli…
“I want to break free from people’s set ideas about what Spanish gastronomy should be,” says the pioneering chef. “I want them to marvel at the blend of flavours, which may be familiar and yet not… and discover the joy of tapas in a novel way.”
Jacobo is happy with where he’s at. “The rush of adrenaline when you know there are fifty hungry people waiting to eat your food is a real rock and roll moment!” he smiles.
He is also extremely pleased to be promoting Spanish gastronomy. “We have such quality seasonal products and such exciting cultural variation from region to region,” he says. “It really is very special. The Spanish Extravaganza festival is the perfect way to export this knowledge to every far flung corner of the globe.”
Ferran Adrià would be proud of his protégé…
Beni Couso’s tapas restaurant is where chefs in the know go to eat.
This veritable chef’s chef and renowned Tapas Master exemplifies the very best fusion of traditional home-cooking and new culinary trends. After receiving his training at the School of Hospitality in Lugo, Galicia he began working in legendary restaurant Lugar de Pascuais taught by leading chef Diego Lopez. Determined to strengthen his professional learning, he went to Barcelona to study a master’s degree in Creative Cuisine. He combined studies with work in Ribelino’s, a fashionable restaurant fusing drinks with haute cuisine.
His dream finally came true in February 2014 when he opened his own restaurant Taberna Patouro in Vigo, northwest Spain. A unique restaurant where you are just as likely to find a small vegetable “market ” in the dining room as a trough of freshly-baked bread, its open-plan kitchen within sight of the customer makes for an intimate and yet cutting-edge experience.
Chefs come from all over Spain to try his innovative creations. Wonders such as basil squid and hake croquant, lime and ginger shrimp ceviche and fresh marinated mussels nestling on a bed of dark chocolate.“Spain has some of the very best seafood in the world,” he says as he prepares his latest creation: seafood beans with spider crab in a sea urchin sauce lovingly placed on a small smoky dish of dry ice. Spanish tapas like Beni’s have to be seen to be believed…
Chef Juan Crujeiras likes making people happy through his cooking. “Is there anything better than that?” he asks.
“People sometimes tell me something they’ve eaten has brought back memories from their childhood or a loved one. That’s success for me.” After studying to be a chef in Santiago de Compostela, Juan trained at a succession of top restaurants in A Coruña, Northwest Spain.
But it was the opening of his restaurant A Estación in 2002 which changed everything. In 2009 he received a Michelin star. An expert in fish and seafood, his caldeirada, a traditional fish stew from northern Spain is famous as is his wild chestnut tart. But Juan, who recently opened a new restaurant Bido, believes a good chef is someone who can make something delicious with whatever is available. “In life, as in the kitchen, it’s all about experimenting and trying new things,” he says.
A great fan of the late great Catalan chef Santi Santamaría and French cuisine for its elegance, for Juan the key is “Work, work and work”. “I love what I do,” he says simply. “That makes me very lucky.”
SERGIO DARIO MORENO
Chef Sergio Dario Moreno could make a mean gazpacho aged just eight. But it wasn´t the only classic Spanish cold soup he could conjure up. “My salmorejo was pretty good too!” he jokes.
He´s still passionate about both dishes and has regularly served different versions of them in some of the top restaurants where he has worked. “There´s something poetic about the simplicity and exquisite taste of these famous Spanish dishes,” he says. “That´s the essence of our gastronomy. The love and respect for quality ingredients, tradition and innovation.”
The talented chef credits his grandparents with inspiring his passion for cooking. Afternoons baking biscuits and cakes with his grandmother and picking vegetables in his grandfather´s orchard left an indelible mark ‘I still remember the taste of my grandfather´s tomatoes,” recollects longingly. “Nothing has ever matched them.”
Aged 18, he began training to be a chef in San Sebastian, Northern Spain. Working under Michelin star chef Rubén Trincado, he learnt valuable lessons. “I realised it was more than just a job,” he explains. “It´s a way of life.”
Undaunted by the long hours and sacrifice, Sergio went on to be chef de partie at A Fuego Negro, a vanguard tapas bar frequented by Hollywood stars like Edward Norton and Spanish pop stars. He then worked in several restaurants and hotels in London and Barcelona, perfecting his art.
