PORT visits Zaranda, the only two Michelin-starred restaurant in the Balearic Islands, to meet Fernando Pérez Arellano and discovers how hard work can trump talent
I’m sat in the kitchens of Zaranda, the two Michelin-starred restaurant at Castell Son Claret, a hotel on the Spanish island of Mallorca, half way through an eight-course, four-and-a-half hour long dinner.
Framed by the kitchen’s surfaces and the row of heating lamps, the scene playing out before me is one of a precisely controlled chaos. It’s an organised, frenetic rush from fridge, to stove, to plate; the chefs only relenting to carefully place each ingredient on the plate with long-handed tweezers.
Earlier that day the restaurant’s head chef, Fernando Pérez Arellano and I had been sitting on the terrace of hotel, discussing his career and how he worked his way up through kitchens at Patrick Guilbaud in Dublin, Le Gavroche in London, and Can Fabes in Barcelona, before setting up Zaranda in Madrid in 2005, earning a Michelin-star just one year later.
I had asked him what, above all else, he had learned from over two decades of experience. “A discipline and a drive to find perfection,” he tells me.
Here, Arellano discusses how he came to haute cuisine almost ‘by accident’, his unceasing search for the perfect dish and why, even after his second Michelin star, he won’t be resting on his laurels.
How did you first get into the kitchen?
I used to go to Dublin as a teenager to study English and, when I was 18, without having a better idea of what I should do with my life, I decided to move to Ireland and started washing dishes to get me by.
It was meant to be only for a few months but I liked the place. I was living alone, cooking simple things for myself, so started asking the chefs around me how they did certain things, recreating them at home, and that’s how it all began. I also felt that I had to find a job that didn’t mean I had to go home and that would also make my mother proud. I never did convince her…
If you hadn’t gone to Dublin, do you think you would have become a chef?
Probably not: I don’t believe in such a thing as talent. I had passions for women, for music, for going out and I always liked to eat well, but it was never crucial for me – it’s not like I was raised in a Michelin-starred restaurant.
I’ve seen a lot of people who think they have a passion for cooking, but they get in the kitchen and it’s clear they’re better off staying at home, because they don’t like the environment and the atmosphere. So I don’t really see talent as being particularly important; in the kitchen, there’s a lot of things you put up with that are far from any talent or passion.
You were only 27 when you opened Zaranda in Madrid…
Yes, but I had been in the trade for about 10 years by then and, at that moment, I had the chance to open a restaurant, so I did it. We managed to get a Michelin star pretty quickly. To win a star in one year and to have come from nowhere… It’s not that we weren’t very good, but we were very lucky – that first star was key.
When you start in this business in a place like Madrid, it’s not easy to keep an operation open without winning a Michelin star.
How much of your produce is sourced locally?
We source as much as we can locally, especially when it comes to fish. With the exception of the oysters and the mussels, which you can’t find here, we try not to use any fish that come from outside the island of Mallorca. I don’t pretend to be a flagship of local produce or local cuisine – partly because I’m not local – but I believe in what we have here, especially when it comes to fish. I honestly don’t think I have seen better fish markets anywhere else.
That said, if the local product is not great I prefer not to use it. Some people might compromise on certain flavours or the quality so that they can stick to using locally sourced food – especially if this is a marketing tool for them. I simply try to develop a menu without losing the bond I have to this place.
What does the future hold for you and Zaranda?
I think I am at a moment in life when I still have a lot to say and there’s still room to grow, especially from the creative point of view. I would love to have three stars: I dream of three stars, and I will always work for that.
So you’re not going to rest on your laurels?
Of course not, I’m forty years old, and it’s silly because I don’t see these laurels. It’s always so easy to say the word ‘success’, but what is success? I don’t really believe that having two stars is success… It’s certainly very good for someone who has been searching for two stars, but I have drawn a road that I want to follow in my life and two stars is only one of the stops.