CHILE'S ANSWER TO PHILEAS FOGG
When I was young, my grandfather used to take me to the local fruit market in Chile. We’d pick all the best fruits… watermelons, peaches, berries… whatever was in season. Then, when we arrived home, he’d always prepare something tasty... beautiful tomato salads with chilies, fresh cheeses... That really nurtured my love of food and how to treat it, the importance of seasonality and looking after the producers. I was always involved with the cooking and I just love food. My mum used to give me the ingredients and say ‘Can you make this? Can we eat that?’ I learned more and more until, aged 15, I started studying to become a chef. My mum was very supportive and found an amazing course for me but my father didn’t want me to. He said ‘You need to go to university. You cannot be a chef’ but I knew what I wanted. I said ‘Blah, blah, blah… I want to be a chef and I think I want to travel the world one day.’ That was without even knowing it would happen. One day, I discovered that I had Italian heritage from my grandmother and decided ‘Well that’s it… I’m off to Italy. I want to learn the culture, the food, the language... I want the whole experience.’ It all went from there.
MY BIGGEST INFLUENCES ARE…
My mother and grandfather were my biggest cooking influences, as well as the ingredients. Growing up visiting the local markets, I saw fantastic, fresh ingredients everyday… beautiful tomatoes – I can smell them now – fresh salads, lettuce, cheeses… homemade Chilean Chanco cheeses… oh my god!... it made me love the food even more. Even today, my food is full of very fresh, vibrant flavours. For me, that’s the key. In Italy, I used to buy 2-day-old homemade pecorino cheese that was so fresh, almost ricotta fresh, but with the salty flavour of pecorino. Simply amazing.
There was also a chef in Meride, Chile who, when nobody else was listening to my dreams, told me ‘You need to go and see the world. It’s more than this… Chile is nothing compared to what you’re going to see outside. If you have the chance travel the world, just do it, because cuisine-wise – you’re going to learn so much.’ He really inspired me on the whole adventure of food.
MY COOKING STYLE IS…
A combination of classical and modern cuisine but with a home touch. It sounds confused but the whole world of food is evolving all the time... new flavours, ingredients and cooking techniques are being discovered… I need to move with them. By utilizing the best of every area, old and new, it enables me to create food that’s inventive and exciting but, at the same time, when you eat it, it tastes so delicious that you don’t want to stop. I want my guests to enjoy the food and feel so comfortable that it’s almost like they’re eating at home.
When you eat my food, you’ll never feel ‘Oh this is too much’ or ‘I wish there was more’, you’ll feel like you’re tasting something that was made with passion. Completely satisfied.
MY JOURNEY TO THE SAVOY
When I first arrived in London, I worked at The Langham but I’ve always seen The Savoy as one of the top hotels in the world. I always knew that I wanted to be part of such a prestigious world-renowned hotel so I said to myself ‘One day I‘ll get there.’ Shortly after, I began working at The Connaught and, whilst there, I heard that they were refurbishing The Savoy. Many staff from The Connaught were applying for jobs there in preparation for the grand re-opening. They were so excited. So was I but, by that time, I’d decided to travel to Italy so it was another 2 years before our paths crossed again. When I returned to London, I was offered two roles: the Development Chef position at Harrods and Sous Chef at Kaspar’s Seafood Bar & Grill in The Savoy. I immediately thought ‘I want that job. It doesn’t matter. I want it’ and even though the Harrods’s job was easier – Monday-Friday – I said ‘No, I want the job here. I want to progress.’ That was in 2013 and I’m very happy.
IF YOU CAN’T STAND THE HEAT, GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN (& MAN IS IT HOT!)
The most important memory for me was when I had to decide if I had what it took to be a chef or not. I’d recently moved to London to work at The Langham and things were a bit up-and down. The French chefs I’d been working with had given me a tough time and I really questioned if it was the right profession for me. I started to think that cooking wasn’t for me but after one month I realized it was for me haha so, basically, after all the hard time they gave me, I realized something: cooking is all about passion. So I said ‘Well, if passion has to be involved, then everything is going to be ok.’ Nowadays, I always use that as an example for all of the new chefs in our kitchen. It might be hard for the first month or the first time but, if you really put yourself into it with your passion and commitment, then everything is going to be easier and you’ll see the fruits.
