While we watched Hell’s Kitchen play out on our screens, Gonzalo Landin was right smack in the middle of the live action.
The 34-year-old has worked in some of the toughest — and biggest — kitchens in the world. His culinary background is definitely pedigreed: El Celler de Can Roca by the renowned Roca brothers, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London, and Café Boulud in New York.
“I spent five years in London where the kitchens are very tough. I had cuts and burns all over. I slept just three hours a day. I basically looked like a homeless drug addict,” chuckles Landin.
He can laugh now, but his sharp features take on a slight grimace as he recalls horrific stories. Especially one that involves a sub-par batch of monkfish liver tempura. The unfortunate cook — though fortunately, not Landin — ended up with the tray of failed tempura thrown at his face. Yet, he continued slicing vegetables with battered crumb hanging off his bowed head.
“These days, I hear chefs complaining about long hours. They don’t want to work in a place that has no name,” says Landin.
“But back when it was really tough, everyone did it for the passion. You had to, or you wouldn’t make it.”
As the new head chef at Binomio, Landin runs a calm ship. There is no tempura thrown about in his kitchen. Instead, he focuses on recreating some of his best memories of home.
Take a chilled red capsicum salad. Served with caviar and salty slivers of anchovies, it is inspired by an after-school snack his mum would leave for him in the fridge. There’s also grilled cuttlefish, a tribute to his favourite tapas bar – the now-defunct Claveles — that specialised in selling that one and only dish.
This chilled red capsicum salad with caviar and salty anchovies is a dish inspired by Landin’s mum. Photo by Jasper Yu
“Tapas is all over the world now, but it has an origin, and it is in Almería,” says the native. “It does not mean just small portions of food like most people think. Tapas was a small side dish we’ll get for free, when we order a beer or wine. It’s the way we socialise,” he shares.
The massive price tag slapped on alcohol imports here means its near impossible for Landin to recreate that same buzz fed by cheap wine and free nibbles. But he has gotten the familiar flavours down pat. Fresh produce, put on the plancha and served straight away. Skills picked up from his fine-dining training are used to elevate the traditional dishes.
It all seems very by-the-book, but Landin shares how these are dishes are slowly being replaced in tapas joints and restaurants back home. “I’m 34, and I’ve travelled a lot. But some of these Spanish people have spent all their lives serving tapas, and they are tired of their croquettes and omelettes,” he says.
In place of these are hip, cool spots that modernise the whole tapas experience. El Vino en Un Barco tapas bar in Almería, for instance. The cosy atmosphere remains, but you’ll find items on the menu such as bao (steamed buns) with duck and hoisin sauce.
“I’ll never do this at Binomio, because why would people come here to have bao when you can have it in every other corner,” says Landin. “But in Europe, it’s something exotic and cool. More people try to open modern places that are still fun and affordable,” he adds.
“That’s why I don’t want to change certain things (at Binomio). It’s so people here can experience exactly the same Spanish food I remember. Close the door, and you are in Spain for an hour.”