Joan Gomez grew up around good food. The third generation chef began following his mother around the kitchen when he was a child, always looking for a way to help her out when cooking. By the time he was thirteen, he was assisting his father in the restaurant of a small hotel along Barcelona’s coast, before enrolling in a prestigious catering school at the age of eighteen.
Today he is the Executive Chef at La Vinoteca Barcelona and Café Amsterdam, BMMI’s two award-winning restaurants, managed by its subsidiary, Bayader.
“I love to eat and that was truly the beginning of everything,” said Joan. “I have been cooking my whole life, and I love it, I love to touch the food, to put different ingredients and flavours together and transform them into something special. To me cooking is like magic and I love seeing people react to what I have created.”
Catering school helped broaden Joan’s horizon, introducing him to Michelin Star restaurants and world-renowned chefs. It was another step in a journey of exploration, experimentation and discovery. “It was an eye-opening experience for me, and I began to realize some very important points that I still follow today,” he said. “The first is that no matter what or where, in the kitchen, it is all about hard work. You need to put in the work to get the result you desire. Secondly, you do not automatically become a chef once you graduate. You experiment a lot until you understand the crucial factors of ‘why, how and when’.”
To Joan, food is both an art and a science. A good chef always understands why certain flavours go together, why some ingredients would not work if combined, why some dishes are better served as dinner rather than breakfast and how to present a dish in a way that enhances both its taste and its visual appeal. The chemistry behind food, the condition of the elements that make them acidic, sweet or sour, and the way to combine different palates, is indispensable knowledge a chef must have, said Joan. “Once you truly understand the history and the root behind these things, which can take a lot of learning and exploring, you can experiment as widely as you like. You can play around with that base of knowledge and create something beautiful – it is like music, there is an endless way you can put musical notes together, there is also no limit to the food combinations that you can create.”
Joan’s eagerness to learn and gain experience took him around the globe. He trained and worked in various parts of Spain, as well as London, Australia, Thailand and the United States. Each of these international experiences gave him more understanding, techniques, knowledge and higher appreciation for the art of cooking, whether simple or complex. For example, he spent three months working in the streets in Thailand to understand how they used two to four ingredients to create such delicious curries.
For the past three years, Joan has been in the latest part of his culinary journey, moving to Bahrain with his family to lead the gastronomy of BMMI’s restaurants. His work here gained him a lot of recognition, with the restaurants picking up multiple awards year after year.
The food scene in the region has been very different than the ones he experienced before, said Joan. “Bahrain’s cuisine is rich in flavour and spices, and it gives it a lot of character. The ingredients you find here are amazing. It’s funny to me now, but when I was first moving here I was worried about the seafood and fish availability because of how hot the weather is and how hot the waters must be, but I was pleasantly surprised to find unbelievable variety and quality!” Joan now visits the local fish market multiple times a week, with 95% of the seafood and fish served in the restaurants sourced from local fishermen, ensuring the fresh quality the restaurants are known for.
Another aspect that delighted Joan when he moved to Bahrain was the diversity of the food scene. “What I find amazing in Bahrain is how open people are to different types of cuisine,” he said. “They could have lunch in a Chinese place, dinner in a French place, eat Indian food the next day and also go to brunch! It really broadens your horizons and gives you such a rich culinary experience.”
With his passion for gastronomy, the experience he has gained over the years and the love for good food he inherited from his family, Chef Joan Gomez has collected valuable tips over the years that he would like to share.
- Have a philosophy
Each chef has his or her own vision and philosophy that guides him or her, said Joan. For him, it’s an emphasis on the fact that his food needs to be both healthy and delicious. “At the end of the day, your health is one of the most valuable things you have and for me as a chef, I think it is important to balance good food and good health – that is how I approach my cooking.”
- Get good products and ingredients
The right products, ingredients and produce are at the heart of a good restaurant. “If you have good products it is really difficult to mess up. I always ensure to go down and visit the marketplaces to see what they have and what is on offer and I carefully choose the best. Once you have the right produce, products and ingredients, as well as the right chef with the right technique, that is when the magic truly happens.”
- Be open to feedback
Any successful venture needs a good feedback mechanism in place. Unfortunately, some chefs can take feedback personally, as their creations do come from a personal place. This would be a great mistake however, because feedback can help you make adjustments that will benefit you in the long run. “I am always asking people for feedback and it is a crucial part of my process. I have gotten some great constructive feedback in the past that has really helped the final product truly shine and I think it is one of the most important parts of the process. I am always asking for feedback, sometimes even from my two most honest critics, my 13 year old daughter and eight year old son. They don’t hold back and are brutally honest in a way that only children seem to muster easily!”
If you live in your own bubble, you won’t experience anything new. “I make a point of going around and trying different restaurants, trying new food and different cuisines, in order to understand the food scene out there. Your food needs to be relevant, and there is no way you will understand the market and what it needs without experiencing it firsthand.”
- Experiment, innovate and adapt
Experimenting will be a lifelong habit of a good chef, who is always trying new things and encouraging innovation in the kitchen. Do not fall into the trap of getting to comfortable from your offering and not trying to find ways to offer something special. “We keep innovating and we offer weekly specials to try out our new creations. We adapt to what people are asking for and we learn from their feedback and from the market. We never stay stagnant.”
- Be hands on and lead by example
Sometimes, chefs might reach a level of comfort with not being too involved in the kitchen. They set the rules and then they are off just enjoying the experience of the restaurant, but that is ultimately not very inspiring for the team. “You need to show your team that you are working just as hard as them and even more so, you need to lead by example, put in more hours and truly gain their respect. Sometimes, if I will go into the kitchen and ask the Head Chef if he needs any help, if someone is missing from the team, I put on an apron and take their place, I am there chopping if you need, or at the cooking station. Whatever I need to do to ensure a smooth running in the kitchen and lend my support.”
- Remember the importance of your team
A successful restaurant is a team effort, and you are only as good as your team. “It is very important to never forget that the human part of a restaurant is its most valuable asset that you have. Always take care of your team, they are putting in long hours and are working on supporting your vision. I personally think that we have an amazing group of individuals at our restaurants and I know that without them, there would be no success for all. I owe a lot of gratitude to each and every member of the team, from the kitchen to employees working in the front-of-the-house.”