Our interview with chef Aitor Lozano, the West Coast Director of Creativity for The Bazaar by José Andrés:
What do you think makes a great chef and restaurant?
The best chefs are made by assembling a great team. Leadership is what will set the quality of a restaurant apart. Making the most of the best qualities of each chef is how a chef can bring their vision to life. Passion and love don’t make great restaurants – they’re just the beginning. Without the hard work of an amazing team creating a unique culinary experience would simply be impossible.
To put it simply: honesty, passion and hard work.
A great restaurant is not determined by just the food that is served. A great restaurant also tells a story.
When creating prix fixe menus, like the 22 course Truffle Dinner series, do you have a trick to give yourself space and time to allow a creative flow to can come up with those new menu times or ideas?
I personally have 18 years of experience in the kitchen. Much of that time I dedicated specifically to becoming a student of the culinary process. Developing dishes is a process that I have learned throughout this time. See the product, touch the product, talk to the product, “destroy” the product. By destroy I mean peel it, cut it, smash it, fry it, do everything you can with it. After that you can realize the potential of the product.
Four years and hundreds of big and small bites later, we have spent a lot of time mastering the relationships between products, producers, providers and our own experiences. In that time we have learned how to bring the best menu to our guests as the seasons change. We come up with ideas for pairings months in advance of when the product is available. We do extensive research and at times we travel the world to realize this goal of bringing only the best to our guests.
What is your favorite thing to cook? To eat?
My favorite thing to cook are vegetables. I love artichokes, Spanish peas, green beans, carrots and beets. When I am at home I love to source the freshest vegetables that I can find at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, drizzle them with Spanish olive oil, salt and a pinch of pepper. Perfect.
My favorite thing to eat is Spanish seafood: sea urchin, red shrimp, crabs, sea cucumber, clams, mussels – everything seafood. I am from Barcelona and it’s a fisherman’s town. Culturally, Spain is a seafront country – more than 80% of the country is surrounded by water. No matter where I lived, from San Sebastian to Roses, the sea was only a few steps away. I love going to the fish market in Barcelona and visiting my friends that own their own “puestos” – where I can buy a fish that was caught just an hour ago. Does it get any better?
Where do you see the food industry heading?
The perception of the food industry needs to change. People are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on experiences like concerts, travels, sporting events and the like. Why shouldn’t they think about spending on food the same way?
A great restaurant is not just defined by great food anymore. Here in SAAM we challenge ourselves daily to create an experience for our guests. The question we ask ourselves now is: How involved can the chefs bwith the guests in creating those unforgettable memories?
Tell us something interesting about yourself that we might not know.
I have more tattoos than I can count. You may have seen them on my arms in an Instagram photo or two, but more than 70% of my body is covered in art. I like to think of myself as a tattoo collector. Some people collect art, I collect tattoos.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
When we are born we do not know yet what we will be when we are adults. But in the course of life there are always signs. I like to think this photo from when I was six years old in Barcelona might have been a sign…
If you had to cook with only 5 ingredients the rest of your life, what would they be?
Olive oil, Iberico ham, potatoes, sea urchin, and love.