Omar Allibhoy is a man on a culinary mission. The 29-year-old from Madrid has become something of a phenomenon in the last year. His debut book, Tapas Revolution, has been holding its own in the charts alongside the latest offerings from Jamie Oliver and Tom Kerridge, and he has no plans to rest on his laurels.
The long-haired Spaniard is passionate about Spanish cuisine and in particular spreading the word of tapas.
“I always say life and food is best shared. Tapas food is great for sharing with family and friends and my quest is to get tapas in to the mainstream in Britain.”
Growing up in Madrid, Allibhoy became obsessed with food and cooking from an early age.
“Like any baby, our first interest is to feed. Which is funny don’t you think? It is our first interest and instinct, it’s all we want to do. I always ate a lot and watched my mother cooking. It made me very attracted to it. The smell and aromas, there was something very sexy to it all.”
Although he describes his mother as an “average Spanish cook, but at British standards, a good cook,” he does stress that it was her influence, along with two of his aunties, that led him to a career in gastronomy.
At the age of 15 he enrolled onto an evening cookery course in Madrid, even though he wasn’t legally old enough (“I befriended the teacher, who then allowed me to join the course”). This furthered his interest and enjoyment of cooking and was the start of his professional career.
After plying his trade under the renowned Ferran Adrià, Allibhoy moved to London. It has been eight years since his arrival and in that time he has taught himself to speak English as well as open two tapas restaurants.
“We currently have two restaurants in London but I can confirm that we will be opening another in Birmingham in the very near future.”
Not one for standing still, the hard-working Allibhoy wants to continue to expand his restaurant chain, as well as making appearances around the country promoting Spanish cooking and his new book.
“It is a dream come true for me. When I was a kid I always wanted to be like Karlos Arguiñano, who was a famous Spanish chef on television nearly everyday. Then my Auntie bought me a VHS of The Naked Chef and I was just awestruck. Jamie Oliver was really young but was brilliant – I wanted to be just like him.”
Initially Allibhoy worked solely as a chef in the UK, but became increasingly disillusioned and frustrated by the lack of authentic Spanish cuisine available in the country.
“About five years ago I realised that the only way to spread the word of Spanish food was through the media - television, newspapers, magazines, the internet – in any way possible and that’s how I got in to it.”
He is not embarrassed by Gordon Ramsay’s recent endorsement that Allibhoy is the “Antonio Banderas of cooking.”
“It’s great isn’t it? It doesn’t get any better than that. Funnily enough, I met Antonio recently on The One Show. He’s a great actor. He told me a story of how he made it in Hollywood. He would cook Spanish omelettes and paellas at home and invite people to try to impress them. He cooked Spanish food for Paul Newman, how amazing is that? He is such a humble and nice fella.”
Not lacking in confidence and with tongue firmly in cheek, he told Banderas that they could be a great partnership should they open restaurants together.
“I think I impressed him with the paella that I made live on the show. Chris Evans invited him to dinner, but he declined his offer and took a huge container of my paella to his room, he loved it. As he left he said “Hey, let’s maybe talk about that partnership!” It would be a dream to go in to business with a Hollywood star!”
Last year he was approached by Ebury Press, who were interested in publishing a recipe book. Allibhoy accepted and his mission to spread the word of tapas took another huge step forward.
“It is a great feeling to have my own book out. I have plenty of favourite recipes but I can’t choose a favourite because tapas is not just about one recipe. It is about having lots of dishes on the table and sharing it. If I had to pick a few favourites I’d have to say Bacalao Al Pil Pil (cod) or Paella. I love good paella, it is one of my favourite things. Tapas is always best shared, and that is what tapas and Spanish gastronomy is about. It is how we eat in and out, it is our culture.”
He has plans to return to his homeland, but not just yet.
“I miss my family and friends, and of course the weather and the culture. But I must say I love this country and the lifestyle and unique culture. I don’t like the weather here, but who does? But I’ve met a lot of great people and have made a lot of very good friends. I find this country fascinating and very interesting. I am here to stay for many more years to come.”
Allibhoy continues to make waves in the UK and this young conquistador has ambitions to take his revolution to our television screens.
“That is my goal, to have my own cookery show. There may be something in the pipeline, but that is all I can say. I would love to do a show on Spanish cookery and gastronomy.”
“There are so many Italian and French programmes it makes me sick”, chuckles Allibhoy. “Rick Stein’s Spain was great, but he is not Spanish. I’d love to do an authentic Spanish show.”
It seems that the driven Spaniard is here to stay for a long while yet and don’t be surprised if you see Omar Allibhoy on your television screens sooner rather than later. Viva la revolución.