Chef Dani García: "There is a lack of talent in the world of politics"
There are not many people in the catering business who are still going strong despite all the impediments and brakes that COVID is putting on the industry. With a hectic schedule and projects in different parts of the world, chef Dani García tells us how he is experiencing the pandemic and how he sees the current outlook for the industry.
Q.- What is the situation of the group's different projects in this pandemic situation? Are they all working?
A.- In Marbella we were closed last week and hopefully it won't last more than two weeks. Madrid and Doha are working and then there are projects that are under construction, like New York, where we have two new projects. La Gran Familia Mediterránea, which is a home delivery project, is working very well. In London we are also working and will be opening quite soon; in Miami, Lobito and Bibo are also opening; in Paris we are creating a new brand... the truth is that we don't stop and we are really looking forward to what we are doing. The only difference we have noticed with this situation is that in terms of international growth it has simply been a transfer from one year to another, in Miami we should have been open for 7 months and in the end it hasn't opened yet, but it will open. In the end, all the projects continue but they have moved forward in time.
Q.- What are the two New York projects like?
A.- In Manhattan West there are two projects, one called Casa Dani, a hybrid restaurant, very Mediterranean, with a little bit of Lobito, a little bit of Bibo, which we really want to do because it is New York, because of what it is and the place where it is. And next to it there is also a Quick Service, that is to say a fast food restaurant with roast chicken with olive oil and Mediterranean salads, and we will take this in particular to more places in the United States.
Q.- What international experience did you get, specifically in New York, with the Manzanilla restaurant four or five years ago?
A.- Now it is mine and at that time it was not. I learned a lot from failure, what to do and what not to do, what you should and shouldn't do, what you can understand when you go to a country that is not your own, nor is it your culture, what to listen to and how to listen. But I also learned to let my intuition and knowledge flow. I learned a lot, although I think you learn more from failure than from success. You also have to know how to manage success so that it doesn't blind you. Let's see how it goes in this second part in New York, because you can never tell if you're going to succeed or not, but I'm clear about what I want to do and I'm not afraid, I'm going with the desire to do it well above all else.
“You always have to keep your business healthy because the crises are cyclical”
Q.- On a business level, what have you learnt from this pandemic?
A.- It's not that I have learned with the pandemic, but with my first crisis, in the period before New York, around 2011 and 2012. Those were difficult years for me. I learned that you always have to keep your business healthy because there are always crises, they are cyclical. If you keep your business strong, you have a better chance of getting out of an illness, which in this case is the crisis, whether it's the pandemic or previous crises. There is one thing that is clear to me and that is that if I am not able to get to a crisis with a healthy business, it is better to quit as soon as possible because then you will do more damage. These are extremely hard reflections, especially for an industry that puts the soul above the business, because the problem with the hotel and catering industry is that we are an excessively romantic industry. You tell yourself: "nothing's wrong, I'm doing badly but I'll get better", and that "I'll get better" lasts for two years and when two years elapse the hole is too big and almost irreparable. I learnt that if this happens to you, you have to close it as soon as possible.
Q.- Some wine professionals have told us that in this time of pandemic they have had to agree to leave the wine in storage in a restaurant instead of selling it directly as usual. Are you aware of this situation? Has it happened to you?
A.- No, we haven't, but it is a good solution if in the end you are going to keep it in the cellar, it is better to have it there, at least it is available for sale a bit more. If the world of wine can help the world of restaurants, which is the channel through which it is sold, beyond pure retail, I think it's great. Anything that helps is all the better.
“The political world is absolutely collapsed and mummified, there is no movement”
Q.- The different Spanish administrations are proposing different solutions in the face of the pandemic, some have opted for closing down, others for reducing opening hours, what would be the way forward from your point of view? Do you think that the hotel and catering industry is being criminalised?
A.- It is very complicated. If you look at other European countries you see how they help. The other day a friend of mine was with a Swiss client of ours who has companies there and he told him that when pandemic hit, it was decided that the government would help with 10% of what the company's turnover would be in a normal year, and the ERTES went straight away, the very next day. I live with envy and resignation many things that happen in other countries when it comes to aid in the hotel and catering industry. Luckily, we don't need it, but I see many friends suffering. We don't need it, in inverted commas, we can put up with it, but obviously we lose more than we should. Our turnover now is not comparable to what we had last year, but I think there are people in much greater need, and this type of aid is absolutely vital.