“It wasn’t easy,” he admits. “But I´ve always believed that with lot of effort and love for what are you doing you can go far in any profession.”
Sergio’s influences have always been deeply rooted in his homeland. Spanish culinary heavyweights Joan Roca, David Munoz and Angel Leon all serve to inspire him. “They help put Spanish gastronomy on the map every single day,” he says.
Sergio does the same in his own way. But in a totally different part of the world now – China.
Aged just 28, he became Executive Chef at Alma in Shanghai. Traditional Spanish dishes like Galician style octopus were given an on-trend twist by Sergio. Instead of boiling the octopus, he cooked it at 85C for three hours and then made a carpaccio, serving it with a potato foam and finishing it off at the table with a pimentón de la Vera oil.
Just 6 months into his time at Alma, Sergio achieved a Bib Gourmand Award – given to good quality, good value restaurants by the prestigious Michelin Guide. Alma was in fact the only Spanish restaurant to appear in the first ever edition of the world-famous guide published in China.“It was a big surprise,” says Sergio. “There were many restaurants who had been doing amazing things for years and they didn´t feature.”
Now Sergio is flying high as Executive Chef at The Commune Social in Shanghai making his mark on the Shanghai culinary scene by expertly fusing his own tastes and styles with that of the locals.
He is especially proud of his Oyster with White Garlic Bonbon and Green Apple, Pancetta with Polenta and Corn and Smoked Roast Beef with Walnuts, Pear, Bean Tapenade, Avocado and Yuzu Tartar.
It’s clear Sergio is very happy in China and for Spanish food fans in Shanghai, that’s great news.
“Living in such a different culture and learning different languages makes you grow as a person and opens your mind,” adds the chef who admits he´s tasted fried chicken bones, live octopus, jelly fish and scorpions.
“I’m very fond of a particular Confucius quote,” he says. “It reads: ‘Expect great things of yourself and demand very little from others.’ It sums up my journey so far.”
Japan, China, South Korea and his mother’s beachside restaurant in Galicia, Northwest Spain… All serve as inspiration for this most versatile of chefs.
Chef Álvaro Fuentes grew up surrounded by food. “My mother had a beachside restaurant which served traditional Spanish food,” he says. “But aged 18, I didn’t know whether I was going to be a waiter or a chef!”. A stint as a waiter in Andorra and washing dishes convinced him his place was behind a stove. Álvaro studied at the prestigious Carlos Oroza Institute of Culinary Education in Pontevedra and started his career under the guidance of the Michelin starred chef Pepe Solla, from Casa Solla in Pontevedra, northwest Spain.
He then moved to London and worked at the prestigious award-winning private member’s club, Home House. “The menu was the finest English food but I managed to sneak in a Galician dish Octopus en Caldeirada!” he says. Álvaro also landed a job at an exclusive modern Peruvian restaurant in Mayfair called Coya London. After moving back to Spain, he worked at the 3-star Michelin restaurant Lasarte restaurant in Barcelona with chef Paolo Casagrande.
“I was very happy,” says Álvaro. “I was learning amazing skills and from the best in the business. A chance encounter whilst on holiday one summer in his home town however took him in a different direction. “A small tavern became available and friends persuaded me to take it on,” he explains. His restaurant Meloxeira was born and his quality Spanish and international fusion tapas along with select wine pairings soon began attracting big crowds. Every year he closed the restaurant for a few months and travelled the world to countries such as Japan, China, South Korea, Peru, Thailand and Mexico. “I was always looking for new ways to merge this new knowledge with my own cooking skills,” he says. Now his Peruvian ceviches, thai-inspired prawn tapas, wok-fried lobster on fire, inspired by Singaporean chilli crab are star attractions at his restaurant.
Nominated as one of the best emerging chefs at the Gastronomic Forum 2017 in La Coruña, northwest Spain, Álvaro’s restaurant also appeared in the respected Repsol Gastronomic Guide.
Álvaro’s restaurant now has a two-week waiting list in the summer for reservations. “People like what we do,” he says, pleased. He presented a special seafood menu at Ireland’s gastronomic fair Taste Dublin showcasing the best Irish and international chefs and food this year and recently opened another restaurant, Otoro.
