In Spain, Alfonso Lillo Fas might be a Masterchef, but in London he is champion of regional Catalan cooking. Helen Hokin heads to Fat of the Land to finds out what's on the menu.
HH: What misconceptions do British people have about Spanish food and what are you doing to change that?
ALF: That it all comes in the form of tapas and that it all centres around paella. Whilst we do love tapas and paella, there's so much more to Spanish food and indeed, Catalonian food. The region deserves to be known for its other dishes, too. We need to have a 'tapes' section on our menu, for people who want smaller, lighter, familiar bites, but we also have larger plates, known as 'racions' should diners want to do the whole starter, main and dessert thing. Spanish cuisine is flexible in format and easy-going, and I hope our menu reflects that and changes people's perception that you may go away hungry, or that Spanish restaurants are a lunch choice. Another preconception is that Spanish cuisine is all fried, but that's certainly not the case here with enough fresh hams, seafood and vegetable-based dishes on our menu to prove otherwise.
HH: You have your grandmother's recipes on your menu. Did she influence your cooking, and how?
ALF: My abuela was a great cook, and my first memories of food were of her at the stove cooking up a feast for our family; usually served very late. I wanted the menu at the Fat of the Land to nod to her, as she is one of my greatest influences, and dishes like Grandma's Soup recreate the warm, homely meals of my childhood.
HH: Spain has been in the spotlight for a while now for its cutting edge cooking as seen at the likes of El Cellar de Can Roca and Mugaritz. So why did you decide to stick to tradition and serve more traditional Spanish dishes at Fat of the Land?
ALF: There are plenty of Spanish restaurants in London, but few that do Spanish food as it is done in Spain. Rather than modifying it for London diners, we wanted to serve it the way it is back home, which is what we've done. Thankfully, London diners are getting ever-more discerning and look for authenticity when they try a different cuisine. So far the dishes we serve have proved popular. Also, the fat of the land has a Catalonian steer on its menu, and we like to think we are championing the rise of regional Spanish restaurants in London, which, believe it or not, is a relatively new idea.
HH: Who cooks at home?
ALF: I love to cook, so even after a full day in the kitchen at the fat of the land, I really don't mind putting something together for my family at home. Over food is usually when we catch up and spend quality time together.
HH: What is your guilty food secret?
ALF: Churros dipped in chocolate for breakfast or anytime, for that matter. But I don't feel guilty at all.
HH: You won Spanish Masterchef and you've made your mark on the London restaurant scene. What does the future now hold for you?
ALF: The only way is up, so hopefully more recognition for what we're doing at the fat of the land and for the dishes we're serving. Of course, an award of some kind would be welcomed with open arms!
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