José Pizarro is the godfather of Spanish cuisine. Having first moved to London in 1998 when the Spanish offering was just some token tapas, José was at the forefront of bringing the county’s food into the mainstream – opening up Londoner’s palates to the wonders of Spain’s produce and flavours. We chatted to José about his partnership with Olives From Spain, his Bermondsey Street tapas bar, and love of the capital:

What’s your first memory of food? 

My first memory is of my mum cooking in the kitchen early in the morning preparing food for the day as she had to help my dad. I grew up on a farm where my dad used to plant all the vegetables and breed animals. I was constantly in contact with nature and organic produce. I used to eat the vegetables straight from the ground and drink fresh milk from the cows.

Growing up, did you always want to become a chef? 

Actually no, I didn’t know what to do with my life. I had two options as a child; either to help my dad or be a naughty boy running around the farm. I was more inclined to the naughty side, but when I realised how hard my dad and mum worked to maintain the farm I decided to study. I finished my course to become a Dental Technician then started a cookery course that made me change my mind to become a chef.

What first drew you to London? 

I decided to come to London to discover different types of cuisines from all over the world. I was so curious and wanted to travel and live in an exciting and cosmopolitan place like London.

What was the Spanish food scene like in London back in 1998? 

The scene was totally different to nowadays, as the British back then barely knew what Spanish cuisine consisted of. I remember only seeing items like Sangria and chorizo, but there are a lot more Spanish dishes on offer. We have an excellent healthy diet that many love, and our products needed to become popular here in Britain.

How do you think the public’s perception of Spanish food has changed over time? 

I think this has changed quite a lot; people are more open to trying new things. Some customers still like the usual suspects like sangria, tortilla de patatas or paella. I’ve found that the British now like to learn and try new things, so this is the best case scenario as their knowledge of Spanish cuisine has changed considerably.

Spanish cuisine has grown rapidly in recent years – why do you think Brits love tapas so much? 

I think because the concept of having a beer with a nice tapa like anchovies or olives with friends whilst socialising brings happiness.

You’ve recently partnered with Olives from Spain – can you tell us more about the campaign? 

This campaign has been amazing and a very productive one. I like teaching people about the high quality produce we have in Spain, and I created few recipes using different varieties of olives, as the majority of the production is used to make olive oil and just 4% is dedicated to olives for eating.

What’s your favourite type of olive? 

Gordales, as it is very meaty and crunchy with and incredible flavour.

What recipe do you enjoy cooking with olives? 

I love all the recipes, but I especially love the baked egg recipe from my partnership with Olives from Spain.

You’ve opened three restaurants in London – are there plans for anymore? 

Currently I have Pizarro Restaurant and José Tapas in Bermondsey Street and José Pizarro Broadgate in Liverpool street. The latest news is that I am opening a Pub in Esher. It has always been on my mind to create a beautiful community space where people can come together, which is exactly what pubs are.

What can people expect from your tapas bar on Bermondsey Street? 

My customers in José Tapas expect to have a great time whilst eating amazing meals so that they can be transported to Spain. The environment is a super happy one, which is very relaxed and informal.

Where do you like to eat in London? 

Londrino and Galvin La Chapelle.

For more information on Jose’s partnership with Olives From Spain, see here