Inflation is a reality everywhere in the world. What are you seeing from the product side that’s having the biggest impact on your business?
We don’t know 100%, but it’s mostly all common products, like flour. You look at caviar and foie gras. Every year they’re getting cheaper. 100 farms in Europe make caviar and foie gras so people can eat that every day. These products are getting cheaper, but the common products go up every day. The problem is melons, onions, flour, sugar, etc.
And what are you seeing with energy prices?
Imagine this, since the pandemic, we now pay three times what we paid before the pandemic. That’s just to turn the lights on. Another reality in Europe and particularly in Spain is that Spanish people normally eat dinner at 9:30-10pm, breakfast before 10:30am and lunch around 2:30pm. The tourists, they eat lunch at 1pm or 1:30 and dinner at 7:30 or 8pm. So, we have to use more energy for longer periods of time.
Also, one of the things after Covid is that we have to be very careful with the hours of the staff. Waiters can’t work more than eight hours. And now, nobody wants to even be a waiter.
Why are people suddenly disinterested in working?
After the pandemic, people discovered life. But work is a system of life. We close Enigma at 1:30 in the morning, where before it was 2 or 2:30 in the morning. Also, after Covid we’ve noticed that the tourists are now arriving later at night and the Spanish people are eating earlier. The Spanish people are starting to get used to an earlier time and the industry is kind of forcing them by saying you can’t come later; this is the time you have.
The whole gin and tonic culture is now gone. For Spanish people, after dinner they stay for hours at the table and just drink. So that’s no more because we would have to pay overtime just to keep giving people gin and tonics.
The only way we found to have staff is to open from Monday to Friday, and they don’t do any more than eight hours. It’s a good salary but we’re dinner only, only one service a day. And that’s the only way we’re able to operate.
Are business models changing across all restaurants?
The problem is that many restaurants still haven’t realised that they have to change. You can’t just continue like you were pre-pandemic. And when they realise this, it’ll probably be too late.
What advice do you have for new restaurateurs?
I’ve talked about this before the pandemic as well. But to me, one of the keys to starting a restaurant when you’re younger is specialising. Focus on one thing. If you make pizza, make the best pizza. If you make burgers, make the best burgers. If you make soba, ramen, sushi, make it the best. In Asia, for example, you see these small places with three workers and sometimes it’s cheap and sometimes it’s expensive. If you work with soba ramen, you might pay 25 Euros for one ramen because it’s the best ramen.
Maybe you see more specialisation here in the United States than in Europe but it’s starting to change. Before you were seeing restaurants with dozens of things, but now it’s starting to be less and less.
How does climate change affect you and your restaurant – what are you seeing in terms of farmers, water issues, immigration, etc.
It’s another million-dollar question. One of the starting keys is the culture in the schools. I can’t understand why the schools don’t have classes on nutrition. We are carnivores, but it’s ironic that poor people are eating meat and the rich people are eating vegetables. We’re taught since we were kids that we need to eat everything. Vegetables, fish, etc. Spain is the second country in the world after Japan for eating fish. But when I fly to other countries, you don’t see as much fish. They can’t even name four different fishes. And good meat? Maybe they eat it two times a month.
What are the farmers saying to you now?
What we’re seeing is farmers cutting out the middleman. The farmers now go directly to the chefs. Fishermen too. Because the farmer receives one Euro for a tomato, and I pay seven. But when you peel and clean the final cost might be 12.
This is the reality. Never in the history of humanity have we had the possibility to have such a varied and diverse refrigerator. But in the end, everyone’s house has just five of the same things. The younger generation only eats chicken and burgers.
What does that tell you?
We’re not conscious enough of the importance of what food is in our lives. And like my brother always says, eating feeds the soul and we’re not being conscious individuals.
What are you doing about it?
Maybe it’s a question you can ask my son, he’s 15 years old. Right now, it’s like an earthquake. You speak with everyone, the fishermen, the farmers, the sailors.
Products are disappearing from people’s diets completely. There are things that only old people eat. Spain is a country that traditionally ate every part of the animal. The organs, the liver, etc. But now it’s disappearing because nobody is eating these things. But it’s also a human problem. I used to eat these sea snails as a kid, it was like caviar for me. But now it’s finished.
With fish stocks depleting, how do you think about sustainability?
Now, sea urchin I believe in five years will be gone. The problem is that we’ll finish ours and then we’ll go find them somewhere else and finish theirs. And we’ll pay more money for them and we’re all guilty. Everyone is guilty and selfish. We’re guilty for serving it and eating it.
This is something I really want to explain at this event. One of the things that we try to do, to do our part, is to really follow the seasonality of the products. Only. All the products in season. The problem is that it’s summer in South America while it’s winter in Spain, but people will pay 25 Euros for cherries from Chile and Argentina. But we won’t do it. Before, yes, but no longer.
Like truffle, now we start the season in November in Spain, and it goes for five months. But in summer you have truffle from Australia or South America. That’s where the sustainability breaks. And it breaks because we all want it all year around. It’s hard to not be able to offer these products. Because you see other restaurants with black truffles, and we don’t have them. And customers will say ‘you don’t have them?’
And do you feel like Sisyphus, constantly pushing that rock up the hill and never getting there?
You just opened Enigma. What are your other plans?
Enjoy life. I’m very happy because every day I used to cook for 10 hours, I made the staff meal, and the food for the customers. Pre-pandemic, I created a world that I didn’t like. There was too much pressure and not enough money. Too much pressure, not enough time, not enough money, not enough family. I rediscovered time to cook at home.
What do you think is the next wave of fine-dining trends?
We think what we’re doing right now. The flavour. When you eat chicken it’s chicken. When you eat eggplant it’s eggplant. The DNA of the flavour is my philosophy. I use all the techniques that I have but it’s for the expression of flavour. I have different styles of cooking. One is from El Bulli but I have another. I hate the word ‘molecular cuisine’. To me there are only two styles of cuisine: good and bad. You try to make the good one, but it’s the bad one that teaches you. And now we’re making mistakes, but we live with the errors, and we rectify it quickly and choose the right path. For me, the joy is the face of the guests.
Ultimately, there are so many different realities and truth. The problem is when you speak one way and cook another. I live near La Boqueria, the market in Barcelona, and I go every day. And I’m searching for the best products. I want the best eggplant I can possibly get. It’s my obsession now. To get the best product. And you have to fight every day to get it.