Diego Quispe – Head Chef at The Butcher’s Wife
Diego Quispe has already made a long and exciting culinary journey. Since his graduation at IAG he has worked as a chef in Argentina, Uruguay, Spain, Italy and France. Today he works as Head Chef at The Butcher’s Wife – a restaurant in Singapore serving gluten free food.
You are an Argentinian chef with many international experiences and today Chef at The Butcher’s Wife in Singapore. Where did your journey start as a chef? What drove you to become a chef?
My trip in the kitchen began 13 years ago, when I applied for an Asian cuisine company in Argentina. I remember there were days when you had to clean kg and more kg of prawns and octupus. I was only 16 years old when I entered an exciting world, where I learned that passion is everything. It takes you to do things you never imagined, long days of work and then a long trip to home. Being very small did not make a difference with me and I worked just like other chefs. After a few months I realized that I could give more – I just needed the opportunity.
At the Instituto Argentino de Gastronomía (IAG) you became a chef. Was this education mainly dedicated to Argentine cuisine?
In the Argentine Institute of gastronomy (IAG) I studied to become a chef. A great school, oriented to the Argentine and world cuisine, their perfected techniques. The teachers and the IAG team gave me the opportunity to make my first stage at a 5 stars hotel.
In Buenos Aires, you started your chef career with Sheraton and some other famous places. What does the Argentine cuisine stand for? What are the main differences to the cuisine of Brazil or Chile, for example?
In Argentina, I began in luxury hotels such as Sheraton, Loi Suites, Torres Park (Luxuri Collection), Sofitel and Alvear Palace Hotel, both members of the leading hotels in the world. Argentina has a culture and a very special cuisine, what is a mixture of different cultures, Italian, Spanish among others.
In Argentina you find the products you are looking for, variety of vegetables all year round by seasons, meats of all kinds, great variety of fish, prawns, lobsters, fruits. It is very rich in products, but still does not have an identity. Even the Argentine gastronomy does not have its own identity, several very important chefs are working and I include myself and what I also contribute mine, we are doing a job to spread the products and the Argentine gastronomy.
Unlike Brazil its gastronomy and its culture are known worldwide, hand in hand with a giant like Alex Atala. In Chile happens something similar to Argentina, it does not have its own style. But the Argentine gastronomy is special, tells many stories, cultures, what goes back to the natives who inhabited our lands.
You have also gained some experience as a chef in Spain. What experiences did you have during this time? How has this Spanish experience influenced your style of cooking?
Traveling to Spain was incredible! Their products, their way of respecting them and how they cook. Everything was great, working in a restaurant with three Michelin stars was something that changed me. I change the way of thinking and to see the cuisine, I started a developing of other senses, letting creativity fly, absorbing all the knowledge I could. It is always good to work with the best.
As a chef in France: What impressed you in modern French cuisine?
In France I had the opportunity to be in the restaurant with Michelin stars in the Menton area, with a great Argentine chef. It was very intense, stressful and hard. Everything is learned, the real old French school. It helped me to grow personally and to know other kitchen places. Being so close to Italy, its influence in the kitchen was remarkable, the flavors and the quality of products were incredible. Working with people from all over the world who have only one goal – to be the best. It motivates a lot, all the time you have to be getting better.
Then I made a practice in a small town in the Puylaroque area with a French chef, I had worked with him 10 years ago, in Sofitel Argentina.
Before your lately move as Head Chef to Singapore, you worked as Chef De Cuisine in Uruguay. Since Uruguay is located between Argentina and Brazil, what is special about the cuisine in Uruguay?
I worked as an Executive Chef in a 7 stars hotel, number 1 in America and number 3 in the world. It was an experience that made me grow professionally. Managing breakfasts, lunches, events, dinners, cocktails, and production for other 4 hotels of the same chain was something that required a lot of effort. I thank Marin Baquero – a great Argentine chef – who gave me the opportunity. Uruguayan cuisine is very similar to Argentina but with many less products since it is a very small country in dimensions. Its main product and star is the meat – grilled, between two loaves, you eat it as you want, always rare.
