Saturday, 10 January 2015

Interview with Chef Pedro Diaz, El Meson & Estilo, Spanish Restaurants, Kuala Lumpur

best spanish restaurant kuala lumpur
Chef Pedro Diaz

Interview with Chef Pedro Diaz, El Meson & Estilo


What do you do and how did you get into the industry?
During my school years in Spain I didn't like to study much. When I was in high school, I decided one fine day to discontinue my studies altogether – much to my father’s displeasure! After many forms of voicing his disapproval, he came to an ultimatum of two choices: to start work in my uncle’s factory in my hometown, or go back to studying something which in future would benefit my career as a whole.  For me this was an easy enough decision; I’d always helped my mother and grandmother with the cooking at home and the same goes whenever I had friends over. All of us love to eat and cook – food was where and how we bonded. And of course, I detested the mere notion of working in a factory; to me it was the worst and most boring job one could ever get into… so I chose to become a Chef.

Share with us an interesting story from behind the scenes.
An interesting story… well, I was working in a restaurant in the capital city of my region (Santander) at the beach where the kitchen is under the restaurant at sea level. I remember it was a busy Sunday with full bookings of more than 300 people. In the middle of the service at around 2pm – this was when the restaurant was at peak hour, bustling and packed to the brim with noisy customers – a torrential rain started to take over, threatening to put the business to a halt. As water kept flowing in we found the place and ourselves being quickly consumed with water, and soon the kitchen had a water level of 60cm. All electronic equipment had to be turned off so we had to work quickly and efficiently with only gas. It was quite a sight indeed, with all sorts of things floating in and around the kitchen. It was a crazy day but we continued service as usual until evening and there were no complaints at all.

What's the best/ worst part of your job?
The best part of my job is that there is always something new to be learnt each day, not only from a highly qualified or experienced chef, but also from any kitchen helper, a chef de partie, or commis... anyone can teach you something new as long as you are willing and open to learn. The pursuit of culinary knowledge and all things gastronomy is infinite.
The worst part would be that time for leisure and self-enjoyment is very much limited. Working in a kitchen takes up most, if not all of your time: you don’t work to live, you live to work.

What's your personal favourite meal/ drink?
My favorite place to eat is in my home region. Enjoying top quality steak with a glass of good wine with my friends would be my idea of the perfect meal.

What's one of the craziest things you've seen behind the scenes?
The craziest things I saw and did were when I went in to work sick. I was having fever once whereby waking up felt like having to face judgement day and a simple task of walking made me feel like I was in Zombieland. But a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do: work comes first even if it means sacrificing your wellbeing sometimes because the restaurant has full bookings or a big function. To work in a kitchen means having to work in a team. Everybody becomes family because, when you’ve chosen to work in a line where you spend more time with your kitchen mates than with your real family, that’s when you learn true commitment. It is a difficult feeling to explain but you simply must get on with the job at hand. It doesn’t matter how tired or sick you are because at the end of the day, this is my bread and butter.

What would your perfect day off look like? What do you do for fun?
My perfect day off is to stay at home with my friends or my family, talking or just doing nothing. Chilling at home with your family and friends around you… you just can’t beat that feeling. That’s also what I would choose to do “for fun."

What is a day like in the life of Chef Pedro?
The first thing I do in the morning is to check my email or WhatsApp because there are sure to  be a few messages from Suppliers, Managers, Staff, etc.
Then I go to one of the kitchens (Estilo or El Meson) depending on which one needs more of my attention be it due to bookings, new menus, new recipes, or issues pertaining to suppliers. After making sure that everything is okay (products arrived in a good condition, mise en place is ready), I repeat the same with the other kitchen. Once I’m sure that both kitchens are running well I would meet with new suppliers to check out new products, whilst the restaurant managers check on customer feedback about the food. We try to review this feedback to help us assimilate better to the Asian palate. I also have constant meetings with my boss to test and try out new recipes, as well as handle special events or bookings.
When everything is checked and settled I will stay in one of the kitchens, working with my team to ensure the smooth running of service – from preparation of the food to plating up. Depending of the number of bookings I will be in Estilo or El Meson.

What's something you'd like guests to know?
I would like our guests to know that my team and I are in constant diligence each and every day, to try to give them the best culinary experience possible. We always cook with passion and are careful as best from the run-up to the time of dining. Their enjoyment is our fulfilment. If, for any reason something is not what they expect it to be, we apologize in advance! But we’d do our best to compensate by rectifying or improving the next time. That said, I do want to put it out there that we chefs who work in the kitchen are humans as well. I know it seems pretty hard to remember sometimes but yes, we are humans too and we do make mistakes.

What's your favourite food and wine pairing?
One of my favorite food pairings is not with wine, but a Blue cheese from my region Cantabria with a chilled bottle of Sidra (Cider) from Asturias.

What's your view on the KL food scene?
I think Kuala Lumpur is a fast-developing city. In the F&B scene itself there are thousands of restaurants, the competition is incredible! One of the things I’ve noticed in many restaurants in KL is that there’s a lack of a true sense of what it stands for as a restaurant. For example Italian restaurants not having any Italian people working in the restaurant, French restaurants without any French people working in the restaurant, and so on and so forth… One day if I open my own restaurant in Spain, for example, I will not open its doors if it does not work to the vibe of its own culture, where it stems from. I for one could not bring myself to open an Indian, Chinese or Malay eatery, as it is not my food, it is not my identity. But the local food (Indian, Chinese and Malay) is fantastic, I love it.

What's in store for you in the upcoming months?
We are working with a new menu, which we are hoping to be up and running by February. We are very busy with that especially in the midst of Christmas.
In January I’m planning to go back to Spain for around two weeks, where I’ll be travelling to Madrid, Barcelona, Santander, San Sebastian to visit some of my chef friends’ restaurants and see what’s new in the gastrono-sphere for the coming year. I normally fly back to Spain in January to try and source new suppliers, new products or better quality products from what we are currently using, and always try to get the best for our customers. Last year I flew to Barcelona just to meet one of the best Spanish beef suppliers there is in the market, and you can now find the best dry-aged Spanish beef on sale at our restaurant.

Check out El Meson here and

4 comments:

  1. Reminds me of the Hundred-foot Journey, the book or the movie. It does not matter if the chefs are good at the cuisine concerned, never mind what nationality...provided they have the credentials, experience and of course, the gift. Not all, even if they are of a particular nationality, may be able to cook well...or as well.

    ReplyDelete
  2. He looks an ok man....as long as he is good at his work which I presume he is.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I like to have my beer at Estilo. And very often bumped into him, been always wondering if he is Spanish, and your interview answers my question! :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great story of behind the scenes. He looks like a charming fellow.

    ReplyDelete