Hispania head chef Iván Ortiz talks about tapas

Hispania head chef Iván Ortiz
Spanish roots: head chef Iván Ortiz was influenced by his mother's excellent dishes

Iván Ortiz has gone from working as a pastry chef in his local village to preparing sensational tapas at London's Hispania restaurant

A native of Madrid, Iván Ortiz grew up in the village of Soto del Real and had decided on a career in cooking by the age of 14.

Influenced initially by his mother’s excellent Spanish dishes and eventually by some of his country’s finest chefs, Iván now prepares tapas for well-heeled clientele at Hispania restaurant, in the City of London.

The power of a great croqueta

Iván has always loved good food and as a young man in Madrid he was very much drawn to the city’s famous Mahou beer and tapas culture.

Olive forever: Hispania has become a hub for Spanish people living in London

“It’s a civilized way of life. Madrileños love so much meeting with friends for aperitivo – to enjoy perhaps las cañas perfectas, a perfectly poured glass of Mahou, especially with a few plates of freshly made tapas.”

Madrid is one of the main foodie destinations in Spain and full of wonderful terrazas (open-air café terraces) and tapas bars.

So what is Iván’s favourite tapas and where did he have it? “I have eaten a lot of excellent tapas, and it may surprise you but the best of all is my mother’s croquetas, straight from the deep frier. They are part of the reason I love food so much and became a chef.”

From pastry chef to tapas tzar

Aged 14 Iván embarked on a four-year apprenticeship as a pastry chef in his local village. He moved on to work at two establishments in Madrid, D-Vinis and La Cabaña, before heading south to the Alanda hotel in Marbella.

He was eventually lured away by an exceptional opportunity to work under the great Ferrán Adrià at El Bulli, at the time the world’s number-one restaurant.

“This was an amazing experience” say Iván.” The cooking was like nothing else I had seen before. Ground-breaking, adventurous, really exciting.”

Well-heeled clientele: Hispania opened in 2013

It was at El Bulli in the heart of the Basque country in 2007 that Iván met fellow chef Marcos Morán whose family own the 130-year-old Casa Gerardo.

“Marcos and I got on very well and we thought at the time we would like to work together one day.”

Iván secured his first position as head chef at Madrid’s renowned Sula restaurant under Quique Dacosta who had been voted Spain's best chef in 2005.

He then moved to León to work at La Mina before Marcos Morán offered him the position of head chef at Casa Gerardo.

Viva Hispania

Iván and Marcos have a fabulous working relationship and share the same exacting standards in the kitchen.

So when Marcos was asked by wealthy investors from Asturias to come to London to open the city’s grandest Spanish restaurant and tapas bar, he knew he had an infallible ally in Iván to cover for him while he was away.

Hispania opened in 2013 in the former Lloyds Bank building next to Bank Tube station and it soon attracted regular customers ranging from City professionals to Spanish Premier League footballers. Iván became head chef the following year.

“I am very proud to be working here in London” he says. “Hispania is certainly one of the highlights of my career. For me it is more than just a great Spanish restaurant, it’s a destination. It has become a hub for Spanish people living in London and for local people who love Spain – hispanophiles I guess!”

Iván has clearly come a long way since his youthful days bar-hopping in Madrid but the Mahou Tapas Challenge provides him with a chance to return to his roots and do his home city proud. “As I have said, I love Mahou beer, so to create tapas especially for that? Perfect! I can’t wait.”

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To dine at the stylish Hispania restaurant, book a table at hispanialondon.com #perfectpairing #mahou