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Up and Coming: Damien Bolger

Food to fall in love with by this Australian Chef

Category: Cultura | 9 September, 2015
Editor: Paul-Simon Geddis

Eating out in Barcelona is a bit like using tindr. There’s a lot on offer, and you probably have a few semi regular hook-ups, but finding someone who you want to be with forever is next to impossible.  To take this laboured analogy to its logical conclusion, I think I’ve found true love in the cooking of Australian chef Damien Bolger.

Despite only being in his early 30′s, Damien has already opened two restaurants in the city, Market in Poble Nou, and more recently the Box Social in Poble Sec, a hidden gem nestled in the courtyard of the Brummell boutique hotel, the latter a perfect backdrop for his food, marked by its distinctive combinations of flavour (passionfruit and scallops, Burrata and Jalapeños) that never stray into Roca style transmogrification. “Sophisticated but not pretentious” is how he puts it. I think it’s more like being surprised with a hug.

Eager to get up close and personal with my new favourite chef, i made the trek from the Brewdog bar to Poble Sec, for a drink a chat and a walk around the kitchen garden. I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

P1040485 11.34.59 Up and Coming: Damien Bolger

Hi Damien, tell us a bit about how you ended up in Barcelona.
I grew up in Perth, left school at 15 and started cooking straightaway. First I was in kitchens in australia, and then in the US for a little bit; California, Toronto, Norway and i’ve been here for the last 6 years.

Which of those places influenced your cooking most?
I’m still learning! And it’s sort of the other way around – the cooking i was interested in would determine where i travelled to next. A lot of Australian chefs will go straight to London for instance, but my influences took me to America first.

Was it only the food that took you to these places, or was it the culture or the lifestyle too?
Always the food, either through other chefs I worked with or a style of cooking that i wanted to know more about. For instance i first went to California to work at a specific restaurant [three michelin starred The French Laundry]. After that it was Toronto because my mentor at that restaurant was from there. I always go to places with a specific reason. In Toronto, through working there i met another chef whose influence brought me to Europe. Funnily enough, on that trip i was meant to be going to work at Noma in Scandinavia, but ended up meeting my wife here, so i stayed. It’s not such a bad place to be stuck cooking food!

lamb1 Up and Coming: Damien Bolger

Of course. I was wondering though, as an innovative chef do you feel that maybe barcelona is a bit sheltered from the centers of food innovation like London, New York or LA?
Not really. You need to think that a lot of the innovation in New York or London came from spain originally! Especially in the last 10 or 15 years. Now, the food scene as a whole in those cities is probably better, but you can’t dismiss the influence that Spanish restaurants have had. And Spain is still the only country with two restaurants in the top 10.

You could also say that food has gone much more global now. It’s not just about one place anymore.
Yes totally. It’s funny though because this place is still innovative, kind of despite itself. I was talking to one of my suppliers today, and we were saying that while Spanish and Catalan people don’t really like to try new things, food wise, That older generation is going. There’s a new generation who’ve lived in London, Berlin, New York, and they’re coming back with a lot more open mindedness. They want to try new stuff. The flipside of that, and it’s a personal opinion is that a lot of people are trying to copy what they see out there. They’re not making it their own.

I guess that’s as good a place as any to start talking about your food, which i think is really original.
Well the type of food we do here, is we’re trying to make ‘healthier food’. But not in having vegan, or vegetarian or ‘tofu’. It’s more like, you know when you go out and eat and you’re so full you don’t feel right. It’s like it could be just a plate of vegetables, but the way it’s prepared, the way it’s processed, it’s just not healthy. Whereas the food we’re doing, we think that you should leave full, but you should also feel nourished. That’s the best word i can think of for it. So we want to make healthy food that’s sophisticated but not pretentious.  Cause normally when food is very precise it can come across as pretentious. It’s a fine line, but we try and counterbalance that by making food that is familiar as well as creative.

The key to that for me is the flavours
Yeah, either flavours that you wouldn’t expect, but also a different style that you wouldn’t expect. The scallop ceviche is a case in point. A lot of people have come up to me saying that they wouldn’t normally eat raw scallops but it works in that dish. When we make the dishes i tell the guys that we’re making simple food – two or three flavours, 2 or 3 textures. But because it’s so simple we have to make sure that everything we put on that plate is perfect.

Last question. How do you define success?
For me it’s when someone eats here and i go up to the table, if they can explain my philosophy to me, without me having to say anything, that’s success. I’ve succeeded in presenting my ideas. That’s so much more important than how much money i’m putting in my pocket every night.

Food Photography: Keith Isaacs

Category: Cultura | 9 September, 2015
Editor: Paul-Simon Geddis

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