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Time n Style

The Spanish Way: An Interview With Chef Sergi Arola

By Alisha Fernandes, Time n Style posted Aug 9th 2013 at 6:00AM

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The Spanish Way: An Interview With Chef Sergi Arola

Photos Courtesy: Jw Marriott Hotel, Mumbai

 

The Journey To 'Chef'dom


That's a very long story! Once upon a time, in a small village next to Barcelona, there was a kid who did not like to eat. He lived with his grandpa, who used to be a great gourmand, but wasn't a very good cook. So, this kid, (who by the way was called Sergi Arola) decided to start cooking for himself. And that's the story.  I started to cook at home for the family and later in the 1980s at the brink of the European recession, I started working at a restaurant, just to get some money to pay my bills and support my mother.

 

Being in a restaurant kitchen got me in touch with the world of cuisine which started it all. In the beginning, it was just like a game and eventually, it turned into my passion and profession.

Philosophising On Food

I would say that the only sensible reason to cook, and have a restaurant is to feed your guests. Otherwise, it makes no sense. My challenge is to get guests to like what I present everyday. I don't cook for myself or my ego, and although I have my Michelin star restaurant in Madrid, which I'm really proud of, ultimately, I'm not a Michelin star collector, I just cook for my guests.

Rousing The Senses

It's everything! For instance, I went to a Japanese restaurant the other day with Chef Manuel Oliveira Seller, Chef De Cuisine, Arola, JW Marriott Mumbai. I ordered some sushi and sashimi, and there was some sashimi of a fish with its skin on, and in that moment I thought, 'This looks exactly like an eggplant!' Soon after, we set about to make a kind of eggplant sashimi. Sometimes, it happens like this. Other times, it's while I'm reading something or conversing with one of my chefs about introducing something new, or reviewing what the guests don't like, why they don't like it and what can be done to tweak it. I think travel is important, so that you can learn about new cuisines and styles, but, if you don't, it's alright as well. It all depends on what kind of chef you want to be. Ultimately, as they say, there are only two types of cuisines-the good and the bad. It doesn't matter if good food is made in a Michelin star restaurant or a small restaurant; it's a question of attitude, passion and charm among so many other things. It's not only about how expensive or cheap the meal is.

My ignition point is the Spanish tapas cuisine, but after 15 years of travelling, there are influences from everywhere. There are some influences from Japan, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and even in India in how they use the grill. This doesn't necessarily mean that I'll have three 'India-inspired' dishes in my restaurant in Mumbai. That'll only happen in time, because, the more I visit India, the more things I'll try out and like. They will stay in my mind and sooner or later, they'll be reflected in my cuisine.

Past Inspirations

I've been inspired by many chefs and not only those who I've worked with, but those I have read about, and whose restaurants I've eaten at. I've never worked with Alain Ducasse or Alain Passard, but they have inspired me a lot. Alain Chapel's book titled La Cuisine c'est Beaucoup Plus que des Recettes translates to 'cuisine being much more than just recipes' and that is one of my life's mottos.

The Kiss Of Success

I'm very superstitious, so, I don't like talking about success. A good restaurant is run with hard work, a good attitude and honesty. It'd be silly for me to come into a country like India, with a big story and an amazing philosophy on life and say 'I'm here and I'm the master'. The most important thing is respect. You can't copy-paste the same concept all across the world because it might work well in one place but not in another. Eighty percent of our produce is fresh and local and we constantly adapt to the local palette. We are not a vegetarian restaurant, but, here, we have a few vegetarian items because it was needed. We normally cook with different kinds of meat, but we understand that here it isn't politically correct. At the end of the day, it's about putting a part of you into your restaurant and not just about selling your brand.

Key Ingredients In Spanish Cuisine: Olive oil, garlic and parsley

Most Difficult Ingredient To Find: Time. It's very difficult to find the time to cook; you have to make time

Favourite Food From Your Childhood: Fried eggplant

If You Had 15 Minutes, You'd Whip Up: Bread with tomato; it doesn't fail

 

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