Maybe as a protége of the FC Barcelona soccer academy, the head chef at the Belfry’s Ryder Grill, Javier Santos could have been the next Messi – but he’s more than happy creating winning dishes in the kitchen
Tell us about your cooking
It’s innovative and has a strong French foundation. Using fresh local produce and foraging for ingredients is what excites me the most about cooking. For example, using the first Girolle mushrooms of the late summer season in a wild mushroom broth to accompany my slow cooked oxtail bon-bon.
How did you become a chef?
I actually became a chef by mistake! I came to the UK from Spain when I was 18 and got a job as a kitchen porter. Eventually I got offered an apprenticeship which allowed me to gain experience with prepping and cooking food. I went on to work with the Roux brothers for nine years and spent time in their Michelin-star restaurants in London, Wales, France and the US. I joined the Belfry two years ago.
What do you eat at home?
As a family we eat simple foods – I’m more than happy cooking something like an omelette. Other favourites are fresh pasta and antipasti and cured meats.
Who’s the best chef in the world and why? And who’s the best in Brum?
In the world for me, it’s Ferran Adria, a Catalan chef who was the owner at El Bulli, not far from where I grew up near Barcelona. Although El Bulli is no longer a restaurant, Ferran has opened his own cookery school. The best Birmingham chef is Tom Shepherd. Just four months after opening his restaurant, Upstairs by Tom Shepherd, he received a Michelin star which is an amazing achievement.
Share a cooking tip
Make sure you check your ‘mise en place’ (that’s pre-prepare all your ingredients, have them out and make sure you have worked out all of your timings before you start). This will help to keep everything on track and make the whole experience a lot more enjoyable. Secondly, taste, taste, taste! People don’t do this enough when cooking.
What was your favourite food as a kid?
Growing up in Spain my favourite food was a dish called Arroz a la Cubana. It’s a simple dish of boiled rice, two fried eggs and tomato sauce made from canned tomatoes, onions and garlic sautéed in olive oil.
Food heaven and food hell?
Heaven is an aged Iberico ham with fresh tomatoes. Hell has to be liver – the texture and smell massively puts me off!
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve eaten?
That would be tripe. I can categorically say that the texture is not for me. I’ve also tried a fisheye – the worst bit is when you bite into it and it explodes!
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
When I was younger, I used to play for the academy at FC Barcelona and if I carried on playing, who knows where I would be now. I’m not talking about the next Messi, but I would have enjoyed playing semi-professionally!
TRY JAVIER’S CHICKEN SUPREME RECIPE
An impressive dish that you can make home with ingredients that you’ll probably have at the back of the cupboard is a Chicken Supreme. Pair this with fire roasted almonds, sweet potato mash, braised baby gem lettuce and a smoked garlic jus and you’ve got a dinner party style dish. You can find an easy recipe to follow below.
For 2 People
1 Whole Chicken (Corn fed)
• Butcher the chicken by separating the breasts and wings from the carcass and keep a side (you can ask your butcher to do this for you and ask him to give you the bones for making the sauce)
• Season the breast with salt and cook skin side down in a pan until golden, flip it over and colour it slightly on the other side. Roast in the oven together with the chicken wings for 20 minutes. Until it reaches a temperature of 75C.
20g Smoked Almonds Nibbed (you can substitute for Flaked Almonds)
• Toast the almonds lightly until golden and set aside.
Braised Baby Gem
• 1 baby gem lettuce
• 30g unsalted butter
• 15g shallots (finely chopped)
• 1 carrot (small diced)
• 1 celery stick (small diced)
• 1 garlic clove (minced)
• 1 sprig of thyme
• 500ml chicken stock
• Salt to taste
Wash the lettuce to remove dirt and cut in half lengthwise. Sweat down the prepared vegetables then add the butter and chicken stock. Add the baby gem and cover with tin foil. Bake in the oven @180C for 15 minutes. Once ready spoon the veg on top and keep warm.
Sweet Potato Mash
• 1 large sweet potato
• 30g soft unsalted butter
• 2g Maldon salt
Bake the sweet potato in the oven @180c until soft. Let it cool down slightly and peel off the skin. Mash or blend in a food processor with the soft butter and salt until smooth.
• 100g baby leaf spinach (washed)
• 50ml double cream
• Pinch of grated nutmeg
• Salt to taste
Cook the spinach in salted boiling water until tender. Drain and squeeze out the excess water. Bring the cream to the boil and thicken until it coats the back of the spoon, add the nutmeg and drained spinach. Cook for 2 minutes and blend well. Keep warm.
Smoked Garlic Jus
• 1 chicken carcass or 500g of chicken bones
• 1 head of smoked garlic
• 2 shallots
• 1 carrot
• 1 stick of celery
• 2 sprigs of thyme
• 30g tomato puree
• 50ml brandy
• 5ml sherry vinegar
• 2l water
Roast the bones in the oven until golden brown together with the smoked garlic. Roughly chop all the vegetables and caramelise in a pan until golden. Add the tomato puree and cook for a few minutes. Deglaze with brandy and reduce until evaporated. Add the bones and cover with water. Cook for at least 4 hours. Strain the liquid and reduce by 1/8 to intensify the flavour. Add the sherry vinegar and season to taste.