José Pizarro has made London his home and is often described as the Godfather of Spanish cooking in the UK. He specialises in tapas and believes it is a universal cuisine, especially for home cooking. With the philosophy of maintaining simplicity and great ingredients, José’s career has flourished, landing spots on foodie TV programmes like BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen, Sunday Brunch, This Morning on ITV, Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose, Rick Stein’s Christmas, and most recently James Martin’s Saturday Morning.
His new restaurant, José by Pizarro, is located at Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers, the Forbes Five-Star hotel in the heart of the UAE capital. The menu features vibrant Spanish cuisine and cocktails in Abu Dhabi’s leading culinary destination.
We spoke with José about his passion for cooking and all things Spain.
How did it all start?
I was all set to become a dental technician….and then something twigged inside me, and I got a plane to London and a job at the fabulous Eyre Brothers in Shoreditch. It was the best decision I ever made! Soon after, I began working with Brindisa and became their group’s executive chef. The rest is history. I had dreamt of setting up my own restaurant for years, and in 2011, I finally got to do it. We opened the doors to José on Bermondsey Street, and I have never looked back.
A restaurant empire, cruise ships, writing books, events, cooking, TV, and being a dog dad. It’s a lot. How do you do it?
Yes! My life is full to the brim, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Firstly I have a wonderfully supportive partner who attends events with me and supports me so much with my writing and appearances. I also have a strong team of people around me so that all my ‘life-min’ is meticulously organised and calm. I have a flourishing events team, too, and my right-hand man Monty Wray is my Food Director and oversees much of the day-to-day running of the kitchens. I am extremely lucky.
Wagyu is so 2016. Tell us all about Spanish Iberian pigs. Why are they so good?
Cinco Jotas jamón is amongst the best in the world. The climate and the environment create the ultimate setting for these spoilt piggies, which roam all day and forage on acorns. The land is protected, so they are safe from pollution and litter, and the whole business is run like a well-oiled machine. The hams are hung for days before carving. It’s completely delicious and full of gorgeously nutty flavours.
What new flavour combinations or ingredients have recently caught your attention?
Having just opened my restaurant in Abu Dhabi, I would say I am definitely playing more with those lovely middle eastern flavours and using things like honey in my cooking more.
Any future signature dishes you are currently working on that you can tell us about?
Yes! I am hugely excited to be bringing the red tuna over from Spain. This tuna is unique to the sea near my house – Iris Zahara – on the south coast of Spain near Cadiz. It is the most beautiful fish I have ever eaten, and I am very proud to say we are going to be serving it at my restaurants soon.
What do you like to cook at home?
At home, I cook like my mum! Chips and fried eggs, casseroles and stews, big salads.
Top 3 favourite restaurants in the UK?
I absolutely love 45 Jermyn Street, Bob Bob Ricard, Prawn on the Lawn and Hoppers.
To discover more, visit: josepizarro.com
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All imagery courtesy of José Pizarro.