Firo Vázquez is the owner and chef of the restaurant El Olivar de Moratalla and olive oil producer.
With Spanish cuisine on the peak of worldwide gastronomy, olive oil has a unique opportunity to position itself ahead of all other edible fats. However, not all the national chefs exporting their techniques to other countries are capable of taking maximum advantage of this very Spanish product. Among those who do have a masterly command of this art is Firo Vázquez, who not only applies it to his recipes, but also makes his own under the brand name Flor de Cuquillo. This chef from Salamanca who lives in Murcia has always been seduced by any project in which the extra virgins take the limelight. Which is why he was the first chef on a long list to demonstrate his support of OLIVARAMA right from the very beginning.
Multi-faceted. Perhaps this is the adjective that best describes this chef. Firo is full of surprises, a fact that becomes obvious as soon as we scratch the surface of his passionate life history to discover facets as unusual as they are unlikely.
Apart from being an outstanding restaurant professional, this man who always has a ready smile and a fond word for those around him, both presides over and trains in the basketball club of his town of residence. He studied medicine for five years, but a spontaneous pneumothorax put an end to his vocation. In exchange, this setback allowed him to actively participate in the edition of Firo Vázquez y la cocina de El Olivar de Moratalla and Caminando entre oliveras, two works which in their day received the first and second prize respectively, in the Gourmand World CookBook Awards.
And the surprises don’t end here. Anyone who has seen the film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, almost certainly still remembers the coffee-maker earrings sported by María Barranco in the film. They were designed by Firo!
Olivarama: Just over a decade has gone by since you opened your restaurant El Olivar de Moratalla, an establishment that pays homage to culinary excellence through surprising creations. How would you define your cuisine? What gastronomic proposals do you use to seduce your diners?
Firo Vázquez: In my kitchen, I try to delve into my gastronomic memory and combine it with extra virgin olive oil. My dishes are always recognizable, simple, abundant and with slightly modern and surprising touches. I like my clients to play and enjoy while eating and, to make that happen the use of edible papers or optical illusions are always very effective tools.
You yourself have admitted that extra virgin olive oil is the axis that all your recipes turn on. What ingredients do you normally pair it with? In this sense, what criteria do you use to combine your dishes with your wine menu?
I can’t forget the Calasparra rice, the local pig “chato murciano”, apricots, Marcona almonds, wild mushrooms, black Mortadella truffle, the local vegetables, salted fish, and many, many other products. However, I believe that pickles in all of their shapes and sizes represent the most characteristic dish of El Olivar.
On the other hand, my recipes pair well with all sorts of wines. When seeking harmony, I always try to enrich characteristics such as strength, subtlety or sweetness.
The most profane among us believe that the use of extra virgin olive oil in the kitchen is limited to frying foods and dressing salads. What other ways can it be used in the domestic setting? Could you tell us any simple culinary tricks to use at home?
Whenever a recipe calls for the use of a fat, we always use extra virgin olive oil. People forget that this product can be used in multiple ways and that while we can certainly fry and dress dishes with it, we can also taste, season, polish, pickle, roast, emulsify, impregnate, infuse, marinade, confit, stir-fry and stew with it, to mention but a few of its applications.
As for the tip, let me tell you about one very easy application at home. For this, all you need to do is cover a piece of meat with virgin olive oil which we have previously mixed with laurel, oregano, equal measures of hot chilli and sweet pepper, crushed garlic and a few grains of pepper. Once we have done this, let the composition rest in the fridge and, after a few days roast it at a high temperature or grill it. Quite simply delicious.
Although we all know that extra virgin olive oil is the star ingredient of your cuisine, do you think this is also the case in the Spanish restaurant sector as a whole? Do the national chefs know how to get the most out of this product?
We chefs are a reflection of society and, as such, we have advanced a lot in our knowledge of the oil culture. However, this does not mean that we have reached the level we should have given that Spain is the number one producer in the world. There are still a lot of people who do not know the difference between animal fats and vegetal fats, or the repercussions of these on our health. The same applies to chefs, with the added disadvantage that they are not always the ones to decide what to buy or to manage the profits of the business they work for. And if we talk about the organoleptic properties or the varietals, then ignorance is enormous. Only the true chefs are aware of the entire universe that revolves around extra virgin olive oil.