Marc Fosh Discusses life & cooking on the Spanish Island of Mallorca
To many Mallorca (A.K.A. Majorca), conjures up images of British and German tourists fighting for sun chairs, cheap beer and a culture that has been destroyed to appease the needs of holiday makers. However Mallorca as with many of the Spanish Islands has another side - with much more to offer. Meet British chef Marc Fosh chef/director Read's hotel and restaurant, Santa Maria, Mallorca, Spain...
Marc describes regional Mallorcan cuisine as "food that has its roots in rustic, peasant cooking with a few Arab, Moorish influences and has some interesting dishes and flavour combinations. My favorite is SEA BASS A LA MALLORQUINA and is simply grilled fillets of fish with a wonderful vinaigrette made from diced tomato flesh, pine nuts, sultanas, parsley and olive oil..."
Read on as Marc discusses life & cooking on the Spanish Island of Mallorca...
Tell us about a typical working day in the life of Marc Fosh. How does this differ from a British working day, who do you buy from, is the working culture of your employees different from that of England, what do you cook for staff food...
My typical working day normally starts with a strong coffee with Adrian, my sous-chef in one of the markets in Palma, chatting to fellow chefs and suppliers. In half an hour you can catch up on all the gossip from the Island. I love the markets in the Spain. They have managed to retain their rustic charm and identities. The people are great and always full of banter.
I always used to smile when reading cookery books of other chefs in Britain talking about going to the markets every day before heading to their kitchens because the markets in London trade during the night and very early morning. There is no way you can spend 14 hours in your kitchen every day and go to the markets. I used to make a big effort and go occasionally but in Spain it's much more relaxed as the markets open until midday.
By 10-10.30 I usually arrive at the hotel and ring round to speak to the suppliers and make sure that all the orders are ok and on time. Living on an Island can cause lots of problems when you are waiting for produce. You are reliant on planes being on time and the weather, as fishing boats don't go out in bad weather.
My team will dribble in at 11, if I'm lucky and most mornings I usually am. It does seem a very late start but people eat late in Spain and service doesn't start until 1 o'clock. Last orders are at 3.30, so by the time lunch is over and we are all cleared up and ready for the evening service it's usually around 4.30-5 o'clock. Most of the boys will escape for an hour or so and be back by seven. Service starts again at 8 and last orders are taken at 11. We are normally be finished by 12-12.30 and then we eat. Staff food could be anything really as long as its quick and consists mainly of grilled meat with rice or pasta and a salad.
Obviously the culture is different in Spain and the work ethic is sometimes frustrating to deal with. Spanish kitchens are not as competitive as English ones and in general have a better atmosphere with a little less of the macho type stuff going on.
In England we tend to live to work but the Spanish work to live and their jobs are not generally the most important thing in their life's, I'm too old to change but I cant help but feel that they've got it right sometimes.
What drew you to work in Mallorca, and what were your first thoughts of working in such a legendary touristy destination?
Before coming to Mallorca I had no idea how beautiful and diverse the Island actually is. Like most people I thought of the typical touristy stereotype image and was not at all sure if it was somewhere I wanted to live and work. I remember flying in for a long weekend and when you fly over the Island for the first time it is a stunning sight. It's very green, has wonderful mountains and some of the best coastline in the Mediterranean. Driving around the Island all you see is almond, olive and orange groves and some truly beautiful scenery.
I was concerned about finding good produce and initially it was difficult, now we have some suppliers who can order anything from Rungis market in Paris and it's here the next day.
Can you describe your cuisine?
It's always difficult to describe ones own food but mine is, in essence, very Mediterranean. We do not use much cream and butter and we try to keep things light and natural.
What is your philosophy for running a kitchen?
My philosophy for running the kitchen is to try and keep the brigade fresh and interested in what they're doing. Changing sections, attending courses and encouraging them to better themselves by respecting and understanding the ingredients used. I think the teaching aspect of being a head chef is paramount and I'm always extremely proud to see young people develop their skills when they pass through my kitchen.
I believe it is essential to have a good atmosphere and to respect the people around you, although some people need kicking more than others. Discipline is important to achieve high standards but it should always be tempered with praise when young chefs get things right.
Is it a challenge to find skilled kitchen staff?
Finding skilled kitchen staff has always been a problem and is probably more so than ever as young people are less willing to put up the long hours and low pay traditionally associated with the catering industry.
Initially, it was difficult for us here at Read's, but as we have become better known and the restaurant creeps up in the guidebooks ratings etc. more and more c.v.'s (resumes) arrive in the post. I am lucky to have a fairly steady team with 4-5 important members that have been together for 2 or 3 years. So the usual comings and goings of the kitchen don't affect us too badly.
Who has most influenced you in your career and in what ways have they done it?
I have never really had one maestro that has influenced me greatly, as before coming to Read's I had never stayed anywhere long enough. I respect and admire many chefs, too many to mention and I am a great reader of cookery books, old and new. I think missing that one person who has influenced me and defined my career is helpful in developing my own style.
What inspires you?
Many things inspire me and sometimes I'm at my most inspired just relaxing on the sofa at home. The markets inspire me enormously and seeing any product at its optimum point is still something that gives me a real kick. Over the last few years, the way I construct dishes has changed and I tend to start with one simple ingredient and play with flavour combinations, not knowing where it will take me. So instead of starting with the main ingredient like sea bass or beef fillet, I start with something like a cardamom pod or a tonka bean and work around that, hoping that it will lead me somewhere and usually it does...eventually.
With the food scene being so hot in the UK do you sometimes wish you were back there to be part of it?
I used to back to London regularly when I first moved to Spain and over the years I've had some tempting offers to return but have refused them all. For me Spain, gastronomically speaking has been the most interesting country in Europe for the last ten years or so and has given me so much. Apart from the obvious genius of Fernando Adria there are plenty of young, talented chefs here, who are not afraid to try something different and push a few boundaries. The shadow of Marco Pierre White loomed too large in London and too many chefs were producing almost identical looking food that never tasted as good as the masters. So many good restaurants had very similar menus and it looks like it will continue to happen with Gordon Ramsay's expanding empire. We are owed a little more originality from the boys in London.
What are your plans for 2002?
This year I hope to see my first book published. I am enjoying the photography and the fact that at long last I have started to religiously write down and catalogue my recipes. I hold cookery demonstrations in my kitchen and write recipe pages for various publications and this has helped me to discipline myself in the writing of recipes. 2002 has started well, I have just received a PLATO DE ORO (Golden Plate award) from the Spanish gastronomic society and been voted chef of the year by one of the guides so I just plan to keep working away and hopefully keep it interesting for myself and my staff.
What words of advice would you offer a chef who was thinking of running a kitchen in Spain...
The key to everything, when living and working in another country, is the language. You have to learn it as quickly as possible and immerse yourself in the culture. If you don't have a good basic control of the language you will never be happy.