What’s your vision for Barrafina?
Barrafina is an institution loved by many, so I want to emphasise that I don’t plan to make drastic changes. I will be working very closely with the head chefs at each site, bringing in some new ideas and ingredients from some of my most trusted suppliers. It is very much an evolution rather than a revolution.
Will you be changing the menu?
The menu is already very good, but I’ll be changing a few dishes that don’t make sense to me. I am hoping to bring in a bit more creativity, but to keep things as authentically Spanish as possible - it will not become overly fancy. The interesting thing about working in different countries is combining produce from Spain with local ingredients. In London there are a lot of good Spanish suppliers but I also love ingredients from Scotland, and from France.
How will you manage Barrafina’s three separate restaurants?
The first thing to do is to familiarise myself with the team and the philosophy that Barrafina has followed over the last ten years. I will be spending a week in each restaurant, rotating between the three. One of the absolute joys of Barrafina is the daily specials boards, which are different in each restaurant. We will keep most of the regular menu and I will focus on creating some new specials.
Have you worked in London restaurants before?
This is my first time working here in a professional kitchen. Six or seven years ago I was very close to joining Sketch as chef de cuisine but there was a misunderstanding and it didn’t happen. Last winter I was working here as a private chef for the Saudi Arabian prime minister’s family. The pay for private chefs is quite good but I missed the passion and creativity of restaurant kitchens. Most of the time when people hire private chefs they want quite simple food that you would eat at home, not rich restaurant-style food every day.
What was your background before Barrafina?
I was studying to be an architect but dropped out to train as a chef when I was 20, my father and teachers tried to convince me to stay on, but cooking was something I had always wanted to do.
I trained at the Hofmann School of Hospitality in Barcelona and while I was there the restaurant became the first culinary school in the world to win a Michelin star. When I finished my studies the school asked me to stay on as a chef and teacher, and it was the best thing I ever did.
When I was at Hofmann I met Santi Santamaria, who was the chef and owner at [now closed three-Michelin-starred Barcelona restaurant] Can Fabes, and started working for him. Can Fabes was like a second school for me; I do not think there are any better restaurants in Spain today.
After a few months chef Santamaria opened Ossiano in Dubai, and offered me the job as head chef there. There are a lot more options for chefs in Dubai now, but I was there seven or eight years ago when it was a different market.
How did you get involved with Barrafina?
I heard about the position because I used to teach Javier Duarte Campos, who is head chef at Barrafina Drury Lane. The job and the concept are a good fit for me. It was a very long application process; I had three or four interviews and did several tastings, so I was really happy to get the job.
What makes Barrafina successful is the mix between chefs and diners at the bar. I’ve worked at fine dining restaurants where the kitchen can be quite quiet in concentration, but at Barrafina it’s the complete opposite. Barrafina’s restaurants have been at a top level for a long time, and that kind of consistency is amazing. I really admire Nieves’ work and her legacy, so there is a lot of good work to build on.