London-based Spanish chef José Pizarro is often described as “the Godfather of Spanish cooking.” He worked in some of London’s most prestigious Spanish restaurants before opening his own, José Tapas Bar, in 2012. Since then, Pizarro has gone on to open two more locations and has also written three cookbooks.
In his latest cookbook, Catalonia, Pizarro guides readers through the Catalan region of northeast Spain and dispels any myth that cooking tapas and other Spanish cuisine at home has to be difficult.
Stunning photographs depict the beauty of the region, which lies on Spain’s Mediterranean coast and borders France across the Pyrenees Mountains, as well as the delectable recipes offered within the book. In addition to the clear, easy-to-follow recipes in the four chapters (Meat, Fish, Vegetables, and Desserts) of Catalonia, Pizarro provides menu plans for inspiration and guidance and a list of places to eat both in Barcelona and in the surrounding area.
Recipes featured in Catalonia include:
The Daily Meal: What is your philosophy of cooking (and/or eating)?
José Pizarro: For me, cooking is all about simplicity, and con cariño — putting love into food. When I was a child, my mother did all the cooking, I did not cook, but I observed her and saw how, even as a working mother, she put so much love into the food our whole family would eat. And it is this that I want to do in my restaurants, con cariño, because food brings people together.
How did it inspire the recipes you chose to include in this book?
It was actually a very difficult process, because I had 120 recipes, but I had to cut that down to 80 that I could include in the book. Every one of these recipes really means something to me. I have been so lucky, to be travelling through Catalonia (aka Cataluña), the whole way from the north to the south, eating with people. The research I did was all eating and drinking. Such hard work!
The recipes in the book come from those people I shared time with. They all mean something to me because of the people they have been passed down through. For me, it is about the people, the moments, the history. I love all of it, and I love to cook all of the recipes because they remind me of my experiences with these people, what I consider to be the experience of life. And the photography, the pictures in the book, they capture those moments of this life. I love their life, and life there, because it is simple. Yet there is so much behind the recipe! Con cariño…
What is your favorite recipe in the book and why?
It is so difficult to say one recipe! But if I have to choose, I would say Lobster Rice. Because of the moment. It was the last picture we shot for the book, in the Delta del Ebro region halfway between Barcelona and Valencia, where the Ebro River meets the sea. In that moment, it was about the people I was with while we were shooting this last photo. It was a beautiful moment, and because of my memories of that moment, this photo had to be in the book. It is something that will be savored forever.
The whole experience of making the book, everything was amazing all along the way, of course. But it is tiring, too, and so to be at the end, sitting outside in the heat, with a glass of wine, with this dish, that really captures everything about the dish in the moment.
Also, I do love the Catalan Spinach — it is so simple, it is all about its flavors. When you are really enjoying a meal, it is the flavors that you are tasting that make you want the memory of that meal — so important.
What are some of the foods you can’t live without?
Olive oil. I can’t imagine my life without it. Pimentón, Spanish paprika, definitely. Saffron. Egg — it is very important to always have eggs in the fridge. When you are hungry and you don’t have much available, make an omelette and everything is happy, everything is much better.
Would you rather dine out or cook at home?
Oh, I love both. I love eating out, but I also love to cook for myself, and bringing people into my home to cook for them. I love cooking together, eating together, drinking together. At the same time, I really enjoy tasting new food, with friends, in new places.
What is your favorite go-to meal or drink?
Very hard to decide… I would say, my drink, the Negroni. And… Lobster Rice! When someone asks me this question, it is all about how I’m feeling in the moment. There is no better feeling than when you are in the mood for something. And, in this moment, I am thinking about con cariño, so the Lobster Rice. And the Negroni. They would go well together. In fact, I would enjoy doing the interview at this moment while enjoying this meal together!
How do you hope readers will use this book, what do you hope they take away?
I hope people have an amazing time cooking from the book. Take from it how beautiful Catalonia is, how diverse the food of Catalonia is, and feel the love I have for the people there. I really hope people enjoy cooking from the book, and come back time and again to cook recipes from it.
And I also hope the photographs in the book, the pictures, will help transport people to Cataluña, because they are amazing, and it is an amazing place.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Nothing more than simply have a good time! That is the important thing: that people enjoy, and keep cooking from the book.