I’m really pleased I swapped being a waiter for being a chef,” he grins. “I’m where I should be. Food is a wonderful thing to dedicate your life to.”
JORDI GIMENO BENITO
It’s quicker to ask Chef Jordi Gimeno where he hasn’t served paella in the world.
Jordi Gimeno began travelling aged 19 and he’s never stopped. On a quest to take paella, one of Spain’s most loved signature dishes, around the world, he has lovingly prepared it in every far-flung corner of the globe.
Thanks to Jordi and his one-man paella festivals, diners in Uganda, Kenya, Guinea, the Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia have all sampled the delights of this delicious dish dating back hundreds of years.
“I am constantly thrilled by how instantly passionate people become about paella,” he says. “It doesn’t matter where they are from or what their culinary background is, it’s always love at first bite.”
Jordi travels alone with his Spanish food festival, known as Gasztrip, immersing himself in the culture of each place he visits. “It gives me the opportunity to work with local staff and share my recipes,” he says. “I’m one of those cooks who is itching to go to the local fish and spice market as soon as I arrive in a new country.”
Top hotel chains like Oberoi have opened their doors to this versatile chef in Mumbai and Bangalore in India to great success. “Fifteen years ago I was told off in India for serving the paella´s burnt rice,” he recalls. “But now local foodies are far better informed and specifically request their socarrat.”
The same can be said for his paella missions in Lebanon, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Oman, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. “It almost doesn’t matter where I go,” says the chef who has also cooked up a storm in New Caledonia, Kuala Lumpur, Saigon and cities in Hungary, Ukraine and Ireland. “Paella is always an instant success.”
“There’s something about the mix of fresh ingredients, the delicate balance of the vegetables, seafood, meat and rice, the rich stock and sofrito which seduces the senses,” he says. It’s also a dish which is shared. “You never see paella for just one person,” he remarks. “It’s this sharing which turns it into something special between family and friends. It’s a fiesta on a plate basically! That is universal, especially in countries such as India or the Middle East where sharing food with loved ones is such an important part of the culture.”
Jordi, from Barcelona, always knew he wanted to cook. “I began making breakfast for my family aged just eight,” he explains. “By 12 I was responsible for Christmas and birthday dinners in my house.”
At 19 he began training as a chef and later worked at Michelin guide restaurants like Fonda Xesc in Gombrén, Catalonia and Palau Reial de Alghero, in Sardinia along with top restaurants in Ireland, Monaco, France Italy and Spain. “But I knew I wanted to spread the word about Spanish cuisine and so Gasztrip was born.
“Being a chef is not an easy profession,” he says. “You are always working long hours when everyone else is at rest. But its hugely rewarding.”
Over the years Jordi has learnt a lot from the places he has visited. “I’ve discovered that eating with your hands rather than metal cutlery lends a different flavour to food”, he says. “That the spices and aromas in India are endlessly fascinating.”
But more than anything, visiting other countries has served to reinforce his love of Spanish gastronomy. “The Spanish are more passionate about food than football and that is saying a lot because we love football!” he laughs. This enthusiasm is something Jordi takes with him wherever he goes.
Jordi’s next project, working with the Spanish Extravaganza team, fits in neatly with his international mission to conquer the taste buds of the world. “It’s a fantastic idea,” he says. “It’s taking all the best things about Spain’s food and culture across the world, but on a grander scale.” And of one thing he is sure: “Paella will be the star of the show!”
Nominated as one of Spain’s most up-and-coming young chefs at Madrid Fusion 2017, Daniel López has come a long way since leaving home at 18 to find his fortune.
“I don´t come from a long tradition of chefs and my family has never owned a restaurant,” says Daniel. “I sort of fell into my profession and I’ve never looked back.” Daniel moved from Galicia, northwest Spain to Tenerife when he was 18 looking for work and landed a job as a kitchen assistant at Meson Charro, run by a talented chef from the Basque country. “I finished my work quickly every day and worked extra hours so he could teach me,” he remembers. Inspired by what he learnt, Daniel listened carefully to all the advice he was given. “He told me to do four things,” remembers Daniel. “Get proper professional training, read cookery books, travel and eat.” Determined to give this new career his best shot, Daniel enrolled at the IES Fragas Do Eume in Galicia and once graduated began working at some of the most imaginative restaurants in the region such as Culler de Pau, Casa Pendás and Casa Marcelo in 2008, then considered the most innovative of its kind.
