Oswaldo Oliva

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 December, 2011, 12:00am

What attracted you to a career in food? 'When I was young, I realised that cooking would give me the chance to modify or alter the state of mind of someone else. When you're cooking, serving, doing wine service, you are in close contact with your guests. And you can make them feel very, very happy. A chance to make someone smile and feel better, especially in today's world, where everybody is so busy, gives me a great deal of satisfaction.'

You're from Mexico City. How did you end up in Spain? 'I arrived in Spain when I was 20. I was in love with the approach European chefs have towards food, compared with those in Mexico, [which], I realised, was very straightforward. I decided to take a shot at Spain and did my professional apprenticeship when I was still studying. I liked it so much that I knew it was not possible for me stay in Mexico. I was working at El Celler de Can Roca [which ranked second on this year's San Pellegrino list of the world's 50 best restaurants]. I also worked at El Bulli, before going to Mugaritz.'

What influence did El Celler de Can Roca have on you? 'For the first time I realised that food is more than just cooking and the most important process was choosing the right products - always demand the best. When you do this - when you pay attention to all these little details from the beginning - you come to understand that every single step in the process has an important value. From the moment you buy your fish, to the moment you cook it, until the moment you're serving it: everything is important. I realised this when I was working in Spain. In Mexico, it's a lot more simple. It's about respecting tradition, but every other cultural aspect, they take for granted. They do not pay attention to all this. I am who I am today because of what I learned in Mexico but what made me choose Spain is the different approach.'

What's the most amazing meal you've had? 'The first time I had fine dining, I was at [celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal's] The Fat Duck, in Britain, in 2007. I was living in Spain. It was the first time I saw a different approach to food from the one I learned in Mexico. Just when you think you know everything that can be done to food, you go to The Fat Duck and realise you've only seen the tip of an iceberg. It might be molecular food but it plays with sensation and perception so that you enjoy every single aspect of your meal. That was amazing for me.'

As part of the research and development team at Mugaritz, what is your role? 'Cooking in the restaurant is more of an exercise in quality control. Our main job is creating projects, lines of diversity and adding our knowledge to science, art, filmmaking, dancing, acting and performing. We're connecting our knowledge with some else's knowledge. There are demonstrations and [food] congresses, and professional training in specific topics, such as low-temperature cooking. Right now, we're finishing three books. Our first big English book will be published in the spring. That's taking up a lot of time.'

So you're constantly learning? 'Nowadays, what you can learn in a restaurant is very different from what you could learn 10 years ago. Now, if you learn only cooking and ingredients, you're very limited. Working with other people can change the way we look at things. We suddenly can see outside our problems. Sometimes a solution we've been looking for for many years has already been discovered in some other field and applied for a completely different purpose than ours.'


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Oswaldo Oliva

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