SMALL TALK

Zoilo chef Diego Jacquet on swapping the back office for the stove

By Sophie Witts contact

- Last updated on GMT

Zoilo chef Diego Jacquet on swapping the back office for the stove

Related tags: Chef

The Argentine chef opened Zoilo in London in 2012 and is heading back to the stove to take a more hands-on role in the restaurant.

Why did you want to get back in the kitchen?

Since we opened Zoilo five years ago the company has grown a lot.​ Sadly a year and a half ago I realised I had two restaurants, a deli, another restaurant in Singapore and over 80 people working for me and I was just a managing director. I spent most of my time in front of the computer and going from meeting to meeting. I had no real contact with food and I wasn’t happy, so I decided to go back to the kitchen. The head chef at Zoilo wanted to leave and I decided not to replace him. Now I’m in the kitchen four days a week. I spend two days with my kids, and the other day I do all my other work and handle my restaurant in Singapore.

What’s changed since you started cooking again?

I’ve worked with some wonderful head chefs but none of them could take the restaurant to the next level. I was not happy with the sourcing. They were not pushing as hard as I wanted. Now we’re working with a fish supplier in Cornwall to keep our menu seasonal and sustainable. We have taken the food up a notch and put a bit more pressure on everybody. Every couple of weeks we introduce two or three new dishes to the menu.

Once a week we also dedicate two or three hours to training our commis chefs. We got tired of chef de parties applying for jobs who wanted a lot of money but didn’t know how to clean a fish and had never cooked lamb. Working with them I’ve realised how much the new generation of chefs have changed. I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old man as I’m only 40, but nowadays people want too much too fast. Chefs want to jump from commis to chef de partie in a year. Doing this training has put a lot more pressure on us but it’s making me happier.

How do you handle managing the business while running the kitchen?

We’re much smarter with our time. I sold my other restaurants in 2015, so now I only have Zoilo and bocHINche in Singapore. We used to have 90 minute meetings but now we do it in 30. It’s been hard, but we can see the results already. I’ve got two kids so I can’t work 70-80 hours a week anymore.

Would you like to open more restaurants?

We’re looking in to it, but I’m being patient. This year we are looking for a property in Stockholm then we have a more casual concept that I think we could launch at the beginning of next year. But my hands are quite full at the moment.

What do you think of the Argentine restaurant scene in London?

Sadly I find it very limited. Zoilo is one of the only true Argentine restaurants in London. Beef is one of our greatest products, but it’s also a curse, people don’t see how many other beautiful products we have in Argentina. The problem is that opening an Argentine restaurant is a big risk. When I opened Zoilo and said we weren’t going to focus on beef people said that we were crazy and told us to launch a steakhouse. When I came to London 13 years ago there were only two or three Spanish restaurants and they were awful, but now there are lots of places that serve great Spanish food. But for Argentine restaurants it’s going to take a while to get there.

Related topics: People, Restaurants, Small Talk

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