Aged just 26 he decided it’s time to open his own restaurant, O Camiño do Inglés in 2010 in Ferrol, Northwest Spain. “It was a tiny place, which I painted myself with a group of friends, but it was mine,” he says proudly. Offering tapas and wines it became hugely popular over the next two years, so much so Daniel was able to move to larger premises and invest his hard-earned profits into upgrading the new restaurant. It was the chance to really shine. “We offered fresh market ingredients and dishes with traditional roots coupled with original concepts and international flavours,” says Daniel. Dishes like wild mushroom and mussel stew, carrot and scallop tartar, cauliflower rice, rabbit in escabeche sauce with fennel, Cantonese style octopus, eel with boletus and white garlic.
Recognition soon followed as Daniel and his team began receiving countless prizes, even appearing in the Michelin Guide. Then in 2017 he was nominated as one of the most revelatory chefs in Spain at Madrid Fusion. “It meant a lot to me and my team,” he admits. “It´s a great feeling to know your hard work is being recognised nationally and internationally.” Daniel is now opening his second restaurant, Josefa’s Bar, named after his grandmother which will specialise in tapas and wine. “It´s very exciting and gives us a chance to try new things,” he says. Forever inventing and creating, Daniel’s future as one of Spain most exciting young chefs might never have come about if he hadn’t walked into that restaurant in Tenerife all those years ago. “I will always be grateful to that first chef who saw something in me and encouraged me to go into this profession,” says Daniel. “And to fate for making me walk into his restaurant.”
Chef Diego Lopez Garcia’s ambition is to create delicious recipes which improve health, wellbeing and healing in all of us.
Diego López García is a leading authority on healthy food. He owns two restaurants in Galicia, Bulló and Lugar de Pascuais, which are both sacred temples for organic food lovers.
He advocates scientific understanding in cooking using artisan, locally grown products only. Diego´s vision has earnt him a fanbase from all over the world, not only amongst clients and journalists, but competitors as well. Known as the King of Bio-Tapas, he is a pioneer in multisensory cooking and creating small, delectable bites which leave a lasting memory.
For Héctor López, cooking runs in the family.
“I began working in my family’s restaurant at a young age,” says Héctor, of the restaurant El España which recently celebrated its 110th birthday.
After graduating from the Hotel and Catering School in Santiago de Compostela, Héctor worked at many memorable restaurants in Spain like Akelarre in San Sebastián, northern Spain run by Chef Pedro Subijana, a pioneer of New Basque Cuisine. He also worked with Chef Toño Pérez at his restaurant Atrio in Cáceres, Extremadura, Western Spain, which has two Michelin stars.
Héctor then returned to his family’s restaurant in Lugo, Galicia, Northwest Spain determined to renovate its traditional cuisine. “Our restaurant has been an iconic establishment for over a century so making changes was a challenge,” he admits.
Ham, potatoes and egg, a classic Spanish tapa takes on a new life as egg confit on a bed of potato emulsion with crispy ham. Barbecued smoked sardines on a bed of corn bread crumbs and Padrón peppers comes alive because the corn breadcrumbs are soaked in an oil made from the sardine’s fishbones.
Thanks to his efforts, his restaurant has received a “Q” prize for Quality Tourism, awarded by the National Institute for Spanish Quality Tourism in 2014 and a Repsol Guide Sun Award. One of his new projects has been the rearing of native breeds of Ox, lovingly tended by his father and valued for their tender meat and exquisite flavour. Héctor also takes part as a judge on the cookery TV programme “Kitchen Stove Challenge” produced by regional channel, Televisión de Galicia.
“This is much more than a profession” he grins. “It’s a way of life. I think about food 24 hours a day and that’s just how I like it.”
ANTONIO LORENZO GAY
Antonio Lorenzo Gay is the third generation of a family of cooks from Chantada in Lugo, Galicia, North West Spain.
