I studied four years of law in Zaragoza, Spain, before stumbling into Richard Corrigan’s kitchen on Fulham Road in London, after answering an ad during a working holiday. When I saw the food coming out, I knew I had found what I wanted to do.
It was my next job at Bibendum [the former UK Michelin House, which became a restaurant], under Simon Hopkinson, where I was given the chance to handle and cook magnificent produce including pigeon from Bresse, langoustines from the Scottish coast and mozzarella from Naples.
I was hungry for knowledge and I absorbed so much at Bibendum, which is also where I met my wife, Jodie. She worked the floor, while I was in the kitchen, and I followed her back to her home, Australia, in 1999.
We lived in Sydney where I was sous chef and then head chef at Otto before moving back to Spain to live in Barcelona. I really reconnected with my Spanish heritage during this time, remembering when my family would take off in the car for holidays, eating regional food wherever we went. Food has always been a big part of my life.
My mother cooked because she loved it, my grandmother did, too. The kitchen at home was a place where I could close the door to the rest of the house and talk quietly with my mother while shelling peas or preparing beans; something my children do with me today. Sometimes my talks with my mother would be personal, sometimes not. In Spain, the men are all macho, macho, macho but, like many, underneath I’m totally a mamma’s boy.
Jodie and I made our way back to Australia, first living in Sydney and Canberra and then moving to Brisbane to be closer to Jodie’s family after she became pregnant.
Ortiga opened in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley in 2009. Owner Simon Hill and I wanted to do both traditional and modern Spanish cuisine. I wanted to cook food from regional Spain with modern interpretations.
Sometimes I give things a twist, sometimes not; sometimes dishes are out there, sometimes they’re more classical and conservative. People can come to Ortiga to be challenged or be comforted with things like the slow-cooked lamb shoulder, which has been on the menu since our first service.
At home, I cook Spanish food, tell stories and bring my parents into the picture so my kids don’t forget them. Food is the glue that binds it all together and keeps everything connected; it’s a way for me to communicate where I come from and to express my love for the people I care about.