It is a question of common sense, if you force by law to stop someone's business, then you have to feel that you have helped them, because in the end when it comes to paying, everyone ends up paying. What it is not right to do is to pay and then receive absolutely nothing. I look at everything with resignation and I take it for granted that there is a lack of talent in the world of politics and a lack of real skill when it comes to doing things, that we don't really know how a company, a country works... the political world is absolutely collapsed and mummified, there is no movement. I believe that we are a country that is sustained by private talent above all else and that there are great people who are sustaining this country, and we must not forget that, because they are the ones who pay taxes and make sure there is enough cash to survive, and then other people distribute in a less skilful way.
Q.- Is there any dialogue between colleagues, between like-minded restaurateurs to propose solutions?
A.- I see a lot of people doing it, but to be honest, for me, I prefer to spend my time working on my own thing, on the things that I am sure depend 100% on me. I don't want to waste time and energy explaining things that nobody will understand.
Q.- With regard to aid to the hotel and catering industry, what would be the ideal scenario to avoid the greatest possible damage to the restaurant industry?
A.- Aid with taxes, for example, a lot of things. With the exception of the ERTEs, which unfortunately were comfortable for everyone, both for the company and the worker, the rest is of no use to us. In the end, you have to continue paying taxes while you have had a series of fixed expenses that, without aid, are a burden on your backpack. But I am not a politician, nor do I have the solution. If I devoted myself exclusively to that, I would probably have other kinds of solutions, but I do something else and I try to look for solutions to what I have.
"This crisis has changed the world of delivery and how to eat at home or at work”
Q.- Does this scenario change the future development of the country's gastronomy? Do you think this situation is going to influence the type of offer that will be generated in the coming years?
A.- Everything is changing. We are seeing how the world of home-delivered food is growing. People are beginning to know and understand they can eat at home. A crisis changes everything in every way, probably even the average prices in a restaurant. But, above all, this crisis has changed the world of delivery and how to eat at home or at work. I think things have changed radically and we now have a different chip in our heads.
“In our wine menus you can drink something much more affordable but of quality”
Q.- The relationship between gastronomy and wine is very relevant in your projects with very extensive wine lists. Do you think that such complete lists have a place in future restaurants?
A.- We have a tendency to get as close as possible to offering an experience relatively close to the world of haute cuisine but at a much more affordable price, which does not mean that, as in our food menus, we are always looking for a balance in which the customer can adapt to the price he/she wants. For example, at Leña you can eat for 40 euros or 80 euros depending on your choices. In the end it is a question of balance and we also like to take that to the wine menus, where you can drink something much more affordable but of quality, just as we do with the roast chicken at Leña, where we look for the best chicken, the best raised, the best possible technique so that it is as juicy as possible. The same as with wines, we look for affordable wines that are good and tasty, but we also give the customer the option of choosing a Toma Hawk and a foie gras with white truffle on top, and they can also have access to this menu, which is not usual in places with an average price of 40 to 60 euros.
Q.- What is a fair price for a wine in a restaurant? Why is there so much difference?
A.- For us, it depends on what you get, that is the fair price. The fair price depends on what you give. That's what I always say, there are many people who criticised me for making the hamburger with McDonald's. What I try to do is to make the best hamburger I can. My aim is to make the best burger you can find for 9, 8 or 7 euros, it's a question of value for money, and that's the best fair price, that the value for money is right.
Q.- At what point does wine come into play when it comes to creating a restaurant menu? Do you have to create the gastronomic offer and then fill in the gaps with related wines?
A.- I think so. A menu like, for example, Lobito de Mar, where 80% is focused on fish and seafood, must be different from a menu at Leña, where the focus is on meat. It also depends on where you are. Our wine list at Bibo restaurant in Doha (Qatar) is not the same as Bibo Madrid, nor is it the same as Bibo Marbella. Each menu, depending on each cuisine, adapts and flows depending on what is gastronomically speaking.
Q.- Do you ever create a dish with a particular wine in mind?
