José Pizarro: Pearls of Wisdom

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food, Spanish cuisine, Restaurant magazine

José Pizarro opened Pizarro restaurant nearby to his tapas bar in Bermondsey a year ago this month
José Pizarro opened Pizarro restaurant nearby to his tapas bar in Bermondsey a year ago this month
World-renowned chef José Pizarro is seen by many as 'the godfather of Spanish cuisine'. Having grown up in the region of Extremadura in western Spain, Pizarro moved to the UK 14 years ago, becoming chef-partner of Spanish food chain Brindisa in 2003 for five years. He is now chef and owner of Jose and Pizarro, his eponymous tapas bar and restaurant respectively, both nestled on Bermondsey Street near London Bridge.

Growing up in a farm in a small village,​ everything was based around dinner. My dad had a vegetable garden, with cows, sheep, hens - everything. I always loved the produce.

My grandmother was an amazing chef and my mum learned from her. But when I was young, I wasn't really allowed to cook because I would be busy helping my dad. But I grew up with the smell of bread and my mothers cooking, which I loved.

I studied as a dental technician. ​And it was only then when I started cooking properly. I discovered that I loved cooking for my friends and when I finished my studies, I was waiting for a job and I decided to start my own cooking school.

I never went back to the idea of being a dental technician. 

I came here almost 14 years ago.​ I wanted to move from Spain because I wanted to do something a bit different. I decided upon London; I met someone in Madrid and she told me there was a big gap for Spanish chefs here in the UK. 

She told me she had a room in London that I could make use of for a couple of weeks – little did both of us know that I would be here for the next 14 years!

I didn't see much around in terms of Spanish food.​ When I came here, there just wasn't much food from Spain in any of the restaurants or supermarkets. But almost 14 years on, you have a great range of Spanish products in restaurants and in supermarkets - it’s become so popular.

The Spanish style of food is more fun and more sociable. The food is very good for you as well, so it’s a combination of the social and health factors. And the likes of Feran Adria and Elena Arzak have done an awful lot to open doors for other Spanish chefs.

I worked at Gaudi (Spanish Restaurant in Clerkenwell), then Brindisa came along.​ I stayed there for over five years. I did very well from the company and the company did very well from me. We worked well together but eventually I realised that I wasn’t really in a position to continue growing my career.

Now I have José​and Pizarro​in Bermondsey.​ It is a popular tradition in Spain to name your restaurant after yourself, almost as an extention of who you are. But I could have a third restaurant – I actually have four names.

I’m not going to say that I will never open more restaurants, but at the moment I want to just enjoy what I have. The concept of Jose works really well but Pizarro needs a bit more work. At the moment, though, we’re doing ok and I’m enjoying every minute of it. It was always a dream to have my tapas bar in London - to have your name on the front of a restaurant is amazing.

Right now though, I just want to consolidate. To be number 28 in Restaurant magazine’s National Restaurant Awards​is unbelievable, so I want to build on that.

I love everything about restaurants. ​This industry is so personable which has always been really important for me. From meeting my suppliers, to preparing the food, to meeting the customers afetr you've served them the meal. It's such a rewarding industry in that respect.

I've always had a great amount of support from my friends and family. My partner can sometimes get a bit grumpy with the long work hours, but I have one day off a week to do something a bit different.

My advice for any young, aspiring chef​ would be to first of all get a real experience of what this industry is like, because it’s not easy. People think that being on TV or appearing in Restaurant magazine is easy. But it’s not. Sometimes, you don’t want to do it but you have to get on with it.

I do love being on TV and it’s amazing to be recognised for what I do, but that is not real life for a chef - what you see on TV is not what it’s like behind the scenes.

If you want to be a chef,​ be a chef because you love cooking; because you love every single step to the point that you serve the customer - which is always the most important thing.

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