Chef Omar Allibhoy on his Tapas Revolution restaurants
PUBLISHED: 12:34 11 November 2019 | UPDATED: 12:34 11 November 2019
Celebrity chef Omar Allibhoy is known as the Antonio Banderas of cooking, and for launching the Tapas Revolution restaurants, including one in Windsor. We caught up with him ahead of his new opening
Do you remember the moment you decided to become a chef?
I felt inspired by cooking from a very young age. My mother was a big influence. I was four years old and I would help her cook. One of my earliest food memories is cooking crème caramel with her in the kitchen; I can still remember the aromas coming out of the oven and being totally transfixed, so this dish will always remind me of my childhood.
Where were you trained?
I learnt to cook in Spain and have been doing this since I was a kid; much of my training was making dinner at home for my family. I never went to culinary or hospitality school, but I started working very young. I took evening cooking classes whilst I was at school and worked at restaurants near where I lived in Madrid. I then trained under three Michelin-starred chef Ferran Adrià and I learnt a lot about technique and creativity from him. Working under him and learning was incredibly inspirational. He took Spanish gastronomy to a new level with his ground-breaking ideas, deconstruction, sous vide, foams - things we'd never seen before. It was a really exciting time to be working as a young chef in Spain. I learnt how to run a kitchen, and some of my dishes today have a level of technique that comes from my days of working under him. I've been lucky to have worked with such professional chefs over the years, before developing my own style.
How did you get to where you are now?
Well, when I moved to London, I worked in the kitchens at El Pirata and then became head chef there. Coming here made me realise that there wasn't really much Spanish tapas around and I really wanted to share my love of Spanish food. I went on Channel 4's Ramsay's Best Restaurant and started thinking how great it would be if I could do something to introduce more Spanish food here, and I guess that's when the idea of starting my own thing came to me. So, in the summer of 2010, my friend, Daniel, and I decided to travel around the country for two weeks by motorbike and cook Spanish tapas anywhere people would let us. The trip was great fun and the feedback was really positive, so it proved to me that British people do enjoy Spanish food as much as I thought they would. I then knew that there was a space in the market for the idea that became Tapas Revolution. Because the feedback from the trip was good, we got some publicity, which helped with getting local investors on board. And I guess that's how Tapas Revolution was born and how I've got to this point.
Why did you choose to open a restaurant in Windsor?
The aim was to bring the casual, convivial experience of the tapas bars in Spain to the UK and that's exactly what we wanted to do in Windsor. I come from the Old Castile - a historic region of Spain - so have always felt at home here and have visited many times since moving to England. I'm so excited to share Spanish heritage with such an iconic English town.
What other chefs have you worked alongside and where?
I got the chance to work with Jason Atherton and Gordon Ramsay at Gordon's Michelin-starred restaurant, Maze.
Tell us about your new restaurant opening
On 7 October we opened at Westfield in Stratford. This will become our flagship site and the largest to date. This site has a special addition, though. There's going to be a Cava Bar, which pays homage to Spain's famous cava. We're also adding in two VIP bodega booths, complete with a 'Press for Cava' button, which feels quite fun.
In terms of food, the menu will, as always, take inspiration from traditional Spanish dishes that I grew up with and Spain's culinary culture of sharing, socialising and eating. The menu will feature some signature dishes, of course, but this site is also offering something new because we've tripled the vegan and vegetarian options on offer. We're hoping this will make more people fall in love with Spanish tapas.
What do you think of your reputation as being the Antonio Banderas of cooking?
Well, that was what Gordon Ramsay said about me and I guess it has kind of stuck. I'm not making any claims though! I just take it as a very nice compliment; after all, Antonio Banderas has had a fantastic career in his field of work.
Tell me about your family…
It's the five of us. Myself, Oscar our youngest, Noah the eldest, my amazing wife, Sandra, and my cousin, Eva, who came from Madrid to live with us. We have a hectic life, as both Sandra and I love having lots to do. We love to see our friends, work hard and spend time with the kids. We travel less than we used to and would like to travel more, but it's a stage in our lives with a young family.
Where do you go on holiday - does the food sway your decision?
Of course food will always be a big part of any holiday for me. I love to go back to Spain, but I also really want to visit either La Palma or El Hierro in the Canary Islands next time I go away. The other Canary Islands are stunning so these two can't be much different.
What would your last supper be?
I'd go for paella as it's our national dish in Spain. It's a great recipe to master, is a one-pot dish and good for feeding the whole family or impressing any party. I think it has its own challenges, but after a few attempts you'll master it. Then for dessert I have a sweet tooth, so it would have to be Churros con Chocolate. They remind me of growing up in Madrid with my family when we used to buy them for breakfast every Sunday.
What are your aspirations?
I would like to open different restaurant concepts in the future, but there's no rush. I am enjoying what I am doing with Tapas Revolution; it has been a very interesting and exciting project from inception, with growth and the challenges it brings. I just want to continue spreading the message about good, quality tapas. It's an ongoing project. I'm grateful for the success it has enjoyed. Tapas Revolution is now the UK's biggest Spanish restaurant group!