Raphael Warda is a German-born chef and restaurateur with a talent for French and Mediterranean cuisine. He found where his passions lay after “accidentally” falling into a job as a cook for his friend’s father. Fast-forward a few years and this creative, innovative chef is now running his own kitchen in his own restaurant Pau Claris 190, a high-end, yet casual and cosy eatery in a trendy Barcelona neighbourhood. We spoke to Raphael to find out more about his interesting story and get to know how he was inspired to create one of Barcelona’s most exciting new restaurants.
What enticed you into becoming a chef and what do you most like about it?
Actually it was an accident. I moved from Germany to Gran Canaria, working in bars and organising parties. Then my friend’s father got sick, so I went to work for him for two years catering for travel groups. This was my first experience in a kitchen actually, but I liked it even though I was just cooking pork chops and roast chicken because it meant I got to meet a lot of people and provide for them. From there I wanted to get more experience and learn more about cooking, so I watched TV shows about cooking and read books about it too. I always liked cooking though; my mother cooked a lot and my grandmother did really old fashioned style German cooking and baking.
How would you describe the cuisine at Pau Claris 190 and was it influenced by your past?
I first trained as a chef in French cuisine at a restaurant in Ibiza, as my mentor was a really good French chef from Paris. I studied in French cuisine as well and so I became very familiar with it, but I then got really into using local produce in my dishes too. This is why the cuisine at Pau Claris 190 is Mediterranean with French influences, with a focus on the use of fresh local produce. I think it has all been inspired by my own personal experiences as a chef since I have learned throughout my time in this job what makes great food.
Where did you find the inspiration to open your own restaurant in Barcelona?
I worked at several restaurants prior to opening Pau Claris 190, many of them in Ibiza before deciding to move to Barcelona. I started to notice that some of the restaurants I worked at were serving cheap vegetables for high prices and I didn’t agree with this. My mum had always used organic vegetables and produce; I had grown up with this and had become used to it, so this influenced me to open my own restaurant in Barcelona that specifically used only local organic produce, which I believe are of the best quality.
After deciding to open your own restaurant, what steps did you make to get the process going?
It went really quickly actually. After conducting job interviews and getting a team together I started looking for a property for the restaurant. I found a place in the Gothic Quarter, but after looking around that area a few times I decided against it because it was too commercial. So instead, I found a really nice place in El Eixample. It was previously used as a flower shop, so it had really big beautiful windows and I thought it would be perfect for the restaurant as it was really open and you can see everything from the people inside to the kitchen and all the details. I saw great potential in that place even though it was empty and we had to do everything from scratch, and now I see it was worth it because we created a really unique space. I did all of the construction myself; my father sent me over the wood I wanted from Germany and then I put the tables together, screwed the benches, built the stairs and even the bar.
If someone was to step inside of the restaurant now how would they feel?
We’ve kept it green, floral and natural; the inspiration came from the amount of light in the building. It feels like you have been transported to a really quiet spot outside of Barcelona, whilst still being able to see the traffic and the movement of the big city from the windows. Everything has been kept really antique and open with the chandelier, brick walls, large windows and open kitchen, yet with the bodega upstairs it is also really cosy. I think that was the idea, to keep it cosy and welcoming, but open at the same time. There is a mix of natural living elements and city life and I think this creates a really unique atmosphere.
Would you say that a cosy and welcoming atmosphere makes it a casual place to eat or does it have a formal element?
I think it’s a mix both – maybe elegant-casual. The most important thing is that you feel comfortable; you don’t have to dress up in a short dress and heels. You can wear a nice shirt, jeans and good shoes if you want to. The feeling of being welcome is not just in the décor, you can also see it in the atmosphere and the fact that you don’t need to dress up. My wife Lizbeth Brophy, the hostess, is always ready to greet our guests directly as they come through the door; she will sit them down, introduce herself and ensure they feel welcome and at home.
So while you are more back of house, your wife runs the front-of-house?
Yes definitely. My wife manages everything outside of the kitchen. As well as being the hostess, she is a sommelier, so she has a great knowledge about wines and is always selecting the best wines to offer in our restaurant, whilst I take care of everything concerning the kitchen. We work hand-in-hand to try and make sure that the food matches the wines perfectly and that we all know which wines to match with which dish.
How would you describe the service that you offer at Pau Claris 190?
Together we offer a very personal service. Except for the sauces which we prepare ahead of time, we cook all our food only once the guest has ordered it in the proper, traditional way, so that it is fresh. The aim of this is to ensure our guests get the healthiest food and the tastiest flavours possible in order to give them a memorable gastronomic experience. As there is nothing pre-cooked in the restaurant, my wife and I are also able to meet all of our guest’s personal requests; for example, if a guest has allergies or intolerances, we can factor it into the preparation of their meal. We even make our own bread on-site, both gluten and gluten-free.
Can you summarise the menu at Pau Claris 190?
When we opened the restaurant, we knew that I was a good chef and my wife was a good host, but the area that we are in was new to us, so we didn’t know what kind of cuisine was in demand here. So we started trialling different cuisine each week; one week we would serve southern European cuisine and another week we would try another ethnic cuisine, and so on, to see what our guests really liked. I had worked in many restaurants before so had experience in many styles of cooking and was open to trying anything. In the end, we settled on Mediterranean cuisine with a focus on French cooking whilst incorporating influences from our own Spanish and German backgrounds. We have a really short menu – around 18 different dishes – which have all been developed based on what our customers most like.
As a chef do you have any specialities?
My speciality is working with regional and seasonal produce to create fresh and exciting dishes. I also like to add decorative touches to my dishes using flowers and other effects. In Spanish it’s referred to as ‘cocina de autor’, which translates to ‘author’s kitchen’ and means we specialise in making uniquely designed cuisine.
What are your plans for the future of Pau Claris 190 and yourself as a restaurateur?
Right now we are concentrating on making Pau Claris 190 the best restaurant it can be. It is going really well and our guests and staff are really happy and we are becoming more and more known, so we want to keep our focus on that. We are going to ensure our guests and staff stays happy and ensure the restaurant won’t take a step back before we move forward and concentrate our efforts elsewhere. However, we do plan to open another restaurant in Mallorca in the same style as Pau Claris 190 in the future. It will offer a multicultural influence to suit the people from that area as well as tourists too, which will create a cosmopolitan atmosphere. It is what we did here in Barcelona and we will try to do it in Mallorca as well.
What do you think the most important quality a chef can have?
The two most important things are an eye for detail and self-control. For example, if you have had a really busy day in the restaurant, you can get tired and may wish to leave some of your responsibilities for the next day, but if you exercise control and do what is needed, you will always be on top of things and can start every day fresh.