Today we talk to Alejandro Serrano, the chef of the restaurant that bears his name in Miranda de Ebro (Burgos) and who has become the youngest Spanish chef to be awarded a Michelin star at only 24 years of age.
The native of Miranda de Ebro has always lived in the kitchen. Growing up in his family’s restaurant in Miranda, Alejandro attributes his former years to his current success. Alejandro, realizing his passion for gastronomy, decided to train at the hotel school in Bilbao and later in the best kitchens of the greatest chefs in his country. He honed his craft at Azurmendi (Eneko Atxa), DiverXo (Dabiz Muñoz) and Coque (Mario Sandoval), and that has undoubtedly helped him to be the youngest Spaniard to obtain such an award.
As you will notice in this interview, Alejandro is an understated young man with incredible creativity. In his dishes, he plays a lot with the products of the sea as well as those of the mountains and focuses on quality products from different parts of the peninsula.
We hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did as we get to know Alejandro Serrano a little more. Undoubtedly, a name you will hear countless times among the most outstanding chefs from Spain in the coming years.
INTERVIEW WITH ALEJANDRO SERRANO
You were awarded the Michelin Star at the age of 24, which made you the youngest chef in Spain to covet this. How have you managed to handle the pressure and maintain the success of your brand up to today?
The fact that they recognized my hard work gave me a lot of confidence. Since then, I have not stopped evolving, and in a short period of time, we have achieved things that could have otherwise taken us years. That's why for me every day is unique, and together with my team, we have the mentality to go for it every day.
Tell us about your childhood: were you a good eater? Did you spend a lot of time in the kitchen helping adults? And later on: What was the incentive to dedicate yourself to cooking? And when did you realize that this was your lifelong passion?
Since I was born, my parents have been restaurateurs. They are the ones who taught me to eat everything, so I would say that I have always been a good eater. I was living above their restaurant, and whenever I had to go out, I would always go through the kitchen. You could say that cooking was in my veins. When I turned 16, I didn't think about it for a minute and moved to Bilbao to learn in the hotel school what would be the basis of my cooking.
From the first idea of a dish to its plating: what would you say is the most artistic or creative part of the whole process? What inspires you to come up with new ideas and create your dishes? What is your favourite ingredient?
The most creative part of the process is when, for example, I'm out in the bush, and I get ideas out of the blue. I would dare to say that the natural environment helps me a lot when it comes to expanding my thoughts and ideas. And then comes the most challenging part, putting those thoughts to work in the kitchen. Occasionally, they come out, but often things don't work out as you had imagined them. And my favourite ingredient? The tomatoes from my hometown, Miranda.
With all the effort that goes into each dish, how do you hope your customers feel after leaving your restaurant? What memory, feeling, or flavour would you like them to take home with them?
I hope my customers have a good time and enjoy themselves. I also hope they understand my way of expressing myself through marine cuisine, but remember that our region is inland. If I had to choose the sensations, I want the diner to take home; I would say taste, aesthetics, and sensibility.
Being the owner of a successful restaurant and working in a team are two big challenges. How did you find the process from being a student to going on to teaching others?
I had been managing a team in my father's restaurant since I was 16, leadership was already in my veins, and it didn't take me long to adapt to teaching others. That training is the most difficult part because you have to get your team to understand your thoughts and your style. You have to get the team to be efficient and understand all these factors.
Your restaurant is located in a small town, Miranda de Ebro, in inland Spain, but you serve mostly fish and seafood, calling this gastronomic concept El Mar de Castilla. Why did you choose to use these ingredients, and how do you combine the sea flavours with the ones of the land?
I have always felt more comfortable and at ease working with these ingredients. What's more, we are in a city where the routes from the Cantabrian ports to the centre of Spain pass through, and we value the produce in our environment, the forest. Firstly, it’s the taste because, without it, we could not build the foundations of our dishes. Secondly, there is sensitivity because to make great dishes that reach the diner, you have to be able to have that little sensitive point to convey what you think through a dish. And finally, there is the aesthetics; if the dish is not beautiful and does not enter through the eyes, the magic is lost, and it will remain just another dish.
As a chef, you are responsible for preparing the dishes, but you also like to talk to the customers. Are you prepared to listen to their comments, both positive and negative?
I like to talk to my customers at the beginning and at the end of the meal. I have to be sure of what I am doing, and the next step is to listen to the customer to find out whether they have enjoyed what they have eaten to assess their feedback. Not only that, but I try not to aim to appease everyone; that would be crazy, but do listen to feedback and learn from it.
Being 25 years old and a Michelin Star chef is quite rare. How do you feel being recognized as one of the best chefs in the world? Do you compare your creations with other chefs, especially older ones?
For us, this award helps us to continue to evolve. Young people have the challenge of renewing the current image of the kitchen, to give fresh air, so I am very proud to be one of the precursors of those who fight for it. I love to see the work of other colleagues; it is something that makes me grow as a chef.
Do you have a dish that is especially important to you, one that has a special value? Could you please tell us why?
Yes, the dish that has the most sentimental value is the lemon shrimp. It reminds me of when my grandmother used to grill shrimp and then add a squeeze of freshly squeezed lemon to enhance the flavour. With this dish, I managed to take home the Dénia international red shrimp competition.
As a renowned chef, you have probably learned from other people over the years. Who was your biggest influence, or who do you admire the most?
I, personally, admire many chefs, painters, and musicians… but above all, I would highlight David Muñoz, Mario Sandoval or Eneko Atxa as inspirational influences.
Your work is stressful and demanding; how do you disconnect and rest in your spare time? (Don't tell us you cook! 😉 )
Honestly, at home, I cook very little. I like to play sports, see art exhibitions, chat with my friends from the creative world, travel and go out to eat in restaurants.
When you have a day off, do you cook for your family and friends? Or do you just order a pizza? Do your friends dare to invite you to their homes for dinner?
The truth is that I cook, but very basic food, and I don't like to mess around at home. I'm someone who likes to eat all kinds of food, so my friends are not afraid to take me to a restaurant or hamburger joint.
What would be your advice for those who are starting their careers as chefs?
The main piece of advice I would give to those who are training as chefs is to focus on what they love. They should work in the restaurants that most appeal to them and enjoy each stage they are in, focusing on only the good things in each moment.
What is your favourite city? And what are five places you would recommend to your friends when they go to visit it? (It can be whatever you really like, from a bar or a store to a park or a museum, etc).
My favourite city? It has to be Donosti (San Sebastián). It is a classic Spanish city with very modern people and projects. And the places I like to go to most in Donosti are:
- Geralds: a bistro bar where dinners become magical.
- The Loaf: a bakery overlooking the street.
- Zurriola beach
- Tabakalera Cultural Centre
- A walk on Mount Urgull
Thank you very much, Alejandro, it was a real pleasure!
Alfonso VI, 49
Miranda de Ebro (Burgos), Spain