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Ana Jiménez - Quimera. Slow cooking

Ana Jiménez - Quimera. Slow cooking

Ana Jiménez © ffmag

She was the first and, to date, is the only chef to have won a Michelin star in Formentera. Almost a decade later, Ana Jiménez, chef at Quimera, is enjoying one of the best moments in her personal and work life. A moment as great as the food at the restaurant she runs, where her “obsession” with local vegetables and greens means they play an essential role on the menu. Pure flavours and dishes rooted in the past: Jiménez’s cooking has echoes of tradition with subtle, modern influences that surprise with every bite.

 

How are you finding it being a mother of two while also running the kitchen at Quimera? Do you get a work/life balance in a kitchen?
It’s really hard. Mentally and physically exhausting. But, because you’re doing it for something you love, you find the strength. I’m lucky because I like my work and that’s really important.

Is it true that you become more efficient at work once you become a mother?
Yes. Because you start to separate things much more. Work is like a mental break from being a mother and you suddenly feel a sense of strength that, if you use it well and focus on the job, means you can be far more mentally efficient.  Even if you’re physically exhausted... But I’m coping really well at the moment.

You’re at a mature stage in terms of your career. Are you where you always wanted to be?
No, not yet. I’m working on it... This year I’m starting to establish some ideas that I’ve been working on for a long time. I’ve noticed that people are now more receptive when they come to the table and I’ve realised that I can take things further. I don’t have huge goals; I don’t want to start my own restaurant or anything like that. But I do want to create something at Quimera that will let me achieve my goal. I work extremely well at Quimera and I’m really happy.

Fish. Quimera Restaurant, Formentera

What’s the situation at Quimera at the moment? Have you made any big changes this year?
Yes. I think that, finally, this year we’re at the point where, slowly but surely, we’re managing to reduce the amount of animal protein on the menu. I don’t want to have a vegan restaurant, but I would like a menu that is appropriate for our lives today. I'd like to educate diners with that in mind. And I’m really happy because we’re managing to do it. People are accepting it and are more open to trying new things.

What are the main flavours on the menu this year?
If you look at the vegetables, especially the seasonal vegetables, most tend to share flavours that are slightly sweet, like courgette, carrot, leek... We generally try to create really flavoursome dishes that have a natural sweetness that speaks for itself. And I emphasise that rather than mask it.

How would you define the food at Quimera?
I spend a lot of time on each dish. It’s slow cooking with lots of dishes rooted in tradition. I still cook in the old style, regardless of all the modern equipment that we have. So, you could say that Quimera has a traditional menu that aims to surprise diners within that tradition.

What products are you currently obsessed with, and which products define your cooking?
Vegetables. I’m completely obsessed and I discover new flavours every day. This year, I was really nervous about putting a dish that’s completely based on carrots, with a consommé cooked for ten hours and chai tea, on the menu. But people are happily surprised by that dish. And beetroot... I’m in love with that root! It’s amazing and I love the fact that the same thing happens to other people as me: they’re surprised. We’ve got fantastic zero-mile produce on the island (which has its advantages and disadvantages because of the type of soil here) but the flavours are absolutely wonderful.

I’m obsessed with vegetables and I discover new flavours every day

 

Where can you see Quimera’s identity? In you? The dishes? The service?
Quimera is a team. That’s what matters most to me and it’s essential that the kitchen and dining room teams work as one. I’ve got a brilliant team in the kitchen and this year we’ve got a new addition who’s really impressing me. When I look at them from the outside, it seems like they’ve been working together for years. And the same is true of the dining room. We’re missing Miguel this year, who was the long-standing maître d’ at Quimera, but now we have Octavio as maître d’. He’s been with me for years, since he started out as a runner, and I’ve always had my eye on him because he truly enjoys taking what we make in the kitchen to people’s tables. He explains the dishes with the same depth of feeling that we have when we make them. Fátima is also in the dining room again this year. And Pau, the owner, is often around, he really likes working with us. We all get on so well. That’s important and the diners can feel it.

Quimera terrace, Formentera

Mental health is a hot topic these days and being a chef is an extremely stressful job. What’s your secret to releasing all your stress?
Totally switching off is really hard in my position. Because the moment you switch off from the day-to-day business, a lightbulb comes on and you start to worry about new things. I find it hard to calm my mind. The only time I manage it is during my yoga class. It’s my way of beating stress and, most importantly, of managing to make my team relax. Because if they see me stressed, they won’t be able to relax. And the opposite is true: if my team is relaxed, it keeps me calm.

What do you look for in a restaurant when you go out to eat?
It’s really hard for me to eat in other restaurants during the season because I find it difficult to switch off, as I mentioned. But, as a diner, I like having fun and trying new things, dishes and creations that surprise me.

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