A fiesta of flavours to be explored
There is seemingly too much gazpacho as we sit down at chef José Pizarro’s dining table, at his south London home.
He’s already doled out bowlfuls of the cool, strawberry and tomato soup – the muted, velvety red of geraniums spiked with a powerful, peppery vinegar that we knock back teaspoons of – to his staff, who have spent the morning wandering in and out of his kitchen, snagging bits of croissant, letting him know that a new sherry supplier has been in touch.
There’s still one bowlful left. A movement is made to take it away, but he grabs it with an arch grin: “For my lunch!”
We’re having ‘gazpacho elevenses’ in honour of Pizarro’s latest cookbook, Andalusia, which coincides with the Spanish restaurateur’s 20th year living in Britain.
It’s summer encapsulated in print, from the simplest of recipes, like his orange and oregano salad, to espeto (barbecued sardines) and apricot sorbet with tejas dulces de Sevilla.
There wasn’t much Spanish food available when he first moved to London, mostly high-street chain fare, and “people didn’t know what they were eating”, he recalls. And what they were eating “wasn’t related to Spanish quality and ingredients”, either.
Take olive oil, he says, mock-horrified, it was something you kept in the medicine cabinet: “They thought olive oil was to clean their ears – you go to the pharmacy and buy olive oil – the most horrible olive oil ever! Rancid, disgusting, and the most expensive olive oil you’ll buy in your life!”
Things have changed a lot in two decades though, and the concept of good Spanish food is something most of us are largely comfortable with. “Parma ham – people do understand now.” Delving deeper into the food of Andalusia then, is not so obscure an idea as it might have been two decades ago.
Even some of the relaxed qualities of Spanish-style eating are translating, especially the idea of small sharing plates. “If you are in a tapas bar and you are there alone, you just sit next to someone,” explains Pizarro. “[You] say, ‘Oh wow, what’s that?’ [to the person next to you]. That opens a conversation.
“You feel more comfortable to do that in a place like a tapas bar, than other places.”
Born in Extremadura, Spain, Pizarro moved to London after a stint cheffing in Madrid, and although “it was a shock” has “loved it since the beginning” – largely because of the diversity of food and cuisines available in Britain, a diversity Spain just didn’t have.
“We’re lucky now, we can go out every night if we want, we don’t need to stay in, we don’t need to spend so much money and you can eat OK,” he says, noting that’s the case across the UK, not just London.
Andalusia: Recipes From Seville and Beyond by José Pizarro, photography by Emma Lee, is published by Hardie Grant, priced £26. Available now.