Jose loves going to the cinema and just walking round London. “There’s always something interesting to see; I love walking by the river. The Millennium Bridge is amazing at night. There’s noone there, you can see St Paul’s and Tate Modern, and you think, it’s worth living in London.”
“I’ve met so many people here,” he says. I love meeting new people. I think it’s one of the best things there is that you can do in life. I’ve met people from South Africa, the Phillipines, Japan. Many have left now, so I have friends all over the world – New Zealand, Rome. That would never have happened if I’d stayed in Spain.”
So where does he like to eat in London? “Anything from a cheap meal in Chinatown, or fish and chips, to [famous sushi restaurant Nobu in Green Park, [fashionable restaurant and bar Hakkasan – I love sushi – Chris Galvin’s [award-winning La Chapelle.” Jose has visited other British cities, such as Cambridge, Manchester and Edinburgh – “I was there around New Year’s Eve, we went to the castle and it was snowing - it was magical.” He says he didn’t try haggis, but wants to.
But Jose, like all Spanish people, is still as close as ever to his family, his roots. Like most expats, they are what he misses most (along with the weather). He says that one of the best moments in his life was when his parents, Antonio and Isabel, came to his book launch at the Spanish Embassy in London, as well as his brother, sister and nephew. “It was a great party, 350 people. Everyone was there because they wanted to be there, not because they had to. We had fantastic food, 55 people worked serving the guests.” After a short speech in English, he switched to Spanish to thank his parents.” They were the stars of the party,” he says, his voice breaking. “You see, even now I get emotional talking about it. Without them I wouldn’t be here.”
His book, Spanish Seasonal Cooking, is coming out in Spanish in 2011. “I’m the first Spanish chef to publish a book in England,” he says proudly. “But now, to have it in Spanish too – it’s incredible for me. The launch is going to be in La Boqueria market in Barcelona.”
As we part, it strikes me that there’s so much to learn about Jose the chef, that I haven’t had time to find out about about Jose the man, although I suspect they’re similar: energetic, friendly and kind. Jose tells me he loves eating, and when people ask him how he manages to stay so slim (he isn’t skinny, just lean) with the amount he puts away, he tells them it’s because he never stops working, walking, running, being active. He used to smoke heavily, but stopped when he realised he was losing his sense of taste. He loves wine, a whisky or a G&T, a Cruzcampo beer.
As I go home after the interview is finished, I realise that a man with so many projects on the go must have a Big Plan for the future. So I call him and ask him what it is. “I want to open a rural hotel, with a restaurant, farm and cooking courses, near my town in Extremadura,” he tells me. “The countryside is very pretty there. People can stay for a week, or a weekend.” So what’s his timeframe? “Within five years,” he replies. Further queries I make, as he travels back to the UK, are answered promptly and with unfailingly good humour. This man has all the best qualities of a Spaniard. He is warm, generous, easy-going - and knows exactly what he wants. And, I have no doubt whatsoever, he will get it, too. If anyone deserves to, it’s Jose Pizarro.