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to London. What prompted a move to a
country that most of the world still thought
of as serving some of the worst food in
Europe? 'I just wanted to see something else,'
Pizarro says. 'The great thing about being a
chef is that, if you have the technique, you
can work anywhere in the world. A friend told
me there weren't many Spanish chefs in the
UK and that there was a gap in the market. So
I said, "I'll be with you in a month".'
Pizarro took a job as a sous chef at Gaudi in
Clerkenwell, at that time the most innovative
Spanish restaurant in London. But while
innovation may have been the name of the
game in Spain, in the UK, attitudes to Spanish
food were still shaped by holidays on the
Costas. Pizarro has been on a mission to
change that perception ever since.
osé Pizarro talks about the
importance of other people more
than any chef I have ever met. He has
open kitchens because he thinks it's
important that his customers can see
their food being prepared by people
who enjoy their work. And he's about to open
a new restaurant in the City so he can allow
his trusted team of chefs to take on new
challenges - 'otherwise I will lose them'.
This emphasis on the human aspect of
cooking is tting for a chef most famous for
the shareable nature of his food. 'The most
important thing in life is to spend quality time
together,' Pizarro says, 'and there is nothing
better for that than being around food.'
Pizarro was born in 1971 in Talaván, a small
village in Extremadura in western Spain, a
region the chef makes sound like some sort of
earthly paradise. 'We have almost everything
in Extremadura. There is so much land,
and the vegetables are incredible. We have
amazing lamb and game. There are very good
restaurants and this year the city of Cáceres
has been named Spain's gastronomy capital.'
But this isn't the usual story of a chef who
started cooking because he was inspired by
the abundance of produce growing around
him. True, Pizarro's dad was a farmer and it
was young José's job to help him on the farm,
but the kitchen was the undisputed domain
of his mother and grandmother.
It was not until he was training to become
a dental technician that he began to cook. 'I
did very well in my studies and while I was
looking for a job, I started doing a cookery
course - and I loved it. A chef from Fonda San
Juan restaurant in Cáceres asked if I'd like to
do some work for him. I never went back to
being a dental technician.'
Moving to London
It was a move to Madrid that gave Pizarro
his big break, working for Julio Reoyo at
Mesón Doña Filo. 'I went to a hotel restaurant
because I needed to know big numbers -
how to serve 1,000 people in one day. And
Julio Reoyo was a very good mentor. He
taught me so much and introduced me to so
many people, people like Ferran Adrià and
Juan Mari Arzak.'
Spain in the late 1990s was emerging as a
gastronomic force to be reckoned with - and
yet in 1998, Pizarro upped sticks and moved
'THE GREAT THING ABOUT BEING A CHEF IS THAT, IF YOU HAVE
THE TECHNIQUE, YOU CAN WORK ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD'
Clockwise from left: a dish of milk-fed leg of Castilian lamb; woodpanelled
Pizarro on Bermondsey Street; José prepares tapas
PORTRAITS: LAURIE FLECTCHER