Born from a Parisian mother and Tuscan father, El Chiringuito head chef Eric Fontanini trained in some of the finest restaurants in Paris, opened a French restaurant in China at the age of 20 then went on to own a restaurant consultancy in America. But the call of the fast-paced kitchen was strong, and eventually he was lured back behind the scenes by a very special head chef position, with the Mediterranean waters lapping at his doorstep.
What inspired you to become a chef?
I think it’s something you always have inside of you. Just recently my mum found a picture of me at age four, dressed up for Halloween as a chef – it’s hilarious, how many kids would want a chef’s costume at that age? I fell in love with high end kitchens while training at catering school, maybe because I am an excessive person, and so when I work, I work really hard and to be the best.
How did you come to work at El Chiringuito?
Through friends of friends of friends. I wasn’t looking for a job and I’d never been to Ibiza before, so I came out and spent two and a half days at Jonathan and Olivia’s house cooking, trying to agree on what we wanted. When you can agree with your boss in 48 hours, it’s a pretty good sign you’re going to succeed. And I love the place…
How does it compare to working in Paris?
Many restaurants in Paris have closed kitchens, underground, so you get no daylight and work two services a day, lunch and dinner, so it is a long day, from 8am until 1am. Here, everything starts later, like deliveries are at 10am, and we aren’t open all night, it’s just one big service. You just need to adapt wherever you are.
How do you describe your style in the kitchen?
I know what I want and I treat people nicely to get what I want from them. I don’t want to put pressure on people – we have enough pressure in the kitchen already and we need to work together. I don’t believe in changing people so if they don’t give me what I want, they’re out. The kitchen is about love – and you never see any great love stories under stress.
What is your signature dish?
It’s really simple – tuna tartar. You’ll have to come and try it to see why it’s so special! The key ingredient is to use the freshest tuna, only very very fresh will do.
What’s your own favourite food?
It depends on the day. Working in the kitchen makes you a little bit like a pregnant woman – compulsive! You’re surrounded by food, so it becomes something you have to have, not like a real desire. I am crazy about shellfish though – crabs, lobsters and those flavours, I could eat all day long, even for breakfast, it’s better than foie or caviar. But then, there are days when I am like everyone else and just want a coke and a pizza.
What are your favourite restaurants in Ibiza?
I need to find some time to go to some – I’ve only been living here for two months so haven’t found my favourite yet.
What do you like most about living in Ibiza?
There’s a special energy on the island. Everything is peaceful – even the dogs are happy here!