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World Gourmet Summit special: Michelin-starred Chef Javier Aranda talks hard work in the kitchen

One of the youngest rising chefs, he was awarded his first star at age 27, and drops by our region to collaborate with chef Jose Alonso at Binomio Spanish Restaurant, as part of World Gourmet Summit.

He’s one of the youngest rising stars in Spanish culinary scene. Chef Javier Aranda talks to The Peak about the reality of becoming a chef, his La Cabra Restaurant in Madrid and trying local Singaporean dishes.

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 When did you start working in a kitchen?

I started cooking when I was 16 in a school near Madrid, and from then, I worked in a few restaurants like Ars Vivendi and El Bohio.  Then, I moved to Madrid, where I trained with chef Santi Santamaria for five years and moved on to Pinera, where at 24, I was the youngest chef working there. Two years later, I opened my own restaurant La Cabra and picked up my first Michelin star.

What does the Michelin award mean to you?

In my career, I am clear in what I want to achieve. I’m still young in this industry; there’s plenty to learn still. For me, the award is important as it’s a recognition of the effort and people around you. It can be tough, but we really enjoy what we’re doing as it’s our passion. You have to push everyone as now you have a standard to meet. Sometimes you’ll feel that there are thousands of things on your mind but [the award] acts like a motivation for the team to follow their dreams.

What’s your fondest experience or memory of food?

Like others, it begins at home, with family, as my parents owned a small restaurant, but I’ve never worked there. I probably only went there to ask for a piece of chocolate! Unlike other chefs who take over their family business or improve the kitchen, I was set on leaving the village to the big city.

You’re known to have artistic abilities by combining edible artworks in the kitchen – could you tell us where your inspiration comes from?

Sometimes when you look for inspiration, it may not come. You’ll have to feel free and relaxed. Example, last summer I lived in Peru for one month and thought, why not create a menu themed ‘Travel Around the World’? I also realised a lot of restaurants stopped using certain ingredients in their menu and I wanted to resurface it to create interesting foods.

Tell us how you conceptualised your restaurant La Cabra in Madrid, Spain.

The restaurant is split into two areas: one is casual and the other part is for fine dining.  It’s a very small area as I wanted to create an intimate surrounding.

Have you tried local Singaporean dishes and do you have a favourite?

Chilli crab is nice! We’ll try the chicken rice later!

Do you prefer cooking for friends or letting them take over your kitchen?

I prefer cooking for them [laughs].

What is your favourite dining experience so far?

El Celler de Can Roca, a three-star Michelin restaurant located at Girona, Spain.

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What do you do during your spare time when you’re not cooking?

I sleep [laughs]. I work six days a week and I start at 6.30am, so it’s good for me to have some rest.

Complete this sentence: If I was not a chef, I would be…

I’d probably go into agriculture; my family has a few vineyards.

Your restaurant keeps you busy, but do you have other passion projects you’d like to pursue?

Chef Jose Alonso: [chimes in] He’s got a very business owner mentality!

Javier: [laughs] I have a shoe business and I want to open a bakery in Madrid.

Do you have any advice for young chefs: should they work in a restaurant first or attend culinary school?

It’s important to go to school as it teaches you to analyse things. People don’t know, in reality, it takes a lot of hard work to be a chef. You wake up and by 9am you’re opening the restaurant and you work long hours. So it’s good to go to a culinary school but to gain experience, you should work in a restaurant.

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