There are many things to love about Spain, and its food is not on the bottom of that list. No surprise then, that it's one of the biggest travel destinations for Indian tourists this summer. But in case you're not headed there anytime soon, you can still enjoy some great Spanish dishes, according to Chef Guillem Vidal. The chef was recently visiting Mumbai in June for a Spanish food festival at Asado restaurant in Bandra. Chef Vidal's degree from the Hofman school Barcelona (the only culinary school in the world awarded with a Michelin star) and his subsequent experience at Michelin starred restaurants has taken him around the world. Nowadays, he works his gastronomical magic at the Hilton Wangfujin (Beijing, China). We caught up with him for a chat that revolved around food, travel and more.
Q. Three things that every kitchen should have if you're attempting Spanish cuisine?
A. Definitely olive oil, tomatoes and Jamon Iberico.
Q. Some of your favourite restaurants to dine at around the world?
A. One pick would be Los Sobrinos which is located in Almeria, Spain. They serve the typical traditional tapas with the best seafood. It is not really a restaurant; basically it is a small bar next to the seaport, where every morning the fishermen arrive with all the amazing seafood and fish. The Atmosphere restaurant at Burj Khalifa in Dubai has caught my attention as well — the breathtaking view and the high quality food definitely impresses anyone who has been there. I used to also work at that restaurant for two years. Finally, Zuberoa in Oyartzun in Pais Vasco in Spain. It has won two Michelin star awards and run by the Chef Hilario Arbelaitz. It is just number one in my opinion.
Q. The dish you love to make?
A. I like to prepare a good paella to celebrate when I visit my hometown during the summer, with Spanish seafood and wines while I enjoy the moment with my closest friends and family.
Q. Anything that you dislike making?
A. I'm passionate about cooking, so I've never disliked making any dish. I always enjoy every process in the kitchen. To get the opportunity to present what I love to do, that's never a thing to hate.
Q. What were you most looking forward to about your visit to India?
A. I've visited India before but it is my first time in Mumbai. I'd like to visit the Taj Mahal Hotel, Elephanta Caves and the Colaba Street market. And I believe there are even more attractive spots that would catch my attention. Last but not least, I am looking forward to Indian food.
Q. In your opinion, the one Spanish dish that's most suited to the Indian palate?
A. Paella, because it's like a Spanish biryani and gazpacho soup. I believe Indians will love it because it's made with fresh vegetables.
Q. What did guests appreciate the most about the Spanish food festival at Asado?
A. The guests enjoyed the unique Spanish culture food presentation on the table, done in a traditional way. I enjoyed showing them the typical "Spanish attitude".
Q. Take us to your most significant cooking memory.
A. Every moment is a significant moment for me. I can hardly define one that touches me the most. I can't describe how much it means to me to get to see satisfaction of each guest enjoying the dishes I've prepared, and I always appreciate positive response.
Ginger is a very common ingredient but most people underestimate the good that this natural ingredient could bring us. Apart from cooking ginger with other ingredients to add a certain appealing spiciness to the dish, ginger comes with natural anti-biotic effect, and the natural vitamin composition is way better than vitamin E. It is good for cold, gastric ailments and food poisoning. I love ginger anytime of the day.
Q. What qualities do you think a chef should possess?
A. Love, passion and patience.
Q. Your current favourite ingredient to work with?
A. This is a tough question. Every chef loves different ingredients and obviously we can't work with only one ingredient for a dish. I would say I love all kinds of ingredients and I'm open to trying new things as well myself. That's what I should be because I am a chef.
I will like to add that I can't wait to go back to Spain and cook with our products; vegetables straight from the garden to the table, fish and sea food sliced by my knife, pork, lamb, rabbits growing up around my restaurant — I can't wait for that moment.
Q. One highly underrated ingredient in your opinion? And how to use it the best?
A. Ginger. It's a very common ingredient but most people underestimate the good that this natural ingredient could bring us. Apart from cooking ginger with other ingredients to add a certain appealing spiciness to the dish, ginger comes with natural anti-biotic effect, and the natural vitamin composition is way better than vitamin E. It is good for cold, gastric ailments and food poisoning. I love ginger anytime of the day.
Q. Your biggest culinary influence.
A. My mother. I can't deny that I've tried good food around the world, and meeting different people from the food and beverage industry usually inspired me. But my mother is definitely the biggest influence as home food from your mother is always the best. I miss her and her food.
Q. Some chefs whose work you admire?
A. French Chef Jean-Louis Neichel. Apart from his great cooking style, I admire the way he carries himself. He is very strong and powerful in all aspects while he works.
Q. What is the most exciting part about working in China? How difficult would you say it is?
A. It's my first experience working in China and so far I've been very interested in delving into the Chinese rich history and different cultures from different parts of the country, as well as various cuisines. I've already had a chance to experience many things that have truly amazed me. The communication is the biggest challenge for me in China, and early on I had to go through a pretty tough period. Slowly it's got better and we've begun to understand each other.
Q. What's a day away from the kitchen like?
A. I sleep as much as possible. I'm quite busy most of the time, so whenever I have day off, I try to sleep to recover my energy. I go to eat at restaurants almost everyday.
Q. Your idea of the perfect holiday?
A. Just chill and do nothing. Enjoy the silence.