You’ve been called the Godfather of Spanish cooking here in the UK, how do you feel about that title and how has the British’s attitude towards Spanish cuisine changed from when you first arrived in London, 20 years ago.
That’s very flattering! When I arrived in London 20 years ago I couldn’t speak a word of English, and the Spanish food scene was not what it was today. Slowly but surely we started gaining popularity by introducing the British to all the variety of Spanish recipes there are to enjoy – as it’s not just Paella!
20 years is a big milestone, tell us about your year of celebrating, what are you doing to celebrate?
By keeping busy with lots and lots of projects that are very important to me! Opening by pub, The Swan, was a big celebration – it was a great moment. I’ve also been very busy with my new cookbook, Andalusia, which got released at the end of May, as well partnering with Moser Crystal in developing my own sherry glass that is simply beautiful.
You recently opened a new restaurant in Esher, what can you tell us about it?
It’s always been my dream to own a pub and we searched for a long time before finding the right location and building in Esher. Pubs give that sense of community and I’ve always said there is nothing better than sitting around a fire in a pub with good friends, food and wine.
Why Esher and how does the Swan Inn differ from your other restaurants?
The Swan has kept the feel of a traditional British Pub, but we will be serving a mix of my favourite Spanish dishes together with English pub classics that have been given a Spanish twist and flavour. The Swan is a pub that is essentially bringing a mixture of the best of my London restaurants to Esher. My favourite tapas like croquetas, tortilla and 5J Jamón Ibérico are served alongside pub favourites like burgers and fish and chips that have all been given the José twist. We have a wide selection of real ales, draught beers and of course Estrella Damm on offer. Wines are predominantly Spanish with a small selection of European and English favourites.
You’ve recently developed your own sherry glasses, What made you decide to do this?
I was on a trip in the Czech Republic and visiting the Moser Crystal showroom for myself as I love art, and crystal is a form of art. While we were talking about a piece for my home, I had an idea for a sherry glass. I then spoke to the Head Designer at Moser and he came up with the wonderful idea of designing a larger glass actually based on the rough shape of my clasped hands.
What makes the glass unique?
The glass shape is very different from anything else you’ll find. It has a larger bowl so that all the aromas of the sherry can be swirled in the glass and the drinker can really experience all the aromas and flavours, exactly like you’d enjoy a good glass of wine. It’s made of lead-free crystal too which allows the liquid to really breathe, enhancing the flavours of the sherry.
What is the best sherry for someone who has never tried it before?
It’s always easier to start with a lovely dessert sherry, so a Pedro Ximénez is the perfect one.
Tell us about your latest cookbook, Andalusia?
Andalusia is my 5th cookbook, and features recipes from that region. The book features beautiful location shots, and is a real treat for anyone who loves simple and authentic Spanish cuisine. It was a real joy to write and put this book together, I hope everyone loves it as much as I do.
How important is it to you to use Spanish ingredients?
It’s probably the most important thing to me. My mother has given me my love for fine Spanish produce. She always insisted that the most important part of cooking was finding the best ingredients and treating them with respect. I am very passionate about sharing all the amazing ingredients that Spain has to offer as there are so many of them!
This interview will be published in full at a later date.