“Gastronomy and its link with other art forms”

 
By Omar Romero
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Omar Romero is a renowned Mexican chef and restaurateur in the United Kingdom.

Born in Mexico City, his passion for cooking and restaurants has taken him to develop a prestigious career throughout the United States, Europe and the Middle East working alongside famous chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Gary Rhodes.

After graduating in Restaurant Management at the CESSA in Mexico City, Omar's first professional experience in the kitchen was at the popular Mexican restaurant Doña María in Las Vegas.From there he moved to New York to begin his specialization at the Culinary Institute of America.

After a brief stay back to Mexico City, Omar worked as Executive Chef of the “Creperie de la Paix”, a chain of French bistros. From there he decided to relocate to France where he enrolled as a student at the Ecole de Gastronomie Francaise in the acclaimed hotel Ritz in Paris. After finishing his specialty in French cuisine, Omar began his career within the Michelin stars as demi chef de partie of the "Royal Café" at the Evian Royal Resort which obtained its first star that same year.

After 2 years in France, Omar received the invitation to become sous chef and shortly after Head Chef within the group of Gastro pubs "L'Auberge" in Surrey, United Kingdom. By 2004 Omar moved to London to continue his foray into the haute cuisine of England, this time in the then best restaurant in the United Kingdom "Ramsay" by Gordon Ramsay in Royal Hospital road, the only 3 stars of the city at the time, where Omar became not only in the first Mexican chef in the crew, but also the restaurant’s Pastry Chef.

In mid-2005 Omar received the proposal to work with Gary Rhodes, a famous chef specialised in British cuisine, at his restaurant "Rhodes24" awarded a Michelin star. After 5 years with Rhodes and already as sous chef, Omar takes the challenge of becoming the Executive Chef of Gary's new restaurant in Dubai within the Royal Meridien Beach Resort and leaving the UK, but not before doing a short stage in the famed restaurant “Fat Duck” in Bray awarded with three Michelin stars.

During his stay in Dubai, Omar over 2 years won important prizes as the Second most important opening of the Middle East, Best newcomer in Dubai and the Best European Restaurant in Dubai.

After his stay in the Middle East, Omar was offered to return to London as Executive Chef of Rhodes24, which led him to feature in the Michelin Guide of the United Kingdom in 2013, becoming the first Mexican in Europe to obtain a Michelin star.

After 2 years in Rhodes24 Omar received the offer to collaborate in the opening of the hotel St Regis Abu Dhabi as a consultant and shortly after he returned to England after being named Executive Chef for the opening of Hotel Rosewood London, first hotel of this chain in Europe. 

After Rosewood, Omar had a brief period as Executive Chef at the Four Seasons hotel Hampshire Omar for the Winter Season. He then decided to start his own company, the SLO restaurant group alongside Michelin-starred chef Bjorn van der Horst, offering culinary experiences around London, beginning with a residence in Carrousel, developing a Niponexican Cuisine a unique fusion of Mexican and Japanese cuisine which lead to the KOJAWAN project, Twenty first century izakaya, a pop up located on the top floor of the Hilton Metropole and more recently with BONE TEA an artisanal producer of organic broths in Oxfordshire, sold nationwide; and BROTH BARS anew proposal for fast, sustainable, local and organic food in the United Kingdom.

Omar has participated in various television programs such as Rhodes across China for the BBC, cooking segments for Ajman TV (an Arab television station) and most recently as a guest chef at Celebrity Master Chef 2017 in the UK.

He has worked as a consultant for British Airways and has been part of the "Dual Year Mexico / UK" 2015, a collaborative initiative between the governments of Mexico and the United Kingdom. He has also been a Guest chef at the "3rd World Forum of Mexican Gastronomy" representing the United Kingdom.

In 2016, Omar was part of the Round Table of Food and Drinks of Mexico Day 2016, by the Government of Mexico and the Lord Mayor of London; besides having been invited as the main chef of the "Mexican Takeover" the first festival in Oslo to promote Mexican cuisine and culture organized by the Mexican Embassy in Norway. In February 2018, he was the guest chef at Badrutt's Palace in St Moritz, Switzerland, for a series of traditional Mexican cuisine events. In March last year he was a panelist for the Cultural Identity and Gastronomy lecture by The London School of Economics and the SU Mexican Society. In May 2019 Omar was the guest chef at the Mandarin Oriental Prague, in collaboration with the Mexican Embassy in Czech Republic, and most recently he was part of the Mexico cultural program 2020 by the Mexican Embassy in Saudi Araby as the main speaker on a Culinary Masterclass.

