Festive Taste of London 2015: José Pizarro

Festive Taste of London 2015: José Pizarro

by Felicity Spector 28 October 2015

Felicity spoke to Spanish chef and tapas legend, José Pizarro, before his upcoming appearance at the Festive Edition of Taste of London this winter – a fantastic opportunity for him to share his passion for authentic Spanish cuisine.

Felicity Spector has worked in national television journalism for nearly thirty years, but has now combined her day job with an increasing interest in food writing in her spare time.

Felicity Spector has worked in national television journalism for twenty-six years, covering everything from the Velvet Revolution in Prague in 1989 to the inauguration of President Obama, but has combined her day job with an increasing interest in food writing in her spare time. Over the last eight years she has been a judge for the Great Taste Awards – and has been privileged to meet loads of fabulous producers, food writers and chefs - all the more reason to tell their stories.

José Pizarro has to be one of the most enthusiastic, energetic people in food – his restaurants in Bermondsey and Broadgate are always buzzing, packed to the rafters with people enjoying plates of fritters, jamon, grilled octopus and chocolate on toast.

At this summer's Taste of London there were constant queues for his food: the torrejas in sticky orange caramel sauce were the stuff of legend. This winter, with three busy restaurants to run, he's not able to bring the whole team – but José told me he was desperate not to miss out altogether. ‘I love the Taste of London event so much! I said to them, please, I can't be there for the whole show, but I can do a cooking demonstration – it's going to be great!’

He'll be on the main stage showcasing his take on duck breast, with pumpkin and a sherry sauce with pine nuts and raisins – all the flavours of a Spanish Christmas. ‘I wanted to demonstrate a dish which people can make themselves, and really, duck is so easy to cook, easier than chicken.’

There'll be no cheffy techniques, then: ‘I'm not making a lentil foam or anything like that! This really is as simple as those pre-cooked dishes you see in the supermarket. And duck is easy to find nowadays, you can get it in most big shops and your local butcher.’

José has been one of the pioneers of truly modern Spanish food, and he's been proud to showcase it to a wider public. ‘When I arrived in this country fifteen years ago, no-one really knew anything about it. If they saw jamon Iberico they thought it must be Parma ham. It's so healthy and quick to make at home, and nowadays you can get all sorts of ingredients, different kinds of paprika, good quality tuna – even in a local corner shop.’

It's made Britons more adventurous when they go abroad, he says – happy that people are now more likely to seek out authentic local food, and try to understand the real Spanish culture.

His own restaurants are testimony to that spirit of adventure and discovery: ‘We find people are really keen to try new things; they seem to like what we do which makes us happy too!’

The crowds of people at Taste of London and the chance to meet people who are tasting his food for the first time are a real bonus, he says: ‘It's so nice to meet those people who can't get to the restaurants, but who still want to come try the food, and have a chat. It's all about the hospitality, the customer is just like a guest in my own house.’

In fact, he declares, that's one of the best parts of his job. ‘When things are going well, it keeps you going, and you work even harder. And that's what's important – enjoying what you do.’

And he's sharing that enjoyment too... one glorious tapas dish at a time.