Noemi Gutierrez is executive chef at Zelo in Pacific Place. She grew up in Madrid in a house with an orchard and vegetable garden, an influence that's obvious in her produce-heavy cooking. Her father is from the Canary Islands, where she attended catering college. After that came stints at five-star hotels and with some of Spain's leading chefs. Gutierrez has worked with masters of molecular gastronomy and pastry, but her own style is as much about healthy plates as technical wizardry. The drive to cook came from her family background, but there is a little twist.
Were you inspired to cook by your mother and father?
It wasn't my father's influence. My father cooked traditional Canary Islands dishes, but he travelled a lot. My mother can't cook and I didn't want to eat plain rice every day, so I started making food for the family when I was 12 years old. That's when I started to learn about cuisine.
You first worked in the pastry kitchen at Hacienda Benazuza.
Yes, that was Ferran Adria's Seville hotel. It was the same style as El Bulli, but it had two Michelin stars. It won an award for serving the best breakfast in the world.
I made breakfasts, I worked on jams, flavoured butters such as coffee or fisherman's, and fruit juices. Every day there were three versions of each and I got to work on all of them over the course of a week.
I didn't see much of Adria. I was working for Rafael Morales and it was only for three months.
Tell us about your time with pastry chef Oriol Balaguer in Barcelona?
I worked with him for one year and learned about bonbons, chocolates and chocolate artistry. He is special, a really nice person and the best boss. He has so many ideas and concepts that I use today. My dishes are simple and without sauces or too many flavours on one plate. I want to show off the produce, not mask it.
Balaguer was a great boss. He never yelled. He could be so serious, but at the same time was very funny.
Where else have you plied your trade?
I worked for Ramon Freixa at Freixa in Madrid - he was another important influence. I also worked at a restaurant called Ginebre in Valencia. There I was often alone in the kitchen cooking lunch for between 35 and 40 people. It was there that I developed my signature style. There was nothing too heavy. If I wanted to create a new dessert I would see what was in the fridge. Every day I tried to make something new.
Do you favour molecular or traditional cuisine?
I'm somewhere in the middle. Traditional cooking is often unhealthy. And you would tire of molecular dishes every day. I like to choose fresh fish, meat and vegetables and give them an unusual presentation. There are many vegetarian options. The flavours should never be too heavy, they should be in harmony and there should be very little cream or butter. I used to visit a vegetarian restaurant in Valencia and ate things that were new to me, such as seaweed, brown rice, tofu and coconut milk. The Asian dishes there changed my view on healthy eating. The chef believed that you could eat healthily and still enjoy your food.