Omar is a member of the Mexican Chamber of Commerce in the United Kingdom and he is currently the Group Development Chef for ABSURD BIRD Limited and KBOX GLOBAL, where he has created and developed successful brands such as Absurd Bird, CLOX, WOW and VAO with more than 100 points of sale around the UK, India and Australia and managing an international team of chefs constantly developing new concepts.

"Creativity means not copying" this phrase was said by one of the most important chefs of the 20th century, Jacques Maximin, in Cannes in 1987, a phrase that changed the life of what is considered the most innovative chef of the last decades: Ferran Adrià, creator of molecular cuisine in Roses, Catalonia, Spain (Ramos, n.d.). Inspiration, for any artist, can be found where it is least expected. During my career, many sources have been a reason for inspiration: from a history book, a sound, a painting, or a childhood memory…

It is said that gastronomy is an ephemeral pleasure, but who does not get transported to another time or space when remembering the dishes of his mother or grandmother? Who can deny that the best fish they’ve ever tried has been at the seaside? The environment, the sounds, the aromas, the images... Everything affects our palate. And the same happens with any artistic manifestation; finding the inspiration to create a dish based on another art form or in collaboration with other artists has been a very enriching creative process.

When creating a dish everything serves as an influence, sometimes after visiting an exhibition, as it happened to me with "McQueen. Savage Beauty" presented in 2015 at the V&A Museum in London, I ended up full of energy, images and references to create dishes for Rhodes24, where I got the Michelin star in English cuisine. Historical references such as Tudor or Victorian cuisine led me to reinterpret them in a current context, something that McQueen himself did and that is a resource for many artists. However, combined with my background and my own history created a new possibility. That time fashion inspired my cooking.

But that is not the only resource that has helped me to design dishes; even memories of my childhood watching animated movies like Godzilla in its Japanese version, have served as inspiration to create not only dishes but entire menus. In fact, the memory of watching Godzilla the movie, accompanied by my father in the matinee show at the then, Cinemas Ramírez, led me to research the film and find a vintage poster of Benjamin Dupont that inspired me to create the dessert: "Matcha meringue, caramelized popcorn ice cream and sake infused cajeta (mexican caramel sauce) milk caramel" part of a Niponmexican menu that mixed those Mexican influences for the restaurant "Carrousel" in London.

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Fig. 1 "Matcha meringue, caramelized popcorn ice cream and sake infused cajeta".

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Fig. 2 Godzilla vs. Biollante, 1989.

My passion for anime has led me to create a pop-up restaurant in the tower of the Hilton Metropole hotel; when I saw the space I was transported to scenes from "Bladerunner" and the futuristic world of manga, which prompted me to collaborate with artists such as Gildardo Santoyo[1], animator and filmmaker who made a series of animated characters that inhabited the restaurant; as well as collaborations with other designers that served to set the place and helped create that unique aura that complements a good dish or a good cocktail.

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Fig. 3 Skyline, Gildardo Santoyo, Kojawan Restaurant.

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Fig. 4 Tasting table, Kojawan Restaurant.

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Fig. 5 Space Negroni, Blue Sky Hospitality, Kojawan Restaurant.

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Fig. 6 Dashi, noodles, lobster, and morels for Kojawan Restaurant.

Cinema also inspired me to take a series of abstract photographs during my stay as executive chef at the Rosewood London. And since it is, based on Clockwork Orange, where the orange color of the lobster and the "eye" printed on the skin of the San Pedro John Dory, a very popular fish in Europe and one of my favorites, (I invite you to try it) were clear references to that iconic image created by Stanley Kubrick.

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Fig. 7 Seawork Orange for Rosewood London.

However, it's not just Cinema that inspires gastronomy. "Brooklyn vs London" was an exhibition presented by the Something in the Attic collective that explored the themes of perception and identity through 44 original works created by 14 artists (7 from London and 7 from New York) accented by a unique soundtrack for the event and performed simultaneously in both cities (Bardawil, 2015).

In that exhibition I was invited to make the closing dinner through dishes created from the works that "spoke" to me; the colors and textures captured in collages, reflected textures and colors that I associate with ingredients; the mixture of colors, as perhaps a painter does, begins in my head and ends on the plate instead of on canvas. Appreciating the artworks gave birth to dishes like "Almond crusted quail egg, fried cardoons nettles and wild greens in sherry reduction and chicken jus vinaigrette and poultry background", inspired by Trials of life 17 by Flynn Cameron Jones, or Drop dead Gorgeous by Lizzie Jones which inspired a "Monkfish with activated charcoal vinaigrette and cinnamon glazed eggplant".