A.- Well, yes, I have a case where it is not with a wine but with a spirit. In the restaurant Leña we make a Baba and you choose the type of rum you want, with greater or lesser age and of lesser or greater price. We do a lot of things. We do pairing games. Bear in mind that we still have that touch, that feeling of haute cuisine, so we do offer that added touch of something different to people who fancy it.
“To compete (the wine bussines) have to adapt much more to what an international market demands”
Q.- Why is Spanish gastronomy so successful and why doesn't it have a knock-on effect with wine, as happens with Italian gastronomy?
A.- It is difficult. I think Spanish gastronomy triumphs, but it should triumph much more. I think we lack open-mindedness. We have to be able to adapt and understand that what is 100% purely our own is not necessarily what works abroad and seek a balance in this aspect. In the world of wine, as in the world of olive oil, this is what happens a little bit: why is it that when you go to a supermarket in the United States, you find 10 Italian oils and two Spanish ones, when Spanish oil is obviously much better? Maybe these are worlds that lack that open-mindedness. It is a question of seeing and appreciating the brutal and fierce competition abroad and that in order to compete you have to adapt much more to what an international market wants and demands. I'm not just talking about the liquid itself, but the brand, the marketing and everything that surrounds it: the bottle, the label, the name, everything...
Q.- If you had to choose a type of wine, which one would you choose? What is your relationship with sherry wines?
A.- Personally, I drink very little, but what I like most are wines with a sweet tendency. Wines from Malaga such as Molino Real, and if we go upwards, then Chateau d'Yquem (Sauternes), late harvests, wines with botrytis... wines that for me are sweets and are quite pleasant. And then Champagne, which is one of the things I like the most, and the older the better, to be honest.
Q.- In many of your wine lists there is an important presence of Champagne and Manzanilla and Jerez wines.
A.- Because we are Andalusian. On a personal level, I always liked sherry with perfume for cooking. The palos cortados, the olorosos, are wines that I have always used in cooking. And I have used them as if they were just another ingredient, as they are extremely aromatic and special. Oloroso with seafood, palo cortado with foie gras or hunting. I like them and I am Andalusian, and it is also something unique, so it seems logical and sensible to use it as much as possible. I can also tell you that we use these wines on our menus in a way that no other restaurant group does, they are wine lists that can be found in Michelin star restaurants and more.
"(Sherry wines) don't suit everyone's palate, probably a little due to ignorance and lack of knowledge”
Q.- What do you think is wrong with Jerez and Manzanilla de Sanlúcar, why, being unique wines, aren't they hooking the general consumer? Does something similar happen with any particular foodstuff, which is particularly good but which doesn't really catch on with the public because of its complexity?
A.- I think they are wines that are not for everyone. It is true that they are unique, but this peculiarity does not suit everyone's palate, probably a little due to ignorance and lack of knowledge of what it is, how it comes and how it is made... Just as it seems that everyone has a certain wine culture, whether it is a coupage, whether it is made from a certain type of grape, the world of sherry is much more unknown and it is probably this lack of knowledge and this peculiarity in the mouth, this dryness, a little more complex to understand. If we could explain it better, we would also do better.
Q.- Is there any comparison in the world of gastronomy? An exquisite product that not everyone understands because of its complexity?
A.- Imagine elvers or barnacles, not everyone understands them. Just like what happens to us when we receive certain things from abroad. The rotten egg or Millennium Egg from China seems to them to be a real wonder and not everyone here likes it. Or Fugu (puffer fish) with its texture. These are things that, for example, I, who am lucky enough to have been there and to have taken an interest, end up appreciating. But most people, when they taste it, think " I don't understand why it's such a big deal...". We always miss nuances. For the Japanese, for example, it also has a spiritual part, which brings poison... in life, in general, the better you explain something, the easier it is to understand and appreciate.
Q.-What relevance does wine have in the home-delivery food project La Gran Familia Mediterránea?
A.- This is one of the things we are considering. We sell interesting things, although it is always true that it seems that everyone has their own little wine cellar at home. But yes, as a future option, we are considering increasing our offer somewhat. In this line, we have included in the menu something that we wanted because we believe that it is also necessary to offer it, even though we think that, just as people do not ask for water or a soft drink because they already have it at home, the same thing can happen with wine.