Meet Chef Javier Aranda
Madrid is one of those cities that we’ve always meant to explore but somehow just never did. The opportunity finally arose a few months ago and so we began mapping out our plan of attack with great anticipation.
We have to admit that we’re not as well-versed in the Spanish culinary world as we are about other countries (we know, shame on us!). In our research, Chef Javier Aranda’s name kept popping up over and over again and we knew that we had to schedule a time to visit one of his restaurants, as well as do an interview for our beloved #caviarcuts chef profile series.
Chef Aranda has been rising hot and fast in the restaurant industry since he attended Escuela de Hosteleria in Toledo, Spain. Since then, he’s spent time in some notable kitchens such as Santceloni and Restaurante Pinera, where he honed his craft in the world of gastronomy.
In 2013, he opened up his first restaurant, La Cabra and in 2016 came his second, Gaytán. Both are highly regarded in Madrid and have earned a Michelin Star, the first of which was awarded to La Cabra in 2014 when Chef Aranda was a mere 27 years old! Perhaps more impressive is that Gaytán’s star was earned less than 6 months after its doors opened.
We were thrilled when we found out that Chef Aranda would be available to do an interview (unfortunately not in person due to scheduling conflicts) and that Pra would be able to indulge in dinner at La Cabra whilst in Madrid.
Style & Service
The restaurant is set up and decorated in such a way that there are different spaces which guests can enjoy in a variety of ways. It’s almost like a sensory tour, from the more casual and airy Tapería where a tapas menu is available to the formal Gastronomic room, where diners can enjoy the tasting menu.
The “cocteleria” is a fabulously moody room with low lighting and black and white printed wallpaper, and plenty of mirrors and metal accents. The margaritas here are definitely in the top 10 that I’ve had across the waters and I’d recommend giving yourself a few extra minutes in here to savour the vibe and drinks.
The decor in the main Gastronomic dining room is modern with white walls and crisp table linens, and a stunning glass chandelier delicately hovering in the centre. The open kitchen is not quite open - a wall of windows separates it from the dining area - but you can still see what they’re doing and get a feel for the amount of work that goes into creating each dish.
The service itself was exactly what you’d expect from a Michelin restaurant - impeccable. Each dish was carefully introduced by the waiter, explained in detail, and we were left wanting for nothing throughout the entire evening.
The dining experience here has a lovely theatrical edge to it. You’re not just tasting the food - you also get to see the kitchen in action through the glass windows. The tapas menu was recommended as the best way to experience La Cabra’s Spanish menu so that’s exactly what I had.
When the dishes arrive at the table, you can tell that presentation is of equal importance here and Chef Aranda has put quite a bit of thought into creating art on a plate.
My meal started with a delicate dish of clam, onion, and bergamot, which was then followed by a dollop of green caviar served in the centre of a beautiful flower. The next course was the calamari rolls - alternating rings of calamari - after which I moved onto a piece of mackerel topped with vegetable couscous and accompanied by maple butter. The last dish was another visually impactful one, with pan sautéed eel with sesame seeds, set against a raspberry splatter on the plate.
This was just the right amount of food - I was able to try a variety of dishes but wasn’t struggling to finish by the last bite. It was a truly decadent meal.
Q&A With Chef Javier Aranda
Ed. Note: some answers have been edited for clarity and length
What made you decide this was the right move for you, keeping in mind the heavy competition in Madrid?
I had the dream of opening my own restaurant since I was very young. Gastronomy has always been my passion and I love to elaborate on new dishes for others to enjoy my culinary creations. In 2013, all the factors were present to implement my project. It’s true that the risk was high in that moment but I dared. I am currently very satisfied with that decision and I don’t regret it at all. If you are afraid, you will never achieve your dreams.
In your eyes, what does the La Cabra brand stand for—what’s the USP?
The raw material is the real star in my restaurant, together with an excellent signature cuisine. But La Cabra also offers different spaces for every type of diner. Their versatility allows customers to choose between several living rooms for eating, to enjoy a delicious cocktail in the “Coctelería” or to organize events and celebrations.
How do you ensure that the back of house and front of house align beautifully to deliver up to standards?
I know that both have to be in perfect harmony and to be treated with great care. That’s why for me it’s very important to be surrounded by a great team who understands my philosophy. They are the ones to communicate to the diners what I want to express with my creations.
Where will La Cabra be in 12 months?
I like to create new dishes and innovate each season, which means that my restaurants are always evolving. Over the course of one year, we will continually surprise the diners and make them feel an unforgettable and unique experience when they visit us.
Most culinary legends learn from other culinary legends. How did you learn your trade? Is there anyone you credit for shaping your career?
I learned my trade in all the restaurants I have worked in. However, my grandfather has been the most important influence. He is responsible for my passion for cooking. In fact, one of my restaurants, Gaytán, is named for the city where he was born.
What’s your secret behind creating your menu—where do you gain inspiration?
The secret is hard work. When I am in the creation process, I lose sense of time and I can’t stop until I have the perfect plate.
I design dishes that combine excellent raw materials with techniques from different cultures so I gain inspiration by visiting other countries. I love to taste new recipes and local products when I travel. And after this research phase, I introduce those ingredients and techniques in my creations.
Please talk about your number one signature dish?
Salmonete, Navajas y Crujiente de Suquet
What’s one culinary trend you cannot stand?
I respect all the culinary trends. The innovations made by several chefs have contributed to improving gastronomy, to make it relevant today. We all want to become better chefs day by day. For that reason, Spanish food is currently one of the world's most important.
Visual presentation is as important as taste. What do you keep in mind when deciding how to plate each dish?
Although taste is the most important, the visual presentation is also a determining factor. I am passionate about modern art and the mix of colors, and that is reflected in my dishes.
How do you keep your team motivated and moving?
The best way to keep your team motivated and moving is to lead by example. If they feel my energy and my enthusiasm, they will have the same behavior. You can’t require a way of working if you are not a good role model. And furthermore, I try to involve them in each challenge I face.
What qualities do you look for in your staff?
They should be interested in doing a job well-done, be hard workers, and strive to learn.
What’s the best meal you’ve had in the world (apart from yours)?
For me, one of the best chefs in the world is Martín Berasategui.
Where do you go in Madrid (or in Spain) when you’re looking for a solid dining experience (good food, service, vibe)?
It can be any of those reasons (good food, service, vibe) because I like to try new restaurants. I like to be informed about new places with good references and of all kinds of food.
One phrase to describe you as a leader
Lead by example
One word to describe your restaurant
La Cabra Restaurant is versatile. Gaytán Restaurant is experiential.
Any plans, new developments, etc. for you that we should keep an eye out for? (Another restaurant perhaps?)
I’m very restless and I am always trying to go one step further. I like to create new dishes and I love the creation process, and that’s the reason why I frequently incorporate new recipes in my restaurants. In summary, any option could be possible in the future.
C/ Francisco de Rojas, 2, 28010 - Madrid