As executive chef of Agroturismo Atzaro, Javier Fabo is a man with a lot on his plate – pardon the pun. Born in the Basque country – San Sebastian to be precise, the land of many Michelin stars – he relocated to Ibiza in 2009, where he now manages a team of 18 people in the busy kitchens of La Veranda Day Restaurant, Night Restaurant, the Atzaro Sushi & Tapas Lounge plus special events in Bubbles, weddings and more!
Who or what was your inspiration to become a chef? It was my mother actually! When I finished school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study at university, and she took me to cooking school and suggested the idea to me. It was a very beautiful school, and the course was only two years _ thought it would be fun (and like a holiday compared to something like engineering) and she thought I’d be good at it, so I enrolled… and then I fell in love with it!
Were you always interested in cooking? Yes… I’ve been cooking my whole life. When I was younger [laughs], my babysitters were always terrible cooks, so I was always making food for myself and my older sister.
Tell us a little about your experience between studying and coming to Atzaro? After I finished at the school, I went to Bulgaria on a scholarship – it was a little weird, as the Bulgarian cuisine is nothing like what I was used to in the Basque country, but it was interesting. Then I went back to San Sebastian and did an internship in a two Michelin-starred restaurant, Zuberoa with chef Hilario Arbelaiz, who then hired me six months later. It was a great place to learn many traditional things – I stayed for another two and a half years, then I moved to San Francisco and California, followed by London, where I worked at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze.
What was it that enticed you to Ibiza? When I was living in San Francisco, my roommates were always talking about Ibiza – one of them had been a waiter in Atzaro – and so I was always interested to come! In my first year here, 2009, I worked in the kitchen at Pura Vida, in Playa Niu Blau, then in the second season I got a job in the night restaurant here at Atzaro… and I’ve been here ever since.
So you’ve worked your way up! Yes… I think knowing the basics is important – you can’t manage everything if you haven’t first done all of the smaller things yourself. I started in the kitchen, then I became head chef of the night restaurant and this year I was promoted to executive chef for the whole hotel. I take care of the day restaurant, night restaurant, Bubbles, the sushi lounge and also special events – there are only seven hours in the day that we are NOT open!
How do you describe your style in the kitchen? I can get quite stressed and serious when I’m working, but over the past few years I’ve been getting softer. It creates a much happier environment in the restaurants if you’re calm and happy – then the chefs are happy, the assistants are happy, the waiters are happy… if I feel the need to get angry, or explode, well… it’s better to do it at home! I have a great team, we are all friends and I really trust them. Once I’ve developed a dish, and we’ve agreed on the best way for it to be prepared, they follow the procedure all summer – it’s very important to be consistent.
How much time do you get to spend actually cooking? Not a lot – I miss it actually! I want to be there, but I am in the office, in the garden, all around… But a few days a week, I always put myself into the kitchen, to keep in touch with what’s happening. When my team have days off, I take over their roles. One day I am a pastry chef, another day the sushi man, then I am the tapas guy and sometimes the head chef!
Can you describe the styles of cuisine at Atzaro? By day, we try to focus more on healthiness, simple, fresh and light foods. Things that don’t require a lot of preparation, that can come from the garden that morning and be on your plate by lunchtime. At night, the menu is more sophisticated – it’s the same fresh style, but a more creative cuisine. It’s very Spanish and Mediterranean influenced menu, as people are on holiday and they want to try the local cuisine. We do have a lot of vegetarian options too.
How do you come up with the menu concepts? Where do you take inspiration from? Actually, I start with nothing but a white plate. I think about what I want to achieve with each dish… I try to relax, get everything out of my head and start from zero – think about what the Atzaro customer wants, what the ingredients are… Of course, you’re always learning and evolving every year but I don’t like working to trends or doing what’s in fashion. I think food is just food. If it’s good this year, it will be good next year. I’ve created dishes in the past that were designed to be impressive, but that’s just not my style. You have to remember that we all HAVE to eat, it’s not something we choose to do – from the richest guy to the poorest guy – even dogs have to eat. So now I always try to keep that in mind… keep it real, focus on what is necessary.
What’s your own favourite food? I love ‘spoon food’, the types of dishes that are made in one big pot from beginning to end, dishes my mother and grandmother used to make, like a squid cooked in its own ink with rice and leek soup with cod.
Do you cook these for yourself? No – I hate cooking at my house, on the little electric stove and tiny oven! I’m not used to it anymore, I need my professional kitchen. Here I like to go to little beach chiringuitos for fresh fish, or simple places like Casa Thai, where you get great value for money.
What keeps you here on the island – what do you like best about living here? I like the lifestyle, the people and the island itself. I love that it’s not stressful here, or if you do start to feel stressed, it’s easy to find a place where you can just shake it off and relax. I love that I have so many visitors coming to stay at my house – when you live in a city, not as many people want to come and see you but here in Ibiza, they love it!