He learnt his trade at a young age following in his mother and grandmother’s footsteps whose recipes he saves and cherishes, determined they don’t become lost and forgotten. Antonio began his professional training at the Centro Superior de Galicia and continued his learning at the professional cooking school, Bell-Art in Barcelona. A few years later, he embarked on a culinary career at some of the most emblematic restaurants in Spain and countries like Australia and Brazil… until arriving back home to become an integral part of his family’s events company, Mogay.
In 2011 he launched his own personal project, A Braseria Faragulla Winebar, which combines all his passions and acquired experiences to create a space where the wines from Galicia accompany the very best locally-sourced food across the glowing embers of his grill.
EMILIO MIRALLES SERRANO
“My mother is a great cook,” says chef Emilio Miralles Serrano. “Try as I might, I can´t better her authentic Paella Valenciana. As every Valencian knows, their mother´s paella is the best!”
Chef Emilio grew up surrounded by the exciting sights and smells of a busy kitchen. His parents ran bars and restaurants for 40 years, his father working as a maitre d’ and his mother as a chef.
“It’s in my blood,” he says, after learning the art of cooking watching his mother make delicious paellas, stews and soups. Her Paella Valenciana and Olla de la Plana, a traditional Valencian bean, cabbage and squash stew are some of his favourite dishes. “No matter how hard I try, mine are never as tasty as hers!” he says.
But Chef Emilio learnt more than cooking from his mother. “My mother is the best person I know,” he says. “She taught me the importance of making sacrifices and being humble. Humility keeps many doors open because one day you are up and the next day you can be down. Anyone who has ever worked in the restaurant business knows the true value of both these qualities.”
Aged just 15, Emilio began working as a waiter and flirted a bit in the kitchen over the next four years. “My dream was to own my own restaurant someday,” he reveals.
He then went on to work as head waiter at various restaurants and hotels in Castellón, on the Mediterranean coast for another four years. “I worked 14-hour days but I loved what I did,” he says.
However, everything fell into place when he took over the El Nautico de Burriana restaurant, in Castellón, in 1995 along with his parents.
Largely self-taught, he experimented creating signature dishes such as lamb cheeks with violet potato Parmentier and hazelnut praline and his famous butter bean cream with baby squid and crunchy seaweed.
But it was his obsession with rice dishes which set him on the road to success. Now the proud owner and executive chef at Al Emilio in Vila-real, Castellon, his innovative creations attract crowds from all over Spain. His duck, snail and mushroom paella with green and white beans is a big hit as is his king scallop and squid rice dish with garlic shoots and tender beans.
Over the years, Emilio has won many awards. It’s no surprise, given his fascination with rice, that most of his prizes are for his paellas, making him an expert on a global level.
Recommended by Wikipaella since 2017 as one of the best places to eat authentic Valencian paella Emilio has also been a finalist in the Sueca Valencia world paella finals. His Olla de la Plana has been voted the best of its kind five years running. He also gives paella masterclasses all over Spain and across the world in countries such as Italy and Belgium.
‘Tradition is the base in my kitchen,” he says. “But with just one ingredient you can turn something like a delicious cuttlefish and garlic arroz negro, (black rice) into an experience.” In this dish, he adds katsuobushi, a type of Japanese dried salted tuna. “It provides a smoky flavour to the seafood fumet,” he says. “Also, when you add it as seasoning to a hot dish, the steam makes the shavings dance, hence the name dancing fish,” he explains.
As well as running his own restaurant, Emilio is also a member of the ‘Eight chefs, eight dishes of Castellón’, an exclusive annual dinner prepared by the best chefs from Castellón.
More than all the awards though, Emilio’s focus is on communication. Key to Emilio’s cooking philosophy is sharing his expertise with the next generation of chefs. ‘Antoni Llorens, one of my biggest influences, was able to cook whilst describing everything, transmitting real passion,” he says.
“Spanish Extravaganza is the perfect way for me to pass on my knowledge and to provide the opportunity for people all over the world to taste Spain’s most traditional and emblematic dish. That makes me feel very proud.”
Fernando Rodriguez’s love affair with the kitchen began at eight. “I loved cooking with my grandmother and mother,” he says. Aged ten, Fernando could make Spanish tortillas, lentils and meat stews on his own.
