What Fascinates Me: José Pizarro

Restaurant Owner Talks Fresh Food And Family

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For Spanish chef José Pizarro, food has always been ingrained in his life. Growing up on a farm, he describes how “food was everything for us.” It was here that he learnt to appreciate the importance of fresh ingredients: milk straight from the cow, tomatoes picked up from the vegetable patch, olives straight from the tree. Food for the Pizarros was much more than a source of sustenance, it brought the family together. These memories of food and family are forever entwined for José, and he brings that passion into his cooking today.

We met José, and discovered what fascinates him the most:

Fast-forward to today, and José has been living in London for the past sixteen years. In 2011 he opened his first solo restaurant, José, and later that year Pizarro followed. Cooking for him is all about simplicity and fresh ingredients. His three favourite ingredients are classically Spanish: olive oil, pimentón (paprika), and ham. José describes how he “grew up with those flavours.” They will never be absent from his kitchen in the restaurants and at home, “because it brings back memories from my childhood,” he tells us.

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Using these three simple ingredients, José made us huevos fritos rotos – fried broken egg. José explains that chose this dish because “it brings together many of my favourite ingredients” – namely olive oil, paprika, and jamón iberico. He describes how “those flavours have been in my head since I was a child, and memories are the best when you are a chef.”

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We sat down with José to find out a bit more about his background and his style of cooking.

The Plus: How would you describe your style of cuisine?
José Pizarro:
It’s very simple, it’s simplicity and flavours. It’s to cook very simply, but using stunning ingredients. I want when people try my food, when they try the jamón, the ham, they say “wow, this is the best ham I’ve ever had in my life.” It’s simple, but at the same time it’s quite complicated because finding good ingredients is not easy. But when you’ve found it, it’s done.

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TP: How often do you invent a new recipe?
JP:
For me to be inventing recipes, there is nothing inventive at the moment. The thing we do is mix flavours. We just work in the kitchen quite a lot to put flavours together, and of course that means to bring new things, but everything is invented. It’s just mixing flavour, that is the important thing.

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TP: Tell us a bit more about the relationship between food and your childhood.
JP:
Food was everything for us. To see my grandmother cooking, to see my mum cooking, baking bread, making the food for us, it’s something that you will never forget. In Spain, we grow up thinking that the food is so important because it brings the family together, and family is the most incredible thing.

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TP: Tell us about your journey in London.
JP:
I came to London sixteen years ago, a long time. And London for me is home, I have to say. When I arrived to London things were completely different than now – people didn’t know much about Spanish food, people didn’t know about jamón iberico. You can see now, after sixteen years, people know about Spanish food, people know about jamón, people know that that ham costs £600. But in the beginning it was impossible. For me it was difficult to explain to people about olive oil. In this country, they didn’t know anything about olive oil. We bought the olive oil in the pharmacy at that time, it was completely something unique for them. I see that now, in the last sixteen years, people know about Spanish food. People know how good the Spanish food is, and how healthy, how versatile. We don’t only have fried potatoes, we don’t only have paella and sangria. There’s nothing better than to go all around London and see tapas bars everywhere.

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TP: How do you source ingredients and get inspiration?
JP:
Every single day is important for a chef, because you never know what is going to happen. You go to the market, you see something and say “wow,” every day is important, and every day brings creativity. I go to Spain often, just running around, eating around. The routine you never know, my life is so diverse. Many days I go to the market, spend a day in the kitchen, having good time with the chefs. Every day is different and every day is special.

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TP: Which market do you go to often in London?
JP:
Walking around Borough Market, walking around Moorgate Street, everywhere is a good market. Fish, you have to go to Cornwall, you have to go to north of Spain, you have to go to Galicia, you have to go to San Sebastian, you have to go to enmercado San Miguel in Madrid, you have to go to La Boqueria. All the markets are important because all of the markets bring something unique, something that brings you some ideas to put on the menu. We are so lucky that even here around Bermondsey Square every Saturday people come from farms to bring raw milk, to bring vegetables, to bring many different things. I walk around all over the world to see the best.

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TP: Do you cook a lot at home?
JP:
I love cooking at home. I just spent my last weekend in Cardiff cooking with my partner. Buy ingredients, go home, cook, having a glass of wine – happy days. Nothing better than that. I just brought my new book out, I got the first copy and started cooking from my own book in my own home, it’s happy days.

TP: Do you normally follow your own recipes, or you just change depends on your mood?
JP:
For restaurants you have to follow recipes, because everything always has to be the same. At home, no. Open the fridge, see what I have there today, and then I will do something.

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