David García (El Palà de Torroella, 1987) has been around a kitchen since the day he was born. In fact, his mother went into labor while cleaning baby squid. Cooking is in his blood. He loves it. He’s passionate about it. And he knows what he’s doing. He pays attention to every detail in his kitchen. A few years ago, he won the Top Chef competition on TV.
Fast forward two years. After checking on the soufflé, David sits down with us at his restaurant in his hometown. It is eleven o’clock in the morning. We’re having coffee and cookies. Let’s get started.
As a kid, did you already imagine yourself working in a kitchen?
I didn’t really consider it until I was 16. Although when I was eight someone gave a talk about healthy habits at our school, and when they asked if anyone wanted to be a pastry chef, I was the only one to raise my hand. A few years later, I visited the Escuela Joviat in Manresa and signed up for a pastry-making course. That’s how I got into the culinary world, and I never left.
When did you realize that cooking could become your career?
Somewhere around 2003. My parents started giving me a lot of freedom in the restaurant. I made desserts that were different from the traditional flan con nata [crème caramel with whipped cream], músico [a classic dessert consisting of dried fruit and nuts] or frozen whiskey cake. People liked them, and I began to play a bigger role in the restaurant, not only in terms of desserts.
But you hadn’t studied cooking yet…
That’s right. I went to culinary school, I loved it, and after completing my studies, I presented my parents with two options: either I leave and explore the world or I stay at the restaurant, but get my own space.
In the end, they went with the second option…
Yes, we all agreed it was the best solution and didn’t think twice about it. The first few years were difficult, but eventually we got the ball rolling.
You’re young, I imagine you still have a lot to learn…
I have a world of learning ahead of me. Whenever anyone claims to have learned it all or cooked it all, that’s a bad sign. A friend once told me that he doesn’t continue a conversation with someone who tells him that their life is perfect. He thinks they’ve failed. The first time he asked me this question, I replied, “Every day’s a battle, but I keep going.”
And the conversation continued…
Yes, I really liked his way of thinking. It stayed with me and became part of my daily life.
It’s the best way to stay grounded…
Absolutely. Life is a lot like riding a bicycle: there will always be someone with more stamina who can pedal faster, and one day they’ll catch up with you. Learning is important, it allows us to keep growing every day.
Do you think you entered the food world at a good moment in time?
I made a name for myself at a very good moment in time. Food has become very fashionable, and a lot of people have a growing admiration for chefs.
Do you think this might be a passing fad?
I wouldn’t be able to say, but it’s important to remember that all of this started years ago with Ferran Adrià. Given the popularity of cooking shows, a lot of chefs are making a name for themselves now.
Like you did. By winning Top Chef. Tell us what that experience was like…
Simply entering the contest already changed my life. We were in a good place. The catering business was doing well, as was the traditional restaurant, but the gastronomic space was struggling a bit. Particularly because of the location. By participating and winning the contest, everything really took off. We had been going at cruising speed.
I imagine reservations skyrocketed…
I’ll give you a figure. One week of taking phone reservations after winning Top Chef and the restaurant was fully booked for five months. It was an intense period of time that had us working 15-hour days. But it was worth it.
Plus, expectations must keep getting higher…
Of course, it’s like being in the eye of the hurricane. Everyone is watching and analyzing everything you do. The “boom” has calmed down now, but it lasted well over a year. Thanks to Top Chef, we picked up speed.
Now that everything has settled and you have time to reflect, how would you define your cooking style?
My cooking style is the essence of tradition. I’m a sensitive and emotional person, and I don’t need to put 25 ingredients in a dish to convey something. My cooking is based on memories and traditional Catalan recipes with an Andalusian influence here and there which span two generations.
I’m sure you have a star dish or product…
Yes, I love cooking poultry of all kind. Cold dishes are my least favorite, because I find it difficult to give them a kick.
In your opinion, what is the role of wine in gastronomy?
It plays a very important role, because it complements the food. I find it as important as the bread we eat with a meal. In addition, every wine is backed by a story and a serious commitment, which make it special. The people who make wine really deserve respect, which is why you should never say a wine is bad.
Where do you think cooking is headed?
I think it is heading back in time. Over the past ten years, we moved forward very quickly. We no longer focus on tradition and authenticity, and I think it is time to stop and look back.
Do you think a chef is born or made?
Personally, I can’t say for sure whether I was born or made. What I know for certain is that you need some kind of inner drive. You have to emotionally connect with this kind of work. I have lived it since I was little, I was raised on it. I like this line of work, I’m passionate about it. It makes me happy.
How do you feel when you cook?
When you do something you love, you feel good. Everything flows. Time flies. What I like best is sharing what we do with our customers. I love engaging with them directly and letting them know about everything our team does in the kitchen.
Besides doing what you love, name one essential ingredient for success.
Being humble and never deceiving the customer, not in terms of price or product.
Do you think dreams can come true?
Yes, but luck also plays a crucial role. More than dreams, I believe in setting ambitious goals for yourself. And they can be achieved through effort, commitment and perseverance.
A BRIEF TASTE
Do you like wine?
I love it.
What is the best moment to enjoy a glass of wine?
In the evening, before dinner.
A song to accompany a good wine.
Bicicletes by Blaumut.
A place, city or village to get lost in.
Somewhere with no people. Calatayud in Aragón, for example.
If you could be reincarnated, who or what would you be?
I would have loved to experience the era of French nouvelle cuisine.
What do you do in your free time?
Relax, travel, do nothing at all.
A flaw and a virtue.
I’m not very punctual, but I am tolerant, patient and sensitive.
What did you want to be as a kid?
I wanted to own a travel agency.
And when you’re older?
Keep working as a chef.