“This does not mean that we only make salads.” – Diego about the concept of a gluten-free restaurant
How would you describe your own culinary line today?
In my beginnings I loved the avant-garde cuisine. It sounded like working with Ferran Adria or Blumental. After a while I began to change my line of thought. I began to respect more the product, to highlight its flavor and not to modify it. It is a very good concept of a sphere of tomato on a granite of oil and dried olives, but a good tomato I love only with salt and olive oil, it does not need any more.
I believe that today that is my style – to make the product shine, to take it to its maximum possible, to respect it and to include it in the fine dining style.
As today’s Head Chef of Butchers Wife in Singapore: how do you describe the culinary setup?
Butchers wife is a huge challenge for me since it is all new, all unknown to me, its culture, its language, its products, I love Singapore, the hot city, where it is never cold. Besides all this the style of the restaurant is gluten free. This does not mean that we only make salads. (laughs)
Following a modern European style we carry a menu where they range from a focaccia with caramelized onions with blond sugar and balsamic aceto, passing through octopus, Argentine meats, sous vide cooking, pastas, etc. It is a modern bistro for all palates, people love breads and pasta, we maintain a seasonal menu for dinner, for lunch we have a menu that changes every week and we have brunch weekend!
Since all you offer is gluten-free – How do you manage that there is no negative effect on taste?
There was a good work on the menu, the products are good, we apply the necessary techniques to make it shine, we do not need gluten to have a rich kitchen. And customers appreciate it, everything can be replaced. Today there are many options for a rich, different, modern and gluten-free kitchen.
Lots of your quests and critics love your Chestnut Pappardelle, served with an Ossobuco Ragu, parmesan and the sweet crunchiness of honeyed walnuts. Can you share the recipe with us?
The pasta is one of the bestselling dishes. People love it, and they ask me for the recipe.
You offer a simple bistro-style menu: These bistro-style restaurants have become very popular. What is the key to successfully implementing this bistro concept?
Today there is a trend of bistronomy – small places, few tables, reduced and seasonal menu. All that set of parameters lets you play and create more in the kitchen. For example this week there is very low cost cod, automatically it is part of the menu. The bistro option lets you change very often, and customers ask you for that, new things always, our kitchen is open, customers can sit at the bar and interact with the kitchen, see how we make your meal, it’s very fun!
The awareness of good ingredients is becoming more important. Do you have good contact with your producers & suppliers?
Fortunately, the chefs are aware that there are very good ingredients and we take the producers to produce the best. The dialogue and good contact with the producers is very important. We cook with the best products thanks to them. It is a chain, and a style where the product is the star.
Singapore – the culinary hotspot in Southeast Asia: Where do you eat in your spare time?
Currently I have very little time to go out to eat. I love street food, that food tells stories. I enjoy going to eat at the vegetable market with my girlfriend and junior sous chef Frida. The food here is spicy, we are still getting used to its flavors.
Did you explore some of the endless food stall places? And do they inspire you?
In all places I find inspiration – watching as they cook in a street stall, trying to decipher that hidden taste, tasting a fine dining dish, watching the Asian ladies marinate a duck. You can always find inspiration, in every corner. That’s the good thing about traveling – always walking the streets, eating in places you never imagined entering, you just have to be encouraged, have a good team that is always working to improve inspires. Everything is inspiring.
Does fusion play any role in your work?
At work there is all kinds of fusion. The kitchen fuses with everything, its modern European style, contemporary, Italian Spanish, in its cooks, fusion of Argentines, Malays, Indians and local Singapore people, fusion of Asian products to achieve flavors European, fusion of work and life as I live with my girlfriend and work with her. All the time we think how to improve a dish, how or why to replace it, life is a fusion of several factors, and that the fun, the fusion!
Thank you very much, Diego!