Five minutes with… José Pizarro

The godfather of Spanish cooking in London describes his love for art, olive oil and swimming in cold water

Food and Drink 4 Nov 2019

Chef José Pizarro
Pizarro restaurant in Bermondsey
Croquetas at José

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

There’s nothing I can think of that I’ve been given, but I think it’s really important to share knowledge and recipes, it’s not right to keep things to yourself. I tell young chefs to work hard and that in hospitality it’s our job to make clients happy, the job is not about us.

Who is your role model?

There are many people – the Arzak family, for example, who run Arzak near San Sebastian. Not because their restaurant is Michelin starred, but because they are down to earth. Julio Reoyo, the chef behind El Mesón de Doña Filo near Madrid and Villena in Segovia has been a mentor to me and very supportive. And in the UK I have so many people to say thank you to, especially chef David Eyre.

Jamon and sherry at Pizarro
Jamon and sherry at Pizarro


What ingredient can you not live without?

Olive oil – I have to have it in the kitchen, many different ones. I have it next to me at all times and I use it for every course, from starter to dessert. I grew up using olive oil as a child in Spain and was sent to pick olives in the cold in winter when I was naughty, it’s a part of me.

What do you always take with you when you travel?

I always take my swimming trunks, I love to swim and I have to swim. I’m not a very good swimmer, but I love the feeling of cold water. The Tajo river crosses the village I’m from in Spain, it’s quite dangerous and full of stones, but I love to swim there. The Jerte river is also beautiful.

Where do you like to eat out in London?

There are so many places to try and so many new openings. The Sea, The Sea near Sloane Square has great fish and is very luxurious; I went there recently for my ninth anniversary with my husband Peter. I like Kin + Deum in Bermondsey for Thai food and other favourites include Oklava, in Shoreditch, The Quality Chop House, in Farringdon, and Galvin La Chapelle in Spitalfields – it depends on what I want to eat.

What do you like to do on a day off?

I love art and going to exhibitions, losing yourself in a gallery and getting feelings from the artist. Disconnecting from the world is amazing to do. I work near the Tate and the White Cube gallery is next to Pizarro, it’s a beautiful space and the artists who show there often come to the restaurant and I cook for them. It’s important for me to know the artist and get into their minds to understand them and their work.

What are your passions outside of work?

Art is certainly one of them. Walking is another – when I’m in Bermondsey I’ll walk along the Thames when no one is around, to the Tate Modern and Millennium Bridge. Apart from that it’s meeting new people, I find it very inspiring and the diversity of London is wonderful.

If you could choose anyone from today or history, who would be your ideal dinner party guest and why?

It would have to be the perfect combination of art, craziness, feeling, people and creativity. I’d invite the flamenco singer Camaron de la Isla and Maria Callas to listen to and Gaudí for the crazy. I’d prepare jamón with sherry, a whole fish like sea bream or sea bass and then a chocolate pot with olive oil and salt and ice cream for dessert.