DUBAI: Alejandro Maestro Villayandre loves his job. As executive chef at Tatel Riyadh (in which Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the investors), he gets to do what he likes best: feed people. The Spanish chef, who began his culinary journey at the Superior Schools of Hospitality and Cooking of León and Santiago de Compostela and worked in the kitchen of the famed Spanish chef Martín Berasategui before moving on to the international chain Barceló, is enjoying his time in the Kingdom.
“It’s a new culture, a new country. And a good opportunity to improve my skills inside the kitchen,” he tells Arab News.
Here he discusses why he loves salads, what food Ronaldo likes best, and keeping things simple, and provides a tasty black cod recipe.
When you started out as a professional, what was the most-common mistake you made?
I think the main mistake that almost all of us make when we are starting out is overloading a dish with techniques that we are learning, or presentations that are not entirely practical during actual service in a real restaurant. As I always say, less is more.
What’s your top tip for amateur cooks?
The best advice that I can give is not to become obsessed. Just enjoy cooking. You don’t need all the materials that we use every day in a professional kitchen. Take it step by step and do not start with the most difficult recipes. Many times, what is simple is more enjoyable.
What one ingredient can instantly improve any dish?
I don’t know if I could choose just one ingredient because the most beautiful thing about cooking is the great variety of flavors and textures that you can play with when preparing a dish. From the most luxurious, such as truffles, caviar and saffron, to the most common ones.
When you go out to eat, do you find yourself critiquing the food?
To be honest, I almost never pay attention to the bad things. I always try to see the good things and what I can incorporate into my own cooking: new ingredients, flavor combinations, different dishes. I’m a very empathetic person with my peers, because I know how difficult it is and that — like any person in any job — they can have bad days.
When you go out to eat, what’s your favorite cuisine?
It depends on the day or who I go with. I try to vary and always be open to trying other cuisines from other cultures, because as a cook I think that helps you to improve professionally. From the best restaurants to the humblest ones, you can always find surprises.
What’s your go-to dish if you have to make something quickly at home?
I love salads. I think they’re a very interesting alternative. They’re simple, healthy and fast. And you can make thousands of combinations. Also, it’s a dish that allows you to take advantage of everything you have left over from other meals — pasta, chicken, tuna......
What request or behavior by customers most annoys you?
Often, the lack of empathy that they show us. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be demanding, because that can help us to be better. But, like everyone, we have bad days, and the food is not always to everyone’s taste and, sometimes, people forget that behind each dish there is a team that tries to give its best for the customer to enjoy.
What’s your favorite dish to cook and why?
I don’t have a favorite dish. I always try to find new dishes. I like to play with flavors. It doesn’t always turn out well, but that’s the way of learning, to try and try again.
Are you strict in the kitchen? Or quite laidback?
To dedicate yourself to the kitchen, you have to be a little crazy and really like your job. I Iike the job. I like to get my hands dirty and be involved in the day-to-day life of a restaurant. I try not to shout, but the kitchen is stressful at times, so a little shouting is unavoidable.
What are Cristiano Ronaldo’s favorite dishes at Tatel Riyadh?
Burrata with honey and lavender vinaigrette; Cecina de León (cured beef); black cod and miso sauce; and cheesecake.
Recipe: Chef Alejandro’s black cod and miso sauce
1. Clean and cut the cod into equal portions.
2. Leave the cod soaking in salt water for one hour.
3. Dry well, and marinate in miso for two days.
4. Clean the excess miso off the cod.
5. Burn the skin well. Turn over and bake for five minutes at 200 degrees centigrade.
6. Allow to rest for five minutes.
7. Remove the exposed bones.
8. Using a brush, apply miso to the fish and bake for three minutes at 200 degrees centigrade.
9. If you have a torch, burn the fish slightly.