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Local Intelligence | Madrid

A Conversation with Essentialist Globalite, Diego Guerrero Words by Paul Richardson

"I’ve travelled in all the continents, but there’s no way I’ve seen everything I want to see. The world is enormous! But my place right now is Madrid. This is where I always want to come back to—it’s my home."

We at the Essentialist like to aim high. And in the high-energy world of food in Madrid you can’t go much higher than Diego Guerrero. Having honed his talent in the leading kitchens of the Basque country, Diego opened his first restaurant in the capital in 2003, and now has two Michelin stars at the hugely successful Dstage, fashionable scenario for his soulful and open-minded cuisine. Our newest Globalite talks travel, Madrid life, and the importance of surfing.

Essentialist: What were your first travel experiences?

Diego Guerrero: Before I started out as a cook my parents warned me to think carefully, as this is a profession that demands huge sacrifices, especially at the beginning of your career. So for a while I wasn’t able to travel. Before that, as a child, we spent summer holidays at the beach in Cullera (Valencia) or Asturias. Always in Spain—my parents weren’t the type to jump on planes. The first trip I remember making independently was a surfing holiday with a group of friends in Lanzarote.   Later my parents got a bit more adventurous, and we’d go to Andalucía (my father loves the south): Cádiz, Matalascañas, Granada…  

 

E: Who are your influences in cuisine?

DG: So many! Bear in mind that I come from a generation that saw the tail end of the French nouvelle cuisine: Michel Guérard, Michel Bras, Marc Veyrat, Robuchon, Bocuse. Then came the new Basque cuisine with Juan Mari Arzak, Pedro Subijana, and Martín Berasategui—I did my first work experience with Martín.  After that I experienced at first hand the Big Bang, the explosion of El Bulli with Ferran Adrià. I’m lucky to have lived through all these artistic movements and learned from them creatively.

 

E: How much do you travel now?

DG: Last year I covered 150,000 kilometers around the world. All for work, of course.  When you become, as it were, an ambassador for your own project, there are things you have to do out of necessity. The longest time I can usually spend away is a week, including flights to and from the destination. Often it’s a food congress, or a special dinner.  If it’s a long-haul trip I try and stay at least four days, because if not it can seem like it’s just the flight, work and straight back home.  I like to visit markets, discover ingredients, hang out with colleagues, try the local food, and soak up as much as I can of the country. Ultimately gastronomy is culture, and through food you can learn so much about the way people live.

 

E: What was your last big trip?

DG: Washington, last week. I spent time with José Andrés, and ate a fantastic dinner at Minibar—that was really a golden opportunity.  We even had time to catch a NBA basketball game. Right after my return to Spain I was off to San Sebastian, where I was holding a master class at the Basque Culinary Center.

 

E: Where is the center of your world?

DG: I’ve travelled in all the continents, but there’s no way I’ve seen everything I want to see.  The world is enormous!  But my place right now is Madrid. This is where I always want to come back to—it’s my home. Euskadi is where my roots are, and somehow I still belong there. But it’s important in life to be grateful, and I’m so grateful to Madrid. I love this city. It’s welcomed me with open arms, and I feel very at home here.

 

E: Does it feel like a cutting-edge city in food and culture generally?

DG: Yes, it does. Madrid is incredibly interesting culturally.  I won’t say it’s reached the top, because I guess it hasn’t arrived at that point just yet, but I do believe the city’s in a very positive situation right now. When I started out in Madrid 16 years ago there were four or five haute cuisine restaurants, all very ‘clásico’, that had been here for ages, but very few young, fresh, dynamic proposals.  All that has changed completely. The awards, the Michelin stars and so on, have multiplied.  But above all what’s great is the number of new and exciting restaurant concepts. Clos, Efímero, Nakeima, are places I rate highly. These days there’s a sense of freedom to do what you like, which means the scene is in very good health.

 

E: Do you enjoy the old-fashioned food culture of Madrid, the traditional tavernas, a proper cocido madrileño?

DG: I love it. If there’s something I really enjoy about Madrid it’s the cervecerías (beer bars), the tapas. My favorite place for a caña [the Spanish beer serving] is El Doble on calle Ponzano on a Sunday at midday. If I want a classic cocido [Madrid’s signature dish of chickpeas, mixed meats and vegetables) I might head for La Bola, or La Tasquita de Enfrente, where my friend Juanjo López does a very good one.

 

E: To what extent do your experiences abroad have an influence on your cooking?

DG: It would be a shame if what I see and taste on my travels isn’t reflected in my work. Running my restaurant Sabor in Shanghai, since June 2016, has been a wonderful learning process. As for the local food, you have to remember that real Chinese cuisine is nothing like the version we’re sold in the West. Chinese food culture is so rich in history and tradition, so diverse, so surprising.

 

E: Any upcoming trips on the agenda?

DG: For the moment I’m looking at Milan, Warsaw, Sochi, and Mexico. That’s not counting the places closer to home: San Sebastián again, Almería, and there’ll be more.   When the holidays come round I try not to venture too far. I love spending time in Galicia. Sagres, at the south west of Portugal, is somewhere I like to try a bit of surfing (it’s important to keep trying). My profession still forces me to give up certain things, but I’ll never complain. After 25 years I can definitely say it’s given me far more than it’s taken away.

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