Looking at those images all I could think about was how they would be reflected in the food, how to recreate that mix of images with a mix of ingredients.

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Fig. 8 “Trials of life 17” - Flynn Cameron Jones.

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Fig. 9 Quail egg in an almond crust, fried cardoons and wild greens in a sherry reduction vinaigrette and poultry background.

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Fig. 10 “Drop dead Gorgeous”- Lizzie Jones.

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Fig. 11 "Monkfish with activated charcoal vinaigrette and cinnamon glazed eggplant".

Literature has also been a primordial part in my process of inspiration. During the dual year Mexico-UK 2015 we made an exhibition called "Icon of Freedom" with the UK government and the Embassy of Mexico, based on the poetry and recipes of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Lavín, et. al., 2000), where words became ingredients and poetry became flavor. Novo-Hispanic cuisine reinterpreted in these times and reflected in dishes such as "Bienmesabe" or "Olla Poderida" became canvases for the poetry of the most important female figure in Mexican literature, followed by a festival where the Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana oversaw organizing an event in which diverse arts converged, from fashion design to gastronomy, literature, and painting, all gathered at the Oxxo Tower in London.

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Fig. 12 Icon of freedom, SHM Foundation and Embassy of Mexico in the United Kingdom.

Another work of literature that I had the honor of recreating, whose objective was to celebrate the printing of 100,000 copies in the UK, was "Mad about the Boy". For which, we revived the iconic moments of "Bridget Jones" with Hellen Fielding -the author- in a banquet, moments like a shrimp tower, a potato and blue leek soup or grapefruit peels with sugar cigarette butts, at the Rosewood Hotel in London.

And of course, my Mexican roots are always present for designing. Through Mexican cuisine I have been able to represent my country in various embassies around the world, such as Oslo, St. Moritz, Prague or Riyadh. Even through images, as in a series of abstract Mexican photographs, where icons and food interact to create "still lives", made together with filmmaker Luisa María Martínez Arcaraz[2], we remember the best of our country during her stay in England.

In the kitchen, as in any other art medium, one never stops creating. Inspiration can always come in the most unexpected way, as Sor Juana said in her "Letter to Sor Filotea": "Well, what can I tell you, Madam, about the natural secrets that I have discovered while cooking? ...Lupercio Leonardo well said, that one can philosophize and garnish the prepare dinner. And I usually say when I see these little things I wonder: If Aristotle had cooked, he would have written much more".

So, I invite you to cook and to create...

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Fig. 13 Wrestling cocktail, crab, and octopus.

[1] Directory of Mexican Filmmakers FICM | Santoyo del Castillo; Gildardo (directoriorealizadoresficm.com) https://www.directoriorealizadoresficm.com/realizadores/santoyo-del-castillo-gildardo/?lang=en

[2] Luisa María Martínez Arcaraz. <https://www.imdb.com/name/nm4592715/>

References.

Images refrences:

  • [Fig. 1] Matcha meringue windpipe, caramelized popcorn ice cream and sake-wrapped Cajeta milk caramel, (2015), Shyam Vydya - Omar Romero.

  • [Fig. 2] Godzilla vs. Biollante, 1989 (2019) Benjamin Dupont. Retrieved from https://pixels.com/featured/6-godzilla-vintage-movie-poster-benjamin-dupont.html.

  • [Fig. 3] Skyline - Gildardo Santoyo (2016), Kojawan Restaurant.

  • [Fig. 4] Tasting table (2016), Kojawan Restaurant.

  • [Fig. 5] Space Negroni (2016), Blue Sky Hospitality, Kojawan Restaurant.

  • [Fig. 6] Dashi, noodles, lobster and morels (2016), Omar Romero, Kojawan Restaurant.

  • [Fig. 7] Seawork Orange for Rosewood London (n.d.) Omar Romero.

  • [Fig. 8] "Trials of life 17" - Flynn Cameron Jones (2015) Omar Romero.

  • [Fig. 9] Almond crusted quail egg, fried cardoons and wild greens in sherry reduction vinaigrette and poultry background. (2015) Omar Romero.

  • [Fig. 10] "Drop dead Gorgeous"- Lizzie Jones. (2015) Omar Romero.

  • [Fig. 11] Monkfish with activated charcoal vinaigrette and cinnamon glazed eggplant. (2015) Omar Romero.

  • [Fig. 12] Icon of Freedom, SHM Foundation and Embassy of Mexico in the United Kingdom (2015) Omar Romero.

  • [Fig. 13] Wrestling cocktail, crab and octopus. (n.d.) Luisa Ma. Martínez Arcaraz- Omar Romero.