Their charcoal ovens have revolutionised the gastronomy sector and today they are an essential element in the world’s best kitchens. We interviewed Manu Yebras (Pineda de Mar, 1972), COO of Josper, a family-run business that has become a world leader and can be found in more than 125 countries.
Where does your passion for gastronomy come from?
My first job was as a postman. I started working with Josper after that. I was 23 or 24. I also had a gastro-pub called Els Encants in Calella, with my brother-in-law Marc Juli, where we would make grilled, stuffed and au gratin potatoes using a Josper oven, and we also offered spectacular grilled sandwiches. That was when I realised my passion was hospitality and that I had gastronomy running through my veins. One of my hobbies is visiting different restaurants to observe, learn and enjoy. I am lucky to have friends who are chefs, and we have become fanatics of gastronomy together. That has made us strong and has bought us into a tight-knit group. Since the beginning of my career in Josper, I have learnt a lot from my fantastic boss, Pere Juli, who has been my mentor and is now my father-in-law. 15 or 20 years ago we realised that Josper had to evolve towards something more gastronomic. We learnt a lot about all the possibilities that our ovens had by attending culinary congresses and competitions, and listening to great chefs. From there, a wide range of opportunities opened up to us in terms of growing with the haute cuisine within the catering sector.
What do you, personally value most in a restaurant?
I am a person who really focuses on quality products and raw materials. I think Josper has become so successful because we worked closely with chefs who respect the ingredients they use in their cooking. Restaurants such as Albert Adrià’s Tickets fascinate me, because it’s surprising, casual, has fantastic décor and a good product behind it, or Esteemed by Rafa Zafra, which takes grilled fish into the category of the sublime, as well as PUR by Nandu Jubany, and of course, Les Tres Alzines by my great friend Joan Valls, among many others, of whom they are too many to name. I like to know exactly what it is I am eating, its origins and how it was prepared. I am a decoration geek and pay much attention to small details. I love dining at attractive places, I focus on aesthetics, lighting, tableware… because it’s the little details that make the difference.
How did Josper start and how did it evolve?
The company emerged from hospitality, which is why it is closely aligned with the sector. Responding to our personal need as restaurateurs, Josper made its first patented charcoal oven in the world. Everything started by selling ovens to traditional Catalan farmhouses, but right at the beginning of Madrid Fusión we saw Senén González giving a talk and grilling potatoes and fried artichokes on a Josper grill. That was when we saw that the simple grill had evolved to a higher gastronomic level. We started attending more congresses and fairs around the world, we opened our minds and discovered that Josper was much more than an oven for traditional restaurants. Haute cuisine opened us up to a new scenario, but we have never abandoned our origins, traditional restaurants or the industrial estates.
What is the secret behind your success? How has Josper managed to sneak into the world’s best kitchens?
The secret is to work as closely as possible with chefs and professionals in the sector. I think the key to our success is that when we sell an oven, we make sure we know the chef personally and ensure we give them thorough training and walk them through implementing the oven. The fact that chefs can count on us to train and teach them how to use a Josper oven is certainly important. We have learnt a lot from them, and they from us.
What comes after working with the world’s best chefs?
A few years ago, we only manufactured the already well-known Josper charcoal ovens. But, thanks to great chefs and friends such as José Andrés, Víctor de Etxebarri and Carles Tejedor, we have come to understand that our natural future direction was to become world leaders in charcoal equipment. Thanks to all these chefs we have evolved. Not only do we have the charcoal oven, but we now offer a wide range of equipment that revolves around the grill. Let’s not forget that we have dominated fire since 1969. So we now offer different culinary concepts that revolve around the grill with equipment such as the Robatagrill, which emerged from a collaboration with Alberto Chicote in his restaurant Yakitoro, the Basque Grill, which was created based on advice from Bittor Arguinzoniz from Asador Etxebarri, the Mangal Josper, our new Josper Combo, the chicken grill… All these products have allowed us to grow.
Are you a good cook? What would you have cooked for us today in one of your ovens?
I love cooking. But I’m a Josperman more than a chef. I enjoy cooking for my friends and family. I would have prepared my special rice dish: I sauté all the ingredients in the Josper and the result is absolutely spectacular. I would have also prepared some grilled prawns that are out of this world.