The silence, broken only by the bird song and the swaying of the olive branches in the breeze, is a most precious thing to Pau Barba. True luxury for him is to enjoy the silence of Ibiza in August, and that is exactly what he has achieved, along with his wife Alexandra, at the Agroturismo Can Domo. He has spent five years in his kitchen working on a project for a restaurant that would revisit the flavours of yesteryear. A return to cooking over a low heat, to an unhurried life and quality ingredients. A return to “what his body was asking for”. For this chef, Can Domo has brought personal and professional fulfilment, and customers perceive it through the flavour of each and every one of the dishes on his menu.
What is Pau Barba like away from the kitchen? What are your main interests?
Right now, what I enjoy most is the (little) time I spend with my family. That is what I find most fulfilling, that and my friends. I love the sea, sailing, fishing. In fact, it is because of the sea that I am here. I also love travelling. I really like cars, speed and running. I spend my life running: both in the kitchen and outside it, but I love it.
You have learnt from the great chefs, such as the Torres brothers and Xavier Pellicer. What are the most important things that those experiences have taught you?
Respect, reliability, consistency and perseverance.
What has Can Domo meant to your personal and professional life?
On a professional level, it meant a return to the track I had set out upon in haute cuisine. And personally, it has brought me great satisfaction. I met someone; I got along well with her; we had a child… We’re very happy right now.
How do you reconcile your family and professional life at Can Domo?
I just look after the kitchen and my wife, Alexandra, looks after everything else. She manages the family, the hotel, the vegetable garden, the olive trees, the wines. I “help” with everything she asks me to, but the fact is that she is a superwoman. She even spares time to taste the dishes and comment on them.
An agroturismo (rural hotel), an olive grove and a gourmet restaurant: are these a dream come true for you?
I’m not really a person for great dreams. My small dreams have always come true. I wanted to come to Ibiza, and here I am; I wanted to meet people from here who were role models for me, and I’ve met them all; I have a family… I have a very rewarding life. Yes, I have goals, but I believe the important thing is to be happy in your day-to-day life. I don’t think about dreams a great deal, and I think I’m comfortable in relation to them.
What are you aiming for next?
I want to stabilise Can Domo (so that we don’t have so many ups and downs). We’ve grown very rapidly, but you need to be able to grow slowly, bit by bit. Also, we have a project with my friend and partner Toni, from Cala Bonita, to open two or three restaurants (still on the principle of good cooking with quality ingredients). One of the projects is to create something for the people of Ibiza. We want to show love for the people of the island, which is what is needed. There are lots of restaurants that have always been for the people of Ibiza, but all the new restaurants that open are not for them: they are focused on tourism and on the six months of the tourist season. If everything goes well, we have plans to open a restaurant with a moderately-priced menu, to be open 365 days a year. And I have other plans in mind that I can’t talk about yet.
We’re working on a project to open a restaurant for the people of Ibiza. We want to show love for the people of the island, which is what is needed
In recent years, you’ve been working to simplify your cooking and to showcase the ingredients. Why?
I believe it’s going to become more and more difficult to find good ingredients. Within 50 years some things, sadly, will have disappeared. The concept underpinning Can Domo is to return to the flavours of yesteryear: a free-range chicken, a sofrito (sautéed onion, tomato and garlic)… Because in years gone by, there wasn’t such a rush: people would spend hours in the kitchen. Now we spend all day running around. My body was asking me to do this because I love eating. I love eating more than I love cooking, and I’ve opened a restaurant that is exactly like one I would be pleased to stumble across as a customer. And that is why we’re doing this, even if it’s not particularly profitable.
This year, you were awarded your second Sun by the Repsol guide. Do prizes actually provide an incentive?
This is a really hard job. We spend 15 hours a day in the kitchen. We put up with the heat, the stress, the nerves… We have very little social life. It’s a really crap job (joke). It’s a good thing that I love it, because if I didn’t love it, it would be an utter disaster. For that reason, when you receive a prize, it’s very rewarding. It’s really exciting, especially for the team, because the guys put everything into it, and they’re so involved. It’s brilliant for motivating them and letting them know that we’re on the right track. Of course, it’s a form of recognition, and that’s always welcome. We don’t work specifically for these awards, but when they arrive, they’re the icing on the cake.
The concept underpinning Can Domo is to return to the flavours of yesteryear
What are the team’s working relations like? Do you consider yourself to be a good leader?
The working relationship is superb. I consider myself as someone with a good deal of empathy for others, whom you ask for help when you need to, and when you don’t need to, you don’t ask.
How do you handle the problem caused by the shortage of qualified professionals in Ibiza? What steps are you taking to overcome this?
We don’t have any problems at the moment because we use almost all of the hotel team (around 80%). That gives us stability and peace of mind. We also take great care of the team. As we become more well known, more and more professionals want to come and work here, so that the shortage of qualified people has so far not affected us, but I’m aware of the serious problem that exists. As a country, we have the second largest volume of tourism in the world, yet we don’t have state schools to train the people we need for the work. Not everyone can afford private education. I was lucky that my parents paid for me to attend a cookery school. If they hadn’t, I probably would have had some other career.
What are we going to find this year at Can Domo?
We’re going to find lots of rock & roll. A transformed Can Domo. It’s our fifth year; we have listened to our customers and we’re making our way to where we feel comfortable. To a Can Domo with many hours of cooking behind it, and to a Can Domo that commands a good deal of respect. We are in the business of real cooking: the business of casseroles, stews… But of an ever-higher standard, and with fun touches. We also have a kitchen that reaches out into the dining room. The pastry chef goes out to explain the desserts, and the cook takes the dish to the table: we’re working towards a blurring of the distinction between the dining room and the kitchen.