We speak to Chef Jose at Binomio Spanish Restaurant during the annual World Gourmet Summit about his food philosophy, gleaned from his time with many celebrity chefs inclusive of Michelin-starred Sergi Arola, Francis Paniego and Spain’s most celebrated Chef, Santi Santamaria.
(RELATED: We caught the World Gourmet Summit’s Rising Chef 2016, Kirk Westaway of Jaan on video – see what he has to say as his star rises.)
What was your childhood like in Spain? Was culinary school your first choice?
I’m from La Rioja, which is the north of Spain and it is famous as a wine region. We have a huge culinary tradition and at 14 years old I already decided I wanted to pursue it but my family was against it because they said I should go to a university to study. At 18, I finally convinced my family I wanted to go to culinary school. So from Mondays to Fridays I studied in school and weekends I’ll be working in a restaurant. When you’re young and you start working with celebrity chefs, you start to realise your potential.
You’ve trained with some of the best chefs in Spain. Looking back at your career path, would you change anything?
I don’t think so. Maybe sometimes I miss working in France because it’s at the height of culinary sophistication. Sometimes for us celebrity chefs, it’s not about the techniques, but it’s about the organization, philosophy, compromise and learning of ways to work. Example, when you go to a Michelin-star restaurant, you’ll be served good food for sure, but it’s what you learn: how you choose the produce, how to organize your team, how to minimise waste and more.
It’s important that you mentioned management as you’ll also need good leadership in the kitchen too. How do you find a balance?
It is! How I learned and how young people are learning now are totally different. First, I really work for my chef but the younger generation is working for themselves; if my chef works for 14 hours, I will work for 14 hours and I believe he’s taking care of us. The others would take advantage of that to help himself but that’s normal. Back then if you want to learn, you’ll have to work in a restaurant. Nowadays, people make a copy from the Internet and they don’t have the heart to create something, especially when we’re at a time where we’re rushing and everyone wants to jump to the end without knowing the basics. At Binomio, we make everything: ice-cream, stocks, butters with flavours, bread and this is how we want to improve all the time.
How different is the culinary scene in Singapore, as compared to your hometown?
Wow, two different worlds (laughs). Singapore in terms of food, it’s a very unique place. If you have a week of holiday in Singapore, you’ll be able to try foods around the world here. In Spain, the spices are very limited; you could probably find some chilly, pepper, cumin and paprika but here you’d be able to find different herbs, leaves and flavours.
When people think of Spain, they think of paella. What else should food novice try?
Truffle; seafood like oysters and red tuna; churros; and sangria!
Michael Ellis, International Director of the MICHELIN guides once said, “chefs are constantly looking for ways to reinvent themselves.” Can you relate to this phrase and how do you apply it to your work at Binomio?
You’ll always need to remain true to yourself and offer something different to your customer. At the end of the day, our job is to sell an experience and how do we do that? In Binomio, we take pride from the way we welcome guests to our menu, where we change every three to four months, following the European seasons. Your team may be doing the same thing for too long, and we need to motivate them to do something different.
Could you share with us your food philosophy?
Traditional Spanish food is a first for me. We don’t make fusion foods as we’re a Spanish restaurant. We want our customers to remember the dishes they had here, that is special to Binomio.
If it was going to be your last meal on Earth, who would you share it with and why?
I don’t need anything fancy; something simple that I grew up with my family is all I need.
Binomio Spanish Restaurant is located at 20 Craig Road, #01-02 Craig Place Singapore 089692. For reservations: T: +65 6557 0547