Papalosophy - Interview with Joel Serra Bevin
Where are you from?
I was born in New Zealand and grew up in Tasmania then spent time working in Melbourne and London before giving in to my tastebuds and now call Barcelona home.
How did you first get into cooking?
I was eight years old and it was the night before the school fair (where every kid arrives bringing a cake to sell and raise money for the school). I went to bed leaving the task with my dear mother. Things didn't go entirely as planned and I took it upon myself to bake my first cake at around midnight. I managed to sell every slice the next day and have been experimenting in the kitchen ever since.
What inspired you to create Papalosophy?
I think that over time everyone develops their own outlook on life, their own philosophy. And Papalosophy is mine - a perspective to life in and out of the kitchen. A Spanish Cookbook tells the story of how I ended up cooking in Barcelona, told through recipes, photos and really personal anecdotes.
I was inspired to write Papalosophy by a lifetime spent seeking authentic flavors and creative preparations, with influences from my Catalan family, world travels and an obsessive study of the world of gastronomy and nutrition. There are no tricks to my cooking style – I stick to the basics but offer a fresh, modern and global twist to traditional Spanish flavours. The book includes Spanish and Catalan classics like Fideua with Squid Ink Allioli, Pulpo a la Gallega and Leche Merengada, as well as creations like Membrillo-Roasted Pumpkin with Almond Cream, Green Gazpacho with Sumac Yogurt and Saffron ‘Pulled’ Chicken with Blackened Corn.
Some have likened you to the famous Jamie Oliver, what is your view on this?
Ha, yes, I’ve been told there is a strong resemblance to the original Naked Chef. Aside from bearing a mild likeness and boasting a similarly unique accent (his cockney British and mine a mashup of Kiwi and Australian), I am also inspired by the insatiable appetite this mega star chef has to make his dreams, and those of others, a reality. He writes books, launches restaurants, affects social change and more - he is a dynamo that I would be happy to share more with than just a mischievous grin and a thing for blue checks as seen above ;-)
You happen to live in the ever popular and beautiful city of Barcelona. Why Barcelona?
It's actually impossible not to be inspired when you live in Barcelona. As I go about my day I find it impossible to simply walk past this city, and find myself stopping in the middle of the street to look up at a building, peer around a narrow street corner or get lost in the parks and mountains. The city has everything I look for - energy, diversity, music and sunshine - and the locals rank the act of eating above all else.
A perfect Saturday starts riding up to the top of Tibidabo then later in the day throwing myself into the Mediterranean and looking back up towards that same mountain. There aren't many cities in the world where where you can combine these activities with an art exhibition, good coffee, an afternoon rooftop party, amazing tapas (or Asian, or Mexican or ...) and all without really needing a taxi (or in the future, an Uber) to get around.
How does your cook book differ to others on the shelf?
We had to remind ourselves along the way that we were actually creating a cookbook! I think a lot of cookbooks follow a cookie-cutter approach to success and as neither Aldo or I had ever embarked on a project like this before, our naivety guaranteed something truly unique - we weren't thinking about how to sell thousands of copies or even who was going to buy it, we just wanted to create something cool that we would be proud and excited to share with the world, and I think we succeeded. The book is a success for me if you can flick through it once looking at the pictures, and then flick through it again reading the stories, and then finally use it to actually cook something!
Do you have a favourite recipe in the book?
Actually yes, and it's possibly the simplest in the book. Ajo blanco is a white gazpacho made with almonds, olive oil and sherry vinegar and decorated with bright green grapes. It's silky and at the same time salty, sweet, sour and acidic. I've always liked really simple clean flavours and it doesn't come much cleaner than ajo blanco. And then there is pulpo....how can you not love anything with three hearts (like the octopus).
We love the visual concepts for some of you chapters, particularly tapas. How did you come up with the concepts? Who did you work with?
The creative process of the book was probably the most exciting and liberating aspect of producing the book. We were real outsiders in the publishing world and this gave us the freedom to do something truly creative. Even if the book looks quite organised, the shooting process was a beautiful chaos. We were always shooting out of my apartment filled with all sorts of ingredients and riffing off each other until we both felt satisfied that we had done everything we could to perfectly capture a recipe or an ingredient or even a memory.
Aldo came from a fashion photography background and you see that style in a lot of photos. And I have always been inspired by surreal minds like that of Dali, Gaudi and Magritte. But a lot of the shots happened by accident as well. On the day we wanted to shoot me with the salmon on the beach, we took the metro from Urquinaona to Barceloneta, and as I'm standing there on the platform with a dripping 7 kg beast of a salmon, Aldo decided it would be a cool shot to see the salmon tail stuck in the metro doors (like you see some people get their jacket stuck in the door as they rush to catch the metro in the morning). So we managed to cause quite a scene, but also get quite a shot.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Well, people tell me I never stop working. But my perspective is that I never actually started working. Because everything I am doing these days comes from such a passionate place that it is really hard to separate what I do for work and pleasure - I'm so motivated that I barely want to sleep!
I am a bit of sport fanatic and so when I spend a lot of time riding my beautiful bike around Collserolla, running around Parc Güell or swimming in the ocean - anything outdoors.
I also read whenever I can (food and travel writing, art books (surrealism) as well as philosophy and memoirs of interesting people.) And electronic music is a constant - even at 9am on a Monday as the Cathedral bells try to compete.
Travel where I spend any extended free time. I love losing yourself somewhere new and getting inspired by people, places and flavours. I'm aiming to finish my life filthy rich in experiences and actually have something to reminisce about, whether my deck chair is on the beach or on top of a mega-yacht.
Any future projects you want to tell us about?
I end every year promising myself that the coming year will be more about cocktails and pool parties, but no year has ever worked out like that. I love being constantly active with as many fingers in as many pies as possible. I continue to drive the international expansion at EatWith (a platform for supper clubs and social dining experiences). I'm also working on a new book and video series, once again blending fresh original recipes with some really creative photography and a good dose of crazy, in this book I'll be hunting vegetables (all will be revealed soon). And then I'll be doing as many popups in Barcelona and abroad as possible - cooking is my zen and I'm probably at my happiest in the kitchen.
Visit the website here, www.papalosophy.com