The life of Óliver Peña (executive chef at Albert Adrià’s restaurant Enigma) “revolves around food.” That is why he decided to become a chef. He himself says that “you need that passion for eating, so that you can transmit it through your cooking.” On 15 March, Peña took part in the ‘We are FaceFood Ibiza 2019’ event as a presenter. He spoke about the “natural evolution of Enigma,” and we took the opportunity to chat to him about his own development both as a chef and as a person.
What is Oliver Peña like in and out of the kitchen?
I think of myself as a calm person. I sometimes suffer with the usual nerves that go along with running a kitchen, but generally I’m very calm. I think you achieve much more by being calm than by getting agitated.
Was cooking always your vocation?
Yes, always. My parents told me to take the University Entrance Exam, in case the cooking didn’t work out. And so I took it, but fortunately everything did turn out well.
How important are the prizes and awards to you?
Nowadays, we have to remember that technology and communications are developing at a lightning speed. Everything people hear about you, if it’s positive and helps to get your brand recognised, is good. Any award is a prize for the whole team for their good work.
Tradition or innovation?
There is no innovation without tradition. I always opt for tradition.
What is your go-to raw ingredient?
I love fish and seafood.
Has that always been the case, or only since you’ve been at Enigma?
For a few years now. I also enjoy cooking meat, but if I have a choice (at home for example), I always go for fish and seafood.
What does “haute cuisine” mean to you?
I believe it is a term that embraces several characteristics, but I’m not sure that it’s particularly appropriate. Because there are so many parameters you can apply to “high or low”… You can go to a restaurant that is very humble and not at all luxurious, but has a cuisine that is out of this world—yet it would never be considered as “haute cuisine”, because the setting does not conform to that concept. Haute cuisine doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. I believe that many people are doing amazing things, at a superb standard, but for very low prices. There are times when I would pay double what I am paying at some places.
How have you developed personally and professionally at Enigma?
From my point of view, a month working with Albert Adrià is worth six months working anywhere else. It’s really intense. I worked with them (the Adrià brothers) in 2004 at Hacienda Benazuza. In 2012, I started with them as head chef at 41º Experience. I’ve now been working with Albert for 7 years, and we really do go at a hell of a pace. I always tell my mother that I’m working in the eye of the hurricane. But that frenetic pace is just how we like it. I believe we are in a state of continuous development, both as chefs and as people. When I started at Enigma, I was 35, and I had a lot to learn. And I still have; I am learning day by day… Enigma is a project that doesn’t allow you to drift off or to take your eye off the ball, even for a week. That is our greatest motivation; that is why we’re there, and it’s what we strive for on a daily basis.