The Chef's Table
When did you first take an interest in cooking, and when did you decide you wanted to become a chef?
I grew up in Lima Peru but as a child I spent all my summers with my abuela (grandmother) in the mountains of Los Andes. She was a really good cook and as my grandfather was Spanish, she used to combine traditional Inca cooking with Spanish flavours - it made an interesting mix! I remember at six or seven peeling potatoes, washing the dishes, learning to pluck the feathers from chickens. Another thing she taught me to do was getting the guinea pigs ready to cook. In Peru we eat guinea pigs like rabbits are eaten in Spain.
Where did you do your training?
My training is not finished. I am learning all the time and I love to cook new things. I went to the university in Lima to study Hotel Management and part of that was learning how the restaurant and kitchen worked and, at that moment, I realised that I preferred the cooking to the management. When I was 20, I moved to Spain to cook in a hotel in Malaga. I trained there for almost two years before coming to England with my partner. I have been at Los Gatos more than six years – longer than anybody!
How would you describe the style of food served in your restaurant?
It’s very traditional Spanish tapas with a bit of a modern twist. I think it’s authentic Spanish because we use good flavours of Spain, like garlic and smoked paprika and fresh herbs.
Do you have a signature dish? If so, what?
Well, the things the customers like the best are the meatballs and the gambas and, of course, the aubergines fried with honey (berenjenas fritas). They are simple to make but very, very good and everybody loves them – even the girls who tell me they don’t like aubergines like these! The honey is from Spain, made from bees in the mountains and tastes of herbs.
What would you order from your own menu?
I love the gambas pil pil (prawns with garlic and chili and olive oil) because they are really good for dipping bread and for sharing and to go with a beer. Also I like to eat the piquillos rellenos con bacalao (stuffed red peppers with salty cod and potato.) They are really tasty and I like to keep them all for myself! And the Tortilla Espanola because its made with organic eggs and Spanish extra virgin olive oil. Every day we make two tortillas and I never get tired of cooking them or eating them.
What’s your favourite vegetable and why?
Well, I am from Peru, where potatoes come from, so of course I like potatoes because they remind me of home. We have more than 100 types of potato over there – purple ones and red ones and orange ones, as well as white!
And favourite dessert?
I would choose the Torta de Santiago. This is an almond cake and it is rich and moist. I make it with a couple of shots of amaretto to give it extra flavour. Another Spanish dessert I like is Braso Gitano – I am going to make this at Los Gatos soon. It means “gipsy’s arm” and is a chocolate cake rolled up with cream inside. I love it but it’s not really good for me!
Do you cook a lot at home? What sort of food?
I love cooking. Mostly I make for myself estofados, which are stews with meat and potatoes and veg all together in one pot. Now I live on my own, this is great because I can make a big pot and eat for three or four days from it when I get home from work. My favourite is a beef stew with tomatoes, carrots and butter beans flavoured with garlic and paprika and some cumin. Sometimes I add nuts and bread to make the sauce thick – this is called a “picada” in Spanish cooking, because we don’t use a lot flour.
Where else locally do you like to eat?
Well, I like to eat at home or with friends but if I go out I would go to Bistro Les Chats. I know they take the same care as at Los Gatos to make sure everything is fresh and good.