Sonia Molina speaks quickly between sittings, as if there weren’t a second to lose. Chef at Xereca hotel, she defines herself as restless and bold. And it was this intrepid character that probably led her, five years ago and from one moment to the next, to make the spontaneous decision to move to Ibiza. In this luxurious natural oasis, just three kilometres from Ibiza Town, Elche-born Sonia Molino has created a thoroughly personal menu that fuses her Mediterranean roots with miscellaneous flavours that take diners on her many adventures around the world.
When, how and why did you come to Ibiza?
I’ve lived in Ibiza for five years. My arrival was a bit strange because I arrived when no one comes: in winter. I had a friend who had a spare room here... I went a bit crazy, packed my things in the car and took the plunge. I started working with David Oleart in Can Xarc. It’s a restaurant that serves very Mediterranean food, which I know really well, so it was great for me. Then I was offered a job at Xereca, which let me be more myself, make my own food and experiment a bit more...
What are you like inside and outside the kitchen?
I always arrive at the kitchen really happy. I’m a great workmate, not a dictator at all, and people are really at ease in my kitchen. As soon as the first order goes out, I change: you’ve got to be firm, I want everyone to be serious, no jokes, no music... But when we’re prepping, we’re all in good spirits. Outside I think I’m a normal woman. Very restless, or that’s what they say, a good friend, fun and a bit crazy (in the sense that I’m quite daring).
What’s your main hobby?
My hobby has always been baking. Making cakes. I love decorating cakes. I've even got a Facebook page for it. I started by giving them away: I’d be invited to a birthday and, instead of taking a gift, I’d bring a cake. The bigger and more spectacular the better. Although it’s a part of cooking, it’s a hobby for me because I find it really relaxing.
My hobby has always been baking
Who inspired your love of cooking?
My grandmother. She raised me. She was a wartime and post-war woman, one of those old-fashioned ladies so, naturally, as a woman, I had to learn all those basic things that a woman should know: sewing, ironing, cooking... However, it never occurred to her to show my brother how to wash the dishes. I liked the cooking part, because I’ve loved eating ever since I was little. And I think that anyone who likes eating, likes cooking.
How would you define the food at Xereca?
Xereca’s food concept is Mediterranean fusion. We work with local produce whenever possible. I love Ibizan and Spanish produce and try to experiment with the sensations and flavours that I’ve brought back with me from my travels in Mexico, Morocco, Peru, Guatemala... And I also create things like rice dishes that, as someone from Elche, are like “home” for me. That’s what’s part of me, what I have in my blood. I’m Mediterranean and believe that it’s important to express what we are in a dish, even if we want to give it that fusion twist. At the end of the day, I’m based on my personal history, on my roots, on the sea, which I love, on quality Spanish produce, and I’m also really inspired by my travels... For example, I brought back lots of aromas and sensations from my trip to Morocco... And I try to transfer them to a dish so that the taste transports the customer to that place.
For me, rice dishes are like “home”, that’s what’s part of me, what I have in my blood
Which techniques do you like using the most?
I often use slow-cooking for meat, but I like using all kinds of techniques. I think what’s great about cooking is being able to use everything.
What’s your creative process?
I make good use of my travels and the sensations I experience on them. I always have a notebook in my bag because I never know when inspiration might strike. I make a note of ingredients, scents, flavours... We sometimes have brainstorming sessions in the kitchen too. Especially with Alberto Gamboa, who’s my right hand and is also from Elche. He’s someone with masses of knowledge, he has an irresistible energy and charisma. We swap experiences between the two of us and produce lots of material together. But it’s really in quiet moments when I’m most inspired. Especially in winter. In summer too, but I’m normally more focused on working, on events... I’m often swamped. In winter, moments when you can put your feet up, or ‘float’, as I call it, are more common.
What’s your relationship with your team like?
We’re a team of six. Apart from Alberto, who’s the sous chef, there’s Ismael: he’s from Senegal and arrived three years ago without knowing a thing, and now he’s an essential part of my kitchen. His evolution has been impressive and I’m really proud of him. He’s hard-working, learns quickly... And he likes doing things well. He’s a machine. There’s also a chef who helps Alberto and me with the hot food. Ismael does the cold dishes, lots of prep and chops, and there are also two more assistants: we’re trying to get them to swap over and do some cooking too, so it's not all washing up.
What’s the relationship like between the dining room and kitchen?
Anna Van Schoor is the maître d’ in charge of the dining room. She’s my “eyes” out there. She’s responsible for conveying the sensations to customers that I want to express with each dish. She’s methodical and highly professional, she can explain the cooking we do at Xereca really well, and always makes customers leave with a smile. The atmosphere is wonderful. Anna makes sure everything is in its place, she takes great care over every detail... She’s in charge of briefing the team so that everyone’s on the same page. And she also knows a lot about wine. She’s really interested in it and well trained so she can recommend the best wine for each dish to customers.
You’re two women at the head of Xereca’s restaurant...
We're two women in charge of the restaurant and four women in charge of the hotel. Lots of people are still surprised by that. All the managerial positions at the hotel, apart from maintenance, are filled by women. And things work differently. Not because I’m a woman and a feminist, but because we manage things differently. There’s no battle of egos, we’re more workmates, we help each other a lot. We have a different way of talking about things and we work really well together. I think that, as women, it’s always been harder for us to achieve senior positions because we’ve always had to work twice as hard, although, fortunately, this has changed a lot in the past four to five years.
Do you have any professional goals?
I don’t like looking too far ahead. I think that’s a mistake. Because the higher your expectations, the greater your frustration if you don’t achieve what you want. What I like doing is cooking, doing things well, experimenting and I think that will take me on my path. I’ve slowly earned the place where I am now. Life gradually offers things and I keep taking them. What I like are challenges, I’m someone who needs constant motivation.