NOTE: Chef Eric ‘Pepe’ Garcia now resides at the gorgeous Mavis’s Kitchen, Uki.
In a city boasting a choice of tapas bars of many different kinds, it’s worth seeking out a Spanish chef who knows a lot more about tapas than the average Aussie: Pablo Pablo’s Head Chef Eric Garcia, affectionately known as ‘Pepe’.
We chatted to Pepe recently about all things Spanish, especially paella, tapas, and the food that he cooks as chef at the award-winning Pablo Pablo Latin Restaurant.
Where did you grow up, and how did you come to love cooking?
Although my parents were from the North of Spain, I grew up in Barcelona. It was from my grandfather, a very popular chef in the north, who had worked on fishing boats and cruise ships that I gained a love of food and many of the techniques and tricks that I still use today when I cook. I worked as a chef in a seafood restaurant, Els Pescadors in Madrid, before coming to Australia about a year and a half ago.
Paella is a really popular dish here. How much do you adapt this dish to the Australian palate?
Australians like paella very different to Spanish, I think. You like it spicy with chorizo and chicken in it. Spanish people don’t like it spicy. We use calasparra rice, a bit like arborio, to soak up the sofrito we cook it in. This sauce is really important, made with onion, garlic, chilli, tomato and some capsicum which is nice and sweet. You’ll see that it’s topped with some seafood: a large prawn, a mussel and some mullet. We’re experimenting, really, to see which paella people prefer: one with chorizo and chicken added or paella as we would eat it in Spain.
[It is a very different paella to the one we’d enjoyed at Pablo Pablo some time ago. The rice had been a different consistency, the focus as much on the additions (chicken, chorizo, prawns and mussels, topped with sour cream and rocket) as on the rice itself. Being seafood fans, for us the more fabulous seafood the better, and a bit of spice is welcome as well!]
Pablo Pablo now has a pintxos night every Tuesday. Tell us about the tapas and pintxos culture in Spain.
Tapas is different in different places around the country. It’s a different culture to here. Families go out, sit at the bar and drink a beer and eat pintxos (smaller snacks than tapas). In Madrid, you just pay for drinks. In San Sebastian, you get one piece of bread with squid, sardines or meat for free with each beer, but in Barcelona you pay for everything – drinks and pintxos.
Ten or fifteen years ago, tapas was just a piece of bread and a piece of meat, but now it’s much better. You have mussels, peppers, hot tapas, chistorra (a hot sausage with cheese on top) and even soufflé! The choice is quite diverse.
If you could choose one dish which you make here which truly represents Spain, what would it be?
The lamb. It’s cooked with tomato, thyme and garlic. The secret to cooking the lamb shoulder is to cook it for a long time (8 – 10 hours) on a very slow heat. When it’s finally done, you can pull the bone out very easily. Then it’s served off the bone with a carrot purée and its own jus as sauce around the edge of the plate.
[The version of this dish we tasted at Pablo Pablo is a melt-in-your mouth experience. Together with the truffled salami and the Crème Catalina served with almond biscotti, it formed one of the outstanding dishes of the night.]
How are Australian ingredients different to those you used in Spain?
There’s a huge difference in how you use sauces here. We use lots, especially the Pablo sauce of roasted peppers, chilli, garlic and thyme, whereas in Spain we grill and there is very little use of sauce.
The quality of food here is really good. I love to give people good food. You know the best thing when people go out is if you cook well, they forget their problems and have a good time. I like it when people come here and are happy knowing they’ve spent their money well.
Pablo Pablo has now closed. Pepe is not the chef at Mavis’s Kitchen, Uki NSW
NOTE: This review has also been published on Blank Gold Coast.