Dani García

A star chef

07/29/2022 · By Rosario Fernández
Dani García, three Michelin stars chef
Chef Dani García, with three Michelin stars, has turned his life around. © Image courtesy of Dani García

Time ago, Dani García had a dream: to achieve three Michelin stars and belong to that select club. With passion and a lot of hard work, his Dani García Restaurant (Marbella) made it. A year after reaching that goal, he took a drastic but thoughtful decision which surprised: he closed its doors. Other dreams awaited and a new era started for him.

Dani García’s (Marbella, 1975) new professional and personal goal, after celebrating his last service at his restaurant of the same name —an event attended by colleagues with more than 40 Michelin stars— and bidding farewell, in theory, to haute cuisine, was to take Andalucian and Spanish cuisine to all corners of the world. Everywhere. And in vastly different formats. From the most democratic, like Leña, Lobito de Mar, BiBo, or Alelí —his latest launch—, to the most exquisite, like Dani Brasserie, or Smoked Room; through fast food, with La Gran Familia Mediterránea. Dream fulfilled.

Smoked Room, in fact, was the Andalucian chef’s return to haute cuisine and, six months after opening, he achieved a historical feat: being awarded two Michelin stars, becoming the first chef to achieve this recognition in such a short period of time. If this were a tasting menu, this is only the starter, because Dani García is planning to end this year with about twenty restaurants scattered around the world. And for 2023, he’s already thinking of opening more restaurants in cities like Amsterdam, Paris, Dubai, or Miami. The menu continues. As well as his dreams, which are slowly coming true.

As an appetiser, let’s start with a very direct question. Which is your favourite dish and what can’t you stand?
I always say yes to garlic shrimp. And I can’t stand cucumber in gazpacho.

As the saying goes, the tailor’s wife is the worst clad, or do you also cook when you get home?
Yes, I love cooking for my family, my daughters, or my mother. Getting together and cooking whatever we feel like or whatever’s in the fridge is something I love to do.

Did you always know gastronomy was your thing?
No, I wanted to be a football player. But I was terrible at it, really [laughs]. Cooking is something that’s always been present in my home with my father, my grandmother, and my mother. I've always been attracted to and wanted to take part in the prep work, going to the market, and enjoying myself at the table. When I told my family that I wanted to go to culinary school, everyone told me I was mad at first. However, over the years, I think I’ve proven that I’d be good at it, right?

"Nothing’s easy. Not in the world of gastronomy or in any other. Everything is a daily challenge, but you need to keep dreaming"

As well as Martin Berasategui, who have been your role models and what did you learn from them?
My biggest role models have been Joël Robuchon [the chef has the most Michelin stars ever] and Japanese Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, better known as Nobu. Both have brought their unique vision to my professional world.

What is cooking to you?
Professionally, my world; personally, my passion. As I was saying before, the ritual of going to the market with my family, getting everything ready, and enjoying ourselves at the table is a real privilege. If, on top of that, you get to do it with people you love or admire, even better.

Which qualities does a chef need? Is there a recipe for success?
I'd say, above all, enthusiasm, and passion. Nothing’s easy. Not in the world of gastronomy or in any other. Everything is a daily challenge, but you need to keep dreaming.

Are Michelin stars a form of recognition or can they also be a burden?
Without a doubt, recognition, but when you have to bear it, the level is tough. You have to give the best of yourself every day.

You closed Dani García Restaurant at the peak of your career, have you ever looked back and regretted it?
Not at all, on the contrary. I’m glad that I did it then because what I said that would happen is coming true. And that makes me extremely happy. I believe that you always need to keep dreaming. At one particular time, I dreamt of achieving three stars, now I have other dreams.

How do you leave the universe of stars and then come back twice over?
It’s simple, but complicated at the same time: hard work. I always said that, if I came back to haute cuisine, I’d do so with a small concept with few guests. And that’s precisely what I’ve done at Smoked Room, a space with capacity for only 14 people per service.

You’ve reached your goal of feeding thousands of people around the world with traditional Andalucian and Spanish cuisine. What has this new facet of yours brought and continues to bring you?
Making that dream come true. Sharing my cuisine and dishes with the world is a pleasure. The fact that they’re eating rice or a tuna dish in New York is one of those dreams come true. We’re working on it, and it makes me extremely happy.

"I think there’s a huge lack of awareness of our cuisine beyond our borders, but that’s what chefs are here for"

How does your current work differ from before, and now?
The biggest difference is, sadly, that I can’t be at all the restaurants at the same time for each service. Now I’m with the R&D&I team creating and developing each concept, each menu, each dish, and adapting the entire universe that we create to the gastronomic realm.

The US, Europe, the Middle East... Your cuisine doesn't stop travelling and sharing the Spain brand around the world, what are your future plans?
My goal is to carry on taking Andalucian and Spanish cuisine to all corners of the world. Next year, for example, we’re planning on opening restaurants in Amsterdam, Paris, Dubai, and Miami.

How does Spanish gastronomy look from the outside?
I think there’s a huge lack of awareness of our cuisine beyond our borders. They don’t even know a tiny part of what it is, but that’s what chefs are here for, to show the reality of our gastronomy. Spain is unique and has incredible potential.

Is gastronomy experiencing a boom? Which are the current trends and which way are they going?
There’s always a boom, as well as new things to show people. Trends are whatever you want to convey.