David García

Charming gastronomy

09/21/2022 · By Rosario Fernández
David García, chef at Corral de la Morería, poses inside the Madrid venue
David García, chef at Corral de la Morería, poses inside the legendary venue in Madrid. © Alfredo Arias

The life of chef David García didn’t point towards the stove, but rather towards the stage. After learning alongside Martín Berasategui, heading the Nerua restaurant at the Guggenheim Museum and winning a Michelin star with the Álbora restaurant, he came to Corral de la Morería, an iconic establishment where cuisine and music equally coexist and excite its audience. Quirks of fate.

He admits that cuisine wasn’t vocational for him. In fact, his parents, owners of a long-standing restaurant, Támesis in Bilbao, could see it more clearly than him. Because David García (Bilbao, 1975) wanted to be a musician, his great passion. He recalls: “I didn’t fancy studying and what I loved was playing heavy metal and rock, but that wasn’t well perceived at the time. So, my father stuck me in the car towards Lasarte, took me to Martín Berasategui, and told me: Stay here.” And that’s where he stayed. What was supposed to last six months turned into fourteen years.

Alongside Josean Alija, he headed Nerua at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, to later return to the family restaurant with the aim of continuing the business. Until the recession came. “It wasn’t the right time to grow in Bilbao, so I decided to go to Madrid,” he says. He landed in the capital to open the Álbora restaurant, which won one Michelin star. And life happens; he crossed paths with Juan Manuel del Rey, son of the founder of Corral de la Morería, to create a project that combines Basque gastronomy with flamenco culture. Next to nothing.

What is someone from Bilbao doing in the kitchen of the best tablao flamenco in the world? One of the 1,000 places you must visit before you die according to The New York Times.
Music is one of my passions. I’ve always appreciated artists, their talent and, above all, the feeling they convey, a rare gem today. Flamenco isn’t art, it’s something that goes beyond that. I’ve seen big bands like Metallica, U2, Guns & Roses, Bruce Springsteen, or The Rolling Stones, but when you see top flamenco, the experience is something else.

“I’ve always appreciated artists, their talent and, above all, the feeling they convey, a rare gem today”

When you started out in this world, did you ever dream of a Michelin star?
I never thought I’d receive so many awards and that’s something that astonishes me, it brings me joy, and I’m proud of the team. Awards help people to appreciate you and respect you, but what I value the most is feeling loved by my colleagues. Beyond recognition, I put myself under daily pressure.

How would you define your cuisine?
My cuisine is a recipe book of my land and my city using high-quality products, where broths, stocks, and juices are the foundation. I love to convey the reason behind that recipe and leave a legacy for the next generation. In the end, the most important thing we have are roots and culture, and it’s essential to leave upcoming generations an inheritance for them to learn the good things about this country. I think it’s important to value what we have so that it’s not lost, and that’s one of the missions I give my team and apply to my menu.

You’ve been through all kinds of restaurants. What have you learnt?
All that experience has served me, above all, to learn how to manage groups of humans. The lesson is that the better you organise yourself and treat the people around you, the happier you’ll be, the more productivity you’ll generate, and the more harmony there’ll be

And what talents does someone who wants to work in gastronomy need?
As well as knowing how to cook, which is a given, it’s essential to be excited, humble, and a good person. Also, always wanting to please. Cooking daily at a professional level with a team goes beyond enjoying cooking, there are other factors, like perseverance, camaraderie, or empathy. You can be a good cook and have culinary talent, but if you lack these other skills, your career will be short-lived, and you’ll suffer a lot.

What is the situation of gastronomic talent in Spain?
It’s having a wonderful time. We have plenty of knowledge and eagerness, as well as a highly involved generation on its way. We also have to add great inquisitiveness and lots of traveling. Today, food is great in our country, and there are incredible restaurants, taverns, and bars. There’s just not enough time to try them all!

"The most important thing we have are roots and culture, and it’s essential to leave upcoming generations an inheritance for them to learn”

Your two great passions, gastronomy and rock, go hand in hand at festivals like Azkena Rock, where you’ve cooked for big artists.
I have friends who organise big festivals and I’ve always been close to musicians. When the opportunity has arisen, they’ve called me to feed them, something I feel really proud of. I’ve cooked for major artists, not only at festivals like Azkena, but also at Corral, which has had from Kiss to The Rolling Stones as guests.

You must have a thousand anecdotes. Are there any stories you can tell?
After the service, I’ve been lucky enough to stay with really important musicians until late at night and they’ve treated me like long-lost friends. The funny thing is that I don’t speak English. I don’t know how we did it, but we understood each other (laughs).

And what are you like as a dinner guest?
The only thing that I ask when I eat out is to be treated well and to see an effort to please. I can go to an haute cuisine restaurant and enjoy myself, but what I love the most are the places where I feel affection. For me it’s vital and I know that I’m going to enjoy the food. I’m delighted by service and how the customer is treated.

“You can have culinary talent, but if you lack other skills [perseverance, camaraderie, empathy], your career will be short-lived”

We’re curious: tell us your favourite dish.
I can’t tell you a favourite dish because I love all food: from fish soup to good pulses, garlic soup, pig’s trotters, white beans with clams, stuffed calamari, or stewed fish kokotxas in green sauce. I love eating. I could eat from morning till night (laughs).

Have you ever thought about creating your own restaurant?
I’m going to have a beach bar in Cadiz with three grilled fish, three appetisers, and nice cold beer. The plan has already been outlined and I’m going to do it, it’s just a matter of time!