Álex Clavijo


"At heart, inspiration comes from your thoughts, your daily life, your approach to life and what you would like to pass on."

What made you want to become a chef?
Shortly after coming to Spain in 2001, I arrived at a French-influenced gastronomic restaurant where there was a chef with his tall hat throwing his weight around. However, the people enjoyed working with him and this was clear from the diners, who greatly admired his cooking and dedication. Seeing that cooking could make people so happy, I considered this option.  
What is your first memory of a dish that made you dream?
In my mother and grandmother's kitchen, I was amazed at seeing how so much could be made from so little. We're from Guayaquil (Ecuador), a coastal city where the sea provides us with our leading produce. The first time I tried their whole fried fish with a tomato, onion and lime sauce with fried plantain I fell head over heels. 
Who has influenced you in your cooking style or philosophy?
The fact is the person who instilled the basics about cooking, the integrity of Michelin stars and respecting and valuing the product was my teacher, Marc Abramovici, a French cook.
I began with the basics of French cooking - the king of culinary arts - and then I became enamoured of Mediterranean and genuinely traditional cooking. 
What inspires you? or Where does your inspiration come from?
At heart, inspiration comes from your thoughts, your daily life, your approach to life and what you'd like to pass on.
What is your favourite culinary method or technique?
I base my cooking around traditional Mediterranean mixed with a hint of the bleeding edge. That means, I feel that if you don't know how to make good lentils, you can't make  an 'esterification of caviare'.
There are many ways to see or understand cooking, but you need to be realistic in that, nowadays, real cooking is losing prestige everywhere.   
What is your favourite ingredient?
The citruses, from my Latino past, and olive oil are the two ingredients that must be in my kitchen.
What is your favourite cooking utensil?
A good sharp knife is a great utensil or work tool for any cook.
What material do you prefer for your pans and saucepans?
I prefer saucepans because I love stews.
What would you like to change about the cooking schools?
I would love to change the message which accompanies the newly graduated chefs as they leave the cooking schools. Cooking isn't easy, it's a tough road to take and they need to be ready to put their all into it. The most important thing is the basics of cooking, far more than avant garde cooking because without tradition avant garde cannot be.

Your advice for young chefs.
A clear message: never stop learning. Cooking is something that is unique and wonderful, but you need to be grounded. Just because you may be a cook in the best restaurant in the world, it doesn't means you're better than a cook in a 'Brasserie'. 
What do you look for when you hire someone for your restaurant?
As with any other job, the first thing you should look for when hiring someone is the desire and motivation the candidate has for the work. Obviously, having studies and experience is very important.  
How do you motivate your team?
In order to motivate your team, you need to be unwavering and highly methodical in what you do and know how to clearly convey what you're looking for and what you want from them, letting them know you're there for them. After all, no kitchen runs well without a good team.
What would you like to change in the catering industry?
I would love to change the excess of junk food and ready meals in the catering industry, found in the street, supermarkets and elsewhere. There is more and more every day, with additives and substances that are bad for our health, and nobody does anything.  
What do you do when you have difficult guests?
A difficult question, ha ha. Hmmm, bring out dessert as quickly as possible and politely tell them that dinner is over.
What do you like to do to get away to relax?
Spend a few days with my family in a nice place.
What pushes you to keep on going?
I'm not looking for awards, just to be happy and to make people happy through my cooking and what I do. If that should happen to be recognised, that's very welcome. 
Right now, I am immersed in a personal project, making Ecuadoran food better known - not simply a case of being recognised for the sake of awareness, but so my country is recognised on a culinary scale.  
Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
It wouldn't be realistic of me to stick to just one dish as there are many that are of great significance to me.
What is your favourite restaurant?
I couldn't just pick one favourite restaurant: I greatly enjoy the cooking of various Latino and European chefs. 
Which current chef do you most admire and why?
There are, undoubtedly, many chefs worthy of admiration, but to pick just one is difficult. However, the first on the list would be my great teacher and friend Marc Abramovici. Marc is the one who has left a lasting impression on me and I admire him for his simplicity, his manner and his cooking. For me, one of the best, most well-known in the world is, most certainly, the great Santi Santamaría. Without being a cook, he achieved great things and he represents a turning point in traditional cooking. From modern cooking, Andoni Luis Aduriz is, for me, a cook who is constantly evolving, seeking out simplicity and respecting the natural flavours of products.
How do you think restaurants should be classified? 

I feel restaurants should be classified by what really matters and by why you go to a restaurant. That means the cooking, flavour and service - nothing more. It's not because it has the best crockery, the best linen or the best décor. There are lots of modest restaurants which are not taken into account because of their simplicity or how they look. That is something I feel needs to change.