At 15 he worked in local restaurants on Spain’s northwest Atlantic coast in Galicia. Ominously known as the Coast of Death for its death-defying waves, the area is also famous for its incredible fish and seafood. “They remain my favourite dishes to this day,” he says.
Fernando trained as a chef in Santiago de Compostela, moved to Barcelona and worked at hotels like the 5 star Rey Juan Carlos I Hotel. He became Head Chef at the Tryp Barcelona and then at the Melia María Pita in A Coruña, northwest Spain.
His desire to innovate led him to work as Head Chef at Michelin star restaurants Alborada and then A Estación in Coruña. Working alongside his business partner Chef Juan Crujeiras, the dynamic duo love pushing the culinary boundaries that make them worthy of their Michelin star.
Dishes like black monkfish with basil, almond and sun-dried tomato and seabass with roasted vegetables in Iberian ham and cockle broth have made them famous. “We love traditional Spanish cuisine but we add our modern twist,” he says. “Nothing makes me happier than being in the kitchen”
AGER URIGÜEN URIBE
Chef Ager Urigüen should have been a lawyer. But a job at a Mongolian barbeque restaurant in Dublin changed all that…
An eternal dreamer, Ager was born in Bilbao in the Basque Country to a family of lawyers. Expected to follow in his father and three brothers´ footsteps, he travelled instead to Dublin to improve his English. This decision changed his life forever.
“My uncle was a captain in the Merchant Navy,” he explains. “I grew up listening goggle-eyed to his incredible Mark Twain-style tales and I was determined to travel the world.”
Aged just 23, Ager found a job by chance as a kitchen porter in a Mongolian barbecue restaurant. “I’d do my job really fast so I could prepare food in the kitchen,” he remembers. “A door to an exciting new world opened up for me.”
Ager’s passion for cooking had in fact always been there, lying dormant.
“My mother and grandmother were dedicated cooks,” he says. “They made amazing traditional Basque dishes like bacalao in a pil pil sauce and baby squid in its own ink. My grandmother made a delicious dish with snails.”
Ager had spent his childhood helping them cook. “Life revolves around the kitchen table in the Basque Country,” he says. “It´s where all the interesting things happen.”
Determined to be a chef, Ager returned from Ireland to Bilbao and began a ‘strenuous’ 16-month training period. He worked at some of the best restaurants in the city, like La Pérgola, The Guggenheim restaurant and La Cuchara de Euskalduna whilst spending his evenings at a private school earning his cooking diploma.
The long hours took their toll on his love life. “One girlfriend broke up with me for falling asleep three times on three consecutive dates!” he says.
Ager openly admits that he had no obvious culinary heroes and was inspired by the copious amount of cooking books he devoured in his spare time. “I felt like I knew the chef writers personally as they kept me company for hours!” he laughs.
So maybe it makes sense that his biggest influence is not a person but a place – London. “I lived on and off in London,” he reveals. “It’s such a vibrant and multicultural place and has the most exciting food fusions.”
But it’s in Berlin where Ager now wows diners.
In 1996, friend, former chef and now President of Athletic Bilbao football club, Aitor Elizegi, persuaded Ager to set up The Goya Society; an old theatre with 3,000 members.
Serving a mix of modern and traditional Basque cuisine, with a dash of German style it soon made headlines. Ager´s laminated bacalao confit with spider crab and pumpkin pil pil sauce became one of his signature dishes.
After The Goya Society, Ager ran masterclasses and workshops in Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Lithuania and then further afield in China and Thailand. “I ate the best food of my life from a Tavern in Seville,” he reveals. “That’s what makes cooking so fascinating, that dynamic balance between technique and the human touch.”
In 2013, Chef Ager became owner and head chef of Txokoa which he translates as a ‘house to gather in’ from his native Basque language, considered one of the best tapas restaurants in Berlin.
“We make tapas classics with a twist,” he says. His 36-hour slow-cooked Iberian pork cheek with celeriac and wild garlic is a firm favourite. As is his chocolate fondant with mandarin sorbet and wasabi sauce. “I´m a bit over the fondant but it’s so popular I can’t take it off the menu!” he laughs.
