Sunday, 30 October 2016

Food Roots Interview - Omar Allibhoy


Omar Allibhoy
Photo:  c/o Neil Reading PR

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Omar Allibhoy a couple of times over the years, at Birmingham’s Good Food Show and also recently at the Birmingham Food, Drink & Hospitality Awards evening (at which incidentally his restaurant won the ‘Best Spanish Restaurant’ category).  And as he is so exceptionally charming and such good fun, I instantly had him in mind for one of my Food Roots Interviews.

Born in Madrid, Omar’s passion for food developed at a very early age where he would watch his mother cook and he’d learn from her.   It was not long before Omar’s longing to develop his culinary skills became a realisation after he enrolled into an evening cookery class while still attending school during the day. Omar also worked in numerous restaurants to gain professional kitchen experience however, his career truly took off after training under the watchful eye of world-renowned three Michelin starred chef Ferran Adria.

In 2008, Omar’s dream of taking traditional Spanish cuisine across the channel came to fruition after leaving his home country for London. He worked in a variety of restaurants including Gordon Ramsay’s Maze before launching El Pirata Detapas in Notting Hill, London.  El Pirata Detapas narrowly missed out on a semi-final place in ‘Ramsay’s Best Restaurant’ TV programme.  Omar was described by Gordon Ramsay as “The Antonio Banderas of cooking”.

Photo:  c/o Neil Reading PR

Omar launched Tapas Revolution at the end of 2010 and the restaurant opened with fantastic reviews from leading critics such as Tom Parker-Bowles and food writers from The Daily Telegraph, Time Out and The Guardian.   Five further restaurants have opened across London and the UK with February 2017 set to see the opening of a new restaurant in Eldon Square, Newcastle.

Omar’s simple food and flair for Spanish cuisine has awarded him recognition within the industry by winning last year’s Caterer and Hotelkeeper’s Acorn Award for ‘Rising Star’. In addition, the London Lifestyle Awards shortlisted Tapas Revolution for ‘Best Restaurant’ and of course as mentioned above, he won ‘Best Spanish Restaurant’ at the Birmingham Food, Drink & Hospitality Awards.

Photo:  Martin Poole

His new cookbook - Spanish Made Simple - is a journey of discovery through the best tasting and most authentic Spanish dishes.   (Published by Quadrille, £20.00).  Spanish Made Simple includes the best recipes for all sorts of occasions and of course some of his signature tapas. They hail from every corner of Spain - from the hot Andalucía to the cooler Galicia, passing through historic Castilla and the entire Mediterranean coast.  A number of the dishes are available on the current Tapas Revolution restaurant menu across the country.  See below for Omar’s vegetarian recipe of Piquillos Rellenos de Setas (Piquillo Peppers Stuffed with Mushrooms) which has been extracted from the book.

When he’s not in his kitchen or writing, Omar can be found on popular television programmes including, Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch, The One Show, This Morning, Masterchef, Saturday Cookbook, Paul Hollywood’s Pies & Puds and Nigel and Adam’s Farm Kitchen.   He also cooks Spanish recipes for Jamie Oliver’s FoodTube and is hailed as being at the forefront of Spanish food in the UK.

Here, Omar talks about his roots and his love for food, family and celebrations as well as telling us what he keeps in his pantry!


Living in the UK, how important is it for you to keep your Spanish roots alive? How much of that is expressed through food? 

I still live a very Spanish lifestyle, I have a lot of Spanish friends and most of the Tapas Revolution team I work with are Spanish. Although I’ve learnt many different ways of cooking, at home my comfort food is still Spanish food. If I invite people over for lunch or dinner rest assured there will be paella! 

How nostalgic (if at all) does it make you feel eating Spanish food at home? 

It’s actually probably the other way around – it’s eating Spanish food that comforts me and makes me feel less nostalgic.  

How important is food in Spanishculture? Do you celebrate calendared Spanish/religious festivals with any particular kind of feasting? 

Yes, food and gastronomy is very important in Spanish culture. We always have special dishes for each celebration throughout the year, usually originating from religious traditions. Now that I have a son I love keeping those traditions alive, so he learns about eating Torrija (egg bread) at Easter and Rosca de reyes (King’s cake) in January.  

What vegetarian dishes could you recommend when dining at a Spanishfeast and/or restaurant? 

Salads are very important in our diet and I believe that we do them very well. As Spain’s often quite hot, you want to eat refreshing salads and raw vegetables. Also two of the most important Spanish dishes are Patatas Bravas and Tortilla de Patas, everybody orders them when they go to a Spanish restaurant, so you won’t miss out. You can tell how good a restaurant is by those two dishes.  

What would be your 'must have' pantry items to replicate a Spanishkitchen? 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Sweet Pimenton, Sherry Vinegar, Cumin Powder, Good Bread, Onions and Garlic.

Photo:  Martin Poole

Serves 6 as a Tapa
150g (5oz) Wild Mushrooms, such as oyster, or a mixture of field mushrooms
50ml (3½ tbsp) Olive Oil
¼ small Onion, finely chopped
2 Garlic Cloves, finely chopped
2 sprigs Fresh Thyme
A splash of White Wine
30g (2 tbsp) Butter
30g (3 tbsp) Plain (All-Purpose) Flour
400ml (1¾ cups) Whole Milk, hot
A pinch of grated Nutmeg
15 tinned Piquillo Peppers
400ml (1¾ cups) Double (Heavy) Cream
50g (½ cup) grated Cheddar cheese, plus extra for topping
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
Bread, to serve
I have always been a big fan of mushrooms in all their forms – from taking long walks with family to pick wild mushrooms, to cooking them in many ways at home. This recipe is packed full of tastiness.
Trim the mushrooms, removing the stalks, and wipe them with a damp cloth. Roughly chop. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a high heat and fry the mushrooms for at least 2 minutes, season with salt and pepper, stir well and season again. Fry for a further 2 minutes. Add the onion and cook for 1 minute. Add the garlic, thyme and cook for 2 minutes, then add the wine and cook for 1 minute.
Lower the heat to medium and add the butter. Let it melt, then add the flour and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the flour is lightly toasted. Add the hot milk, little by little, and the nutmeg, whisking until you have a smooth and silky white sauce. Simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring from time to time to make sure it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan, until the sauce has thickened. Pour into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Chill completely in the fridge. After at least 2 hours, the béchamel should be firm and ready to handle.
Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/gas mark 3.
Bring 3 of the piquillo peppers, the cream and cheese to the boil in a small pan over a medium heat and cook for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Use a hand blender to blend until smooth.
Using a spoon, fill the remaining 12 piquillo peppers with the mushroom béchamel. Lay them in an oven dish and pour the piquillo sauce on top. Scatter some more grated chese over the top. Bake for 15 minutes until lightly browned and crispy on top. Serve with bread.

Notes & My Thanks

I would like to thank Omar Allibhoy for his time in participating in the interview.
For more information visit:

Read my restaurant review of Tapas Revolution Birmingham
Spanish Made Simple:  Foolproof Spanish Recipes for Every Day by Omar Allibhoy (Quadrille £20.00).  Photography:  Martin Poole



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