Tell us about L’escaleta. “It’s been around for 38 years and I’m the second generation, running it with my cousin, who is the sommelier. We experiment with local ingredients and ancient techniques that make our cuisine simple and natural.
“For example, we use garum, a fermented fish sauce that dates back to the Romans, but use different fish in it and make different marinades from it. Each dish is an opportunity to tell something about the landscape, or my personal experience.”
Have you always wanted to be a chef? “I didn’t want to be a chef when I was a child because I didn’t like my hands smelling of garlic and fish. My uncle was the head chef of L’escaleta and my father the maître d’. The restaurant is a family business so we all had to help out. I started when I was 14 years old, working there on the weekends and one summer. Afterwards, I was a waiter for four or five years.
“In 1998, I went to intern at El Bulli [Ferran Adrià’s now-closed restaurant on Spain’s Costa Brava] for three months. I was 22 years old. I enjoyed my time there, but I still didn’t want to be a chef.“I went to El Celler de Can Roca, in Girona, in 2002, just before they received their second Michelin star. El Celler de Can Roca is run by a great family – mother, father and three brothers – and I thought about my own family and realised we are a great family, too. It was at this point that I knew I wanted to be a chef. I was around 26 years old.”
Which ingredient are you most interested in now? “Salt – it can change the taste of food, and you can marinate ingredients with it. For example, garum is a salty sauce but we make sauces from it that aren’t salty.”
What is the current trend in Spanish cuisine? “It’s post avant garde, not too modern. Our guests are interested in food that isn’t manipulated too much, like what El Bulli did. We are interested in traditional flavours, not necessarily a traditional kitchen. That’s why I’m interested in salt; it’s an ancient technique that we can modify. Also the financial crisis five or six years ago changed Spanish cuisine in that restaurants couldn’t afford to use expensive ingredients and focused more on local products.”
What was it like getting your Michelin stars? “We got our first Michelin star in 2000. For me, the first star was for my uncle. The second star, in 2016, was for us, the second generation. It isn’t difficult for us to maintain the stars. We are improving the quality of food and service all the time, step by step. Maybe in a few years we can get a third star. We are our own worst critics.”
What do you do when you’re not working? “I spend time with my eight-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son. A few days ago, my daughter said, ‘I want a chef jacket to work with you.’ My wife is not happy with this idea, but if she wants to be a chef, that’s OK; if she wants to be an architect, that’s OK, too.
“When I was young, to be a chef was not cool, but now it is. When I told my mother I wanted to be a chef, she didn’t like it because you have to work weekends and holidays, you lose friends when you are young. It’s hard work. Your friends are the ones in the kitchen. For me, it’s an amazing job, making people happy.”
Kiko Moya was in Hong Kong to cook at Skye, in The Park Lane Hong Kong, a Pullman Hotel, in Causeway Bay.