Ibiza restaurants: Meet the chef – Sergi Arola, Vi Cool
The small Catalonian town of Roses is the birthplace of what can only be described as the biggest culinary movement since, well, sliced bread: molecular cooking. It’s interesting that one of the nation’s most prolific chefs was also born there in 1968. Sergi Arola humbly describes himself as a chef but for us mere mortals he is a powerhouse of culinary entrepreneurship. Restaurants, books, television appearances – Arola is at once everywhere yet never far from the kitchen.
He’s worked with the greatest chefs of all time – Ferrán Adrià, Pierre Gagnaire, Álex Montiel – and has built an empire expanding from Roses, Barcelona and Madrid all the way to Chile and Ibiza achieving a Michelin star along the way. Vi Cool by Sergi Arola on the rooftop of Aguas de Ibiza Lifestyle & Spa in Santa Eulalia showcases a menu of traditional tapas reimagined in Arola’s signature style. With expansive views across the Mediterranean, this relaxed dining terrace and bar is a stunning location for dinner under the stars and Arola’s impressive contribution to the gastronomic scene on the white isle.
Portrait photo by Rubén E. Ibáñez
What inspired you to become a chef?
Actually, it was mostly about survival! I lived with my grandfather. He was a man who loved steak but he cooked very badly. So, I had to learn to cook for him. That was the point that I started to get into this whole new world.
How have the great chefs you’ve worked with influenced you?
The chefs I have worked with have each left something with me – in my personality and in the way I approach my work. The fundamental thing when working with chefs like Adrià is to understand the person you are working with. To try and get into their head to see how it works. There is the creative side to it, but also importantly is the methodology and the capacity to analyse things.
How often do you get to be in the kitchen these days?
I don’t consider myself an executive chef. I am still very involved in the kitchen. When I set up a project, I am right there in the kitchen. Right at this minute, I have my van full of produce on the way to cook. The truth is, I’ve had amazing opportunities but I’ve never been interested in limiting myself to being an executive chef. I’m in the kitchen every day.
How do you manage it all?
Basically, the way that I manage it all is to really support the people I work with and promote them. I help them grow alongside me.
What is the quality you most admire in the people you work with?
Loyalty is the most important thing for me. It means I can trust people to follow my guidelines and maintain a productive mentality. In the kitchen, we all work together for long hours. Without loyalty to each other it’s impossible. This type of work is a team effort; it’s not the work of one person. One person can put their style onto it but there has to be a great team to reach the objectives.
Where does your creativity come from?
My creativity often comes from tradition. I find inspiration in the traditional dishes of Spain. It’s like asking a Flamenco singer where his passion comes from… it comes from all over, its not just one place. It comes from everything within them. In the end, it’s about developing your own way.
How would you describe your style?
I always look for simplicity. That goes for everything, with my colleagues, with my clients and with the flavours of the food.
What is the philosophy behind Vi Cool at Aguas de Ibiza Lifestyle & Spa?
The space at Aguas de Ibiza is incredible. The dining terrace and the views are just beautiful. The philosophy is simple –it’s a place to come and enjoy a glass of wine, some good tapas in my style without pretension. It’s just good gastronomy. It’s not exclusive – everyone is welcome. The important thing for me is that it’s relaxed with simple, delicious and well-made dishes.
What are your favourite dishes on the menu?
That’s an impossible question! But, okay, the patatas bravas, the mini calamari rolls, the sea bass tiradito. Really, I can’t say I have favourites. I like everything.
How do you think the Vi Cool concept fits in with Ibiza?
I think the Vi Cool concept is perfect for the island. It fits in with the lifestyle of casual yet cool. I like that you can come from the beach or the pool and enjoy some tapas or you can turn it into a special occasion. Like the island, Vi Cool at Aguas de Ibiza is adaptable to the mood of the client.