Spanish food here is pretty good

SINGAPORE - Renowned Spanish chef Esmeraldo Oteruelo, who has honed his culinary skills over 30 years in various establishments around the world, is the top choice for Queen Elizabeth II, King Juan Carlos and Arabian princes.

My Paper caught up with the 68-year-old globetrotter, who was the executive chef at The American Club here for eight years and is conducting food tours in Spain.

Why did you choose to be a chef?

My passion for cooking grew because of my grandmother, whom I remember as an amazing cook. (She was) capable of whipping up delicious dishes from limited resources when I was younger.

It is important to put in your heart and soul when you are cooking, as it shows in the dishes.

I advocate authenticity in my style of cooking and recipes to retain the essence of Spanish cuisine. I also use fresh ingredients to accentuate the taste of my dishes.

Describe your most original creation

Spanish cuisine has been evolving over the years and some dishes have been adapted according to the availability of different ingredients.

I have tweaked the recipes of some dishes - such as seafood paella, cocochas (cod cheeks), bacalao au pil-pil (salted cod in sauce) and suquet (seafood stew) - to suit Singaporean taste buds while retaining the essence of Spanish cuisine.

This allows me to introduce authentic Spanish cuisine to people from different parts of the world while ensuring that Singaporeans will be receptive to this cuisine.

What do you think about the quality (in terms of authenticity and flavour) of Spanish cuisine here?

Spanish cuisine here is pretty good, keeping in mind that some ingredients used to make traditional Spanish dishes may not be readily available locally.

Some ingredients have a short shelf life and are expensive to import, thus local restaurants may replace these ingredients with local produce, which may taste slightly different from authentic Spanish cuisine.

You have travelled to so many places and experienced many different cultures. What is your favourite cuisine and dish?

I have taken a liking to cuisine of different countries and the unique taste that is influenced by their local produce. I keep an open mind while experiencing and learning about new cuisine.

I enjoy the renowned chicken rice and chilli crabs in Singapore.

What was your most memorable experience as a chef?

One of the most memorable experiences was a trip to China for a Spanish-cuisine promotion. It was great, as I got to experience its culture and communicate with the Chinese.

I also enjoy meeting many distinguished personalities on the job.

What is one must-have ingredient in your cooking?

It is essential to use authentic Spanish olive oil and saffron when cooking.

What advice can you give people who are keen on setting up a Spanish restaurant?

Those who are keen on opening a Spanish restaurant should conduct extensive research to identify the target market and ideal location to set up, and decide on menu offerings.

It is also important to hire a chef from Spain with extensive experience, to be able to offer authentic Spanish cuisine to customers.

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