He has also appeared on television, most recently on, Spanish TV programme Basques Around the World (Vascos por el Mundo) and German TV show, 50 Kitchens, One City (50 Küchen, Eine Heimat) where he represented Spain with his bacalao al pil pil.
But perhaps Ager’s most fulfilling moment came from receiving recognition from his father shortly before he died. “He was a very driven man and wanted me to be a lawyer,” he says. “So it wasn´t easy for him to accept me being a chef. It meant a lot to discover he was actually very proud of me.”
For Chef María Varela, the kitchen is the heart of every Spanish home.
“Every house when I was growing up had a grandmother cooking in it night and day,” she says. “Every important thing that ever happened, took place in the kitchen.”
One of María’s fondest childhood memories is running home from school and smelling her grandmother’s delicious creations wafting down their street. “Mine is a story of food wisdom passed down by generations of women” says the award-winning self-taught chef.
But it could have all been very different. For when she and husband Suso opened their rural 300-year-old hotel Parada das Bestas in 1997, María’s culinary know-how only went as far as making student pasta. “I had little idea about cooking,” she reveals. “What I didn’t realise is that I had absorbed a lot just watching my grandmother.”
María soon found she had a special talent for turning local produce into star dishes and tapas. Over 21 years later, Maria and Suso’s restaurant is considered one of the best in Galicia, northwest Spain. It was even selected by Gwyneth Paltrow and Mario Batalli’s series “Spain on the Road Again” in 2008 as a culinary temple. “I taught Gwyneth to cook my signature dish, Pilgrim Style Capon,” says María. “I could barely believe we’d come so far.”
Nowadays, pilgrims doing the world-famous Camino to Santiago de Compostela which passes near the restaurant, foodies, famous politicians and artists all flock to Parada das Bestas.
María’s famous vegetable mille-feuille courgette parcels are firm favourites. But she also excels with other mouthwatering tapas such as mussels in spicy escabeche sauce with wild mushrooms, pickled vegetables and pomegranate or sardine pastille marinated in cheese, piquillo pepper confit and strawberry vinagrette.
In 2012 and 2014 the Ministry for Agriculture awarded the restaurant a prize for excellence and innovation and another for their quality food products. In 2015 the Xunta, (Galician Regional Government), gave them a Camino de Santiago prize. “We have Canadians spending their honeymoon here, Australians doing the Camino who look us up especially, Americans who saw the series and want to sample the dish Gwyneth made…” says María. “I could never have guessed that running home to my grandmother’s home cooking could have inspired such a legacy.”
“I´ve always loved food,” says Chef Álvaro Villasante. “I was the kind of child who ate liver with onions and loved green vegetables!”
Álvaro became a chef by pure chance. He went from washing dishes at a ski resort in the Spanish Pyrenees to working as an award-winning chef and never looked back. A childhood spent cooking with his mother at weekends stood him in good stead and he worked all over Spain, quickly rising through the ranks. He learnt his trade at the Pastelería Balbona in Gijón, El Rincón de Gonzalo in Tenerife and Parada das Bestas in Lugo.
Then in 2002 Álvaro moved to Miami and landed a job at La Broche restaurant with world-renowned chefs Sergi Arola and Ángel Palacios. He worked at the Sushi Samba restaurant as well as Eth Taro and other leading restaurants in Barcelona. “I did 17 hour stretches without ever looking at my watch,” he says. “That’s how much I loved it!”
Then in 2008, Álvaro moved back to his home city of Lugo, Northwest Spain and opened his own restaurant, Paprica. Since then he has made a name for himself for his innovation. It’s been voted as one of the top five restaurants to visit in Galicia by the Lonely Planet Guide.
At the international Madrid Fusión summit, his restaurant was named one of the 100 most creative restaurants in Spain. He has won a “Q” Prize for quality and has been nominated as the best chef of the year in Galicia in 2013.
Paprica has won best creative tapa six years running in Lugo and he has won the tapas contests outright five times. Tapas such as smoked smoked cheese roulette in black coupage sauce and line-caught hake with black rice croquant and tomato ice cream. “Tapas are the perfect way to sample haute-cuisine cooking in miniature in a relaxed social setting,” he says.
“In Spain they are a huge part of any night out with family and friends as food is the social centre of everything! Good food brings people together and tapas are what the Spanish excel at.”