Five minutes with… José Pizarro

The chef talks about his Finish-at-Home boxes, staying creative, acting quickly and supporting the community in lockdown

Food and Drink 15 Feb 2021

Chef José Pizarro
Pizarro Finish at Home boxes delivers easy-to-finish tapas straight to your door

Can you tell us about your Pizarro Finish-at-Home boxes?

We launched the first menu at the beginning of April last year, not long after lockdown started. In the beginning it was not a Finish-at-Home box, you could choose whatever tapas you wanted for delivery, and it was only in London. But to be honest, Spanish food doesn’t travel very well, so we had a meeting and agreed that instead of doing takeaways that way, we’d change them so the customer would pick up the food, or we’d send it to them, and they would finish it in their own home. And then after that it was a process of developing it in a very organic way. Slowly, slowly bringing more things to the menu.

Do I need to have a lot of skill to be able to finish the meals and what kind of recipes do you have in the boxes?

Some of the typical dishes that we have are, for example, hake in salsa verde, patatas bravas, padrón peppers, chorizo cooked in wine, croquetas, all of the typical things that you’d expect from Spanish cuisine. You definitely don’t need to be a chef at all. Everything we do is simple and for many of the dishes you just place a bag in bubbling water, cook it for four or five minutes and then it’s ready. With each recipe we provide a QR code, which when scanned goes through to my YouTube channel, and there I show you how to finish the dish with the help of my partner, Peter. It’s fun and was fun to film.

Pizarro on Bermondsey Street
Pizarro on Bermondsey Street

It has been a challenging year for everyone, but especially the hospitality industry. What do you feel like you’ve learned?

That you need to think and act quickly. That you need to be very creative and you cannot take things for granted. People can change what they do very, very quickly. And I definitely think you cannot sit at home being miserable, you need to push yourself, you need to push your creativity, everything. You have to keep in there and try to survive, especially as there are a lot of people under my wing and I need to keep those people working. There are opportunities everywhere for new business and hopefully we can keep it going even when the restaurant reopens.

You need to think, OK, this is not a restaurant anymore but I need to sell the stock I have: it’s a lot of money. And it’s not just the money. In the beginning, more than anything else it was about helping the community. People couldn’t find any flour and my supplier was giving me flour. The same with pasta – I was able to sell it to my customers at an appropriate price. In so many places they hiked up the price, but for me, I said this is the price it cost me, I have to make a little margin to pay everyone, but please buy what I have.

It was nice to see that we were helping the community. I don’t know how many thousands of meals I have cooked for local people who need it. I was giving food to the NHS, everyone who passed through the restaurant got a meal from me with some fruit and desserts. I was also cooking for people in a housing association area who needed extra support. People who may not be able to go out, they had food every Thursday to help them feel less alone. I was cooking for around 65 to 100 people, fresh clean food like fish, such as a nice seabass, fresh salmon or cod, for people who might not have the opportunity to eat fish very often.

What’s amazing is how thankful people were when we opened as a restaurant, and that made me so proud of the team. Because we don’t see that often: helping people without thinking about it. In Esher, where I have my gastropub José Pizarro The Swan Inn, we got so many new customers from lockdown who didn’t know about the restaurant until then. They just came back to say thank you and to say ‘guys, you have helped us to get through. We are here for you now, and it’s beautiful.’ It’s nice to hear that.

When things reopen, where do you want to go out and eat?

I have so many places! I cannot wait to be sitting at my restaurant José with a glass of fino sherry and a plate of jamón, just something very simple to enjoy while watching people pass, seeing people back to normal. And my local Chinese restaurant. I just want to go out and talk to people.

Are you excited about being able to travel again?

The only thing I’m really missing is seeing my mum in Spain. Now, I see her twice a day on FaceTime, every morning and every evening, and sometimes in the middle of the day. But I’m missing her because before I was able to see her at least once a month.

What are you most looking forward to when your own restaurants reopen?

I need the adrenaline. I need the feeling of creating hospitality. I need to see people face to face and make people happy.

What are your other hopes and dreams for 2021?

Normality, that’s it. That’s the thing I’m looking forward to. And enjoying a nice pint of Estrella Damm in my bar with a Scotch egg.

Pizarro Finish-at-Home boxes are available from the José Pizarro website and include a sharing menu of three tapas, two main courses and dessert for £75;