Chef confidential: Food in his blood for Chef Victor Caballe Molina

Chef Victor Caballe Molina's family not only owns eateries but some members are chefs too.

What would your last meal be?

I don't want to think about it. I would be happy to have a pan con tomate (Spanish-style bread with tomato), a charcuterie platter, Tortilla Espanola and rice pudding made by my mum.

Cooking runs in the family of Spanish chef Victor Caballe Molina.

His paternal grandfather and uncle were professional chefs who specialised in Spanish cuisine, his aunt was a pastry chef and his father was a sommelier.

There was no doubt he would go into the food business, says the executive chef of Vida Vino, a Spanish- Mediterranean tapas restaurant in Keong Saik Road.

When he was nine, he did odd jobs in the kitchen of the family restaurant-bar in Tarragona, north- eastern Spain. When he was older, he helped out at the bakery owned by the father of his best friend, Josep Navales Juarez, during school holidays.

He says: "I was 13 when I made my first loaf of Pa De Pages bread, also known as Farmer Bread. It is a traditional Catalan bread. I remember I always stayed over at his house and in the wee hours of the morning, his father would wake us up and teach us to make bread and pastries such as croissants.

"I discovered my passion for food when I was baking bread with my best friend. It was a great feeling of pride from baking and making people happy."

He reached a turning point in his life when he was 18. That was when his best friend died in a car accident. The struggle of having to cope with the loss made him start planning for his future.

He says: "I used to cry every day for a month. His absence made me ask myself what I wanted to do in life... I started looking around me and seeing that I was surrounded by family members who were involved in the culinary arts, it made me think I was one of them as well."

He attended Terra d'Escudella Culinary School in his 20s and graduated three years later. While schooling, he worked as a waiter at his family's restaurant- bar in Barcelona, called Bar Xocala. The 30-year-old, whose girlfriend is Vietnamese, moved to London and worked in places such as Barafina, Fino Restaurant and Spice Market at the W Hotel London.

While working there, chef Molina, the third of four children, travelled to Asian countries such as Thailand and Vietnam on vacations and these trips opened his eyes to Asian cuisines.

He moved to Singapore about a year ago to work as sous chef of the now-defunct Bomba Paella Bar in Martin Road. He was offered the job by chef Jean Philippe Patruno, former head chef of Barafina and Fino Restaurant, who was then heading Bomba.

He went on to work as head chef of The Study, a British-inspired snack bar by chef Jason Atherton for less than a year, before joining Vida Vino.

What do you like about Singapore?

The weather, street food culture and the smooth pavements. I'm always getting around by bicycle.

Why did you move here?

I always liked Asian food and Asian girls. I consider myself a fearless man when the time for a new adventure comes up.

How do you compare the food scenes in Singapore and Spain?

The food in Singapore is more spicy and less salty, while in Spain, the food is less spicy and more focused on the flavours of the produce.

What was it like working with chef Patruno?

It was tough. I learnt cooking techniques and discipline. That's all you need to learn to be a good chef.

What is one thing he taught you that made you want to become a better chef?

The importance of being punctual. There was a time when I was late for three straight days and, after that, I was never late again. What he did was to shout in my face and scold me non-stop, even though I was a minute late.

What is your favourite Spanish tapas?

I love a good Tortilla Espanola or Spanish omelette. I can eat it in any way and at anytime.

What is your favourite local dish?

Roasted chicken rice and laksa. I do not have a specific place to get them. As a foreigner, I just want to try them everywhere and anywhere.

What is a cooking disaster that you remember up to this day?

When I was 13 and helping out in my friend's bakery, my finger was caught in the bread machine's rollers. I couldn't shout because I was in too much pain. When my friend's father finally rescued me, my finger was flat. But now, it's back to normal. It even looks nicer than my other fingers. I call it my magic finger.

What is your favourite bread?

Sourdough. It brings me back to when I was baking bread with my best friend.

Where did you have the best meal in your life?

My mum's house. She makes the greatest paellas ever, roasted chicken and duck with orange sauce.

What can guests expect at Vida Vino?

A relaxed atmosphere, with amazing food and drinks.

stlife@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on October 12, 2014.
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