‘I love pastry. That’s why I didn’t become a pastry chef… I have such a sweet tooth. I love sugar.’
WHAT CAME FIRST: THE CHICKEN OR THE GLUTEN FREE BREAD?
We once had a waitress who came into the kitchen one day and said ‘Oh chef, is the chicken on the menu gluten free?’ I just stared at her. I thought she was joking so I said ‘Well, it depends. If the chicken had been eating bread when it was killed, that means it’s not gluten free.’… but she wasn’t. She nearly went back to the restaurant and told the guests so I had to quickly run and stop her. She found it funny afterwards but… seriously?!
‘I love working at The Savoy. It’s such a diverse role and they really encourage creativity. My boss, for example, is very willing to encourage my own style and inspire everyone in the way I do things. He’s very supportive.’
IF YOU ONLY EAT ONE DISH ON THE MENU, IT HAS TO BE…
To be truthful, I love the ribeye steak. Just plain ribeye with a nice truffle mash. We make it with black truffle but, you know, if you put a nice white truffle risotto in front of me, I will go crazy.
MY FAVOURITE FOOD
Ceviche; any ceviche! I love salmon ceviche, scallop ceviche… They're so fresh, full of vibrant flavours and then, if you have a pisco sour with it, even better! I love slow cooked dishes too… ooohhh nice meaty oxtails, braised ox cheeks… They have such a rich, depth of flavour. I love this kind of food.
MY ULTIMATE COMFORT FOOD
Ohhh oxtail. Alla Vaccinara - an Italian stew made from two dishes. First, you cook the oxtails in a rich tomato sauce; then, once it’s cooked, refrigerate the whole dish for 1-2 days. After 2 days, take the sauce, mix it with fresh rigatoni (i.e. the lovely thick cannelloni) and eat it with pecorino cheese. Beautiful!
How to pick a good oxtail: It has to be nice and meaty with a small bone and not too much fat. Waitrose has the best ones. They have a nice rib of beef too – the proper chunky, meaty one. I buy it every time I go there.
BEST FOOD IN THE WORLD
Definitely Italian and Chilean cuisine. If you’re visiting Italy, you need to eat bucatini amatriciana or, when in Chile, I have a secret… Whenever I arrive there, the first place I go to is Fuente Alemana - THE best sandwich shop in the world. They make these amazingly tasty, enormous sandwiches. They must weigh 1kg! The chefs cook the pork loin and slice it very thinly before putting it back into the stock. When you order the sandwich, they take all of this juicy, sliced pork and gravy, plus avocado, tomato and homemade mayonnaise. It’s delicious! Then they serve it to you and you’re like ‘Omg! This is just heaven.’
Chilean food is slightly outdated flavour-wise (e.g. we use very few spices compared to Peruvian and other cultures); however it’s some of the most delicious and comforting food you’ll ever eat. Like the Italians, we only use a few ingredients - 3-4 ingredients can make the whole dish - but you taste the freshness and vibrancy of every ingredient’s flavour and that’s what it is: perfect simplicity!
CHEF SECRETS: TASTY PILAF RICE
Most people boil their rice, especially in England, which whilst correct is also boring. This recipe works magic: heat some olive oil and garlic in a pan… slowly, slowly… let the oil infuse with the garlic’s flavour. Then, when the aromas start to fill the air, add the rice immediately. Seal the rice with olive oil until it’s very hot, then add 1.5 fingers of boiling water on top of the rice. As soon as it starts boiling, reduce the heat and leave it to cook for around 17mins. You’ll have perfect pilaf rice.
I like Meza. It’s a great Lebanese restaurant in Tooting Broadway with some very tasty sharing platters. I love the hummus with crushed walnuts and sautéed smoked pieces of lamb; and their beautiful broad beans with garlic, lemon and parsley are amazing.
Francisco Hernandez is the Executive Sous Chef at Kaspar’s Seafood Bar & Grill.