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Dani García has long since become a household name in the world of cuisine. His group now has 23 restaurants around the world and counting. He continues to maintain his nerve centre in his native Marbella, from where he plans his ambitious expansion, but always connected to his roots to add that touch of reality that characterises him. He has known how to stop when he needed to, to take on new projects and to rediscover his essence in the kitchen. We’ll see what he continues to surprise us with in 2023.
The Dani García empire continues to grow every year, what projects await you in 2023?
We are still focused on the same things we have been talking about over the years. We will grow in Spain, but, above all, the important thing for us is to try to establish ourselves abroad, which is not at all easy. In the end, when you travel around the world, you see many brands in the world of food and beverages. That makes you focus and concentrate on wanting to be like them. International presence is fundamental for us because the world is very big and it is what will really mark a before and after in the company; if we are able to establish ourselves.
Any openings you can give us a sneak preview of?
The next one we open outside will be in Paris. In Madrid we will do two more restaurants. And after Paris, probably Dubai, Budapest and Amsterdam will follow. These are the cities that are ‘in the works’ right now. But the French capital is imminent. I think that, by mid-January, we will be practically ready to open.
And now that 2022 is over, what is your professional assessment?
Every day I am more and more aware that you cannot live in success. When too many positive things happen to you, you have to reflect, keep your feet on the ground and don’t believe in anything or anyone. Earlier you mentioned the word “empire” and I find it difficult to accept. Because the world is fragile and everything can change from one day to the next. So what I try to do is to work every day to keep things going the same way. One of the big problems in any professional field lies a little bit in the fact that this is not “breed fame and go to sleep”. It works on a day-to-day basis and I’m totally plugged in and focused on working that way for it.
Especially with a team of more than 1,000 people?
It’s very difficult to manage, because it’s not just about managing myself, but also the people in my team, who also have the feeling of success. These emotions are positive if you control them, and above all if you are aware that every day you have to keep working to be there. In fact, nowadays a big part of my day-to-day work is also managing to keep things the same, as well as thinking about growth.
And how do you experience the media explosion that comes with such a huge growth?
You have to bear in mind that this is a relatively new professional field. I always use the same analogy: when you are a child, if you want to be a footballer, you know that, if you succeed, you will be famous, rich… You will be a huge success and you will be stopped on the street, you will work with brands in advertising… But at the time when I decided to become a chef, it was one of the most precarious of all the branches I could have chosen. My mother was horrified by it. The cook was seen as if he or she was in a room, which was always the worst part of the restaurant. And it never crossed your mind that things like that would happen. But it has been a gradual thing, and that’s the positive thing.
To the point of being asked to take photos and be a real celebrity.
I was told 20 years ago that they were going to stop me in the street to take photos with me, and I didn’t believe it. It’s hard to take and you have to know how to accept it. I’m also one of those who think that it goes with the person. If you as a person, without doing anything recognised, are stupid, if you become famous, you’ll be three times more stupid. If you are a normal, humble, good-hearted guy, without being anybody, and suddenly you are successful, you probably multiply your capacity to be all that. What success does is multiply the good and the bad.
You are a chef and also a businessman, two quite stressful and volatile worlds. What would a “normal” day in the life of Dani García be like?
Well, there is never a normal day. In the end I end up doing lots and lots of different kinds of work. Sometimes they have to do with the company; sometimes with the kitchen or the restaurant; and sometimes they are things related to who you are as a person and as a chef. In the end, you have to constantly change the chip. You’re in Doha, at a business meeting with the King, you’re eating at a FIFA catering event, or you’re here at an interview in Madrid. I end up doing many things and never the same. The word ‘boring’ does not exist in my vocabulary. But it is difficult to control all that psychologically.
It is complex on a psychological level, but also when it comes to maintaining a healthy routine, for example in nutrition or sport, as you did a few months ago.
That’s difficult too. The truth is that I really wanted to try to change certain habits, because the life you lead of constant travel and stress, means that in the end you end up eating badly and quickly, things you shouldn’t… I’m just now getting back to that phase (laughs).
Everything in this life is cyclical and I am waiting for that moment again. Every morning I wake up and say: “I’m going to start again”.
And where would you be now?
It’s true that I’ve been under quite high levels of stress lately, and that makes you end up sinning. I also try to manage it in the best possible way, by changing certain habits. Now I drink practically zero soft drinks, which I used to drink a lot. And I had given up sweets, but lately I don’t know if it’s also because of Christmas and everything around it… I just love turrones, mantecados and marzipan. (Laughs)
A dish that has not been missing from your table this Christmas?
Seafood, especially being in the south. If we were in Madrid, we would be talking about a roast, lamb and things like that…. But, for me, Christmas in the south is prawns, langoustines from there and all seafood in general.
Speaking of the south, you have always been very attached to your roots and this year you culminated it with the opening of Tragabuches, a tribute to the original Tragabuches de Ronda.
If you look at it, what we do as a company is try to find empty spaces. The Tragabuches of today is the Tragabuches of 1998, which was still a restaurant in an Andalusian mountain village, which offered all the things of its surroundings, a cuisine based on produce, on roots, on its mother. But now it has been brought up to date, because back then I was 22 years old and I saw life differently.
Well, everything we do is similar. Lobito is a real beach bar, but updated. Leña is a barbecue place, also modernised. We tried to fill a gap that had disappeared. We have forgotten it, because now there are many, but 10 years ago there were no places like BiBo or Lobito, something in between haute cuisine and the average restaurant.
And how does it feel to be considered a standard-bearer for your homeland?
In a natural way, it’s nothing forced. I don’t have the need or the ego to have a street named after me or anything. I do it because I was born there and I have lived there. In the end it’s the test bed or the kitchen. And I think it makes sense. The truth is that I can’t imagine the same thing in Madrid. It has nothing to do with having the headquarters in Madrid or London with Marbella. Leaving the office and finding peace in a quick and easy way will only happen to me in Marbella. Imagine, after the day to day life you lead, you open the doors of your office and you find the M-30, and I love Madrid very much, eh,” he laughs. I think the right choice for a job like mine, where I can be anywhere in the world, was this. It comes naturally without beating my chest to be recognised.
You recently commented that retirement was getting closer and closer, do you see it as close as you say, and how would you visualise it?
The day I feel I can no longer contribute anything, I will leave. Just like I left the three Stars. But it’s true that I don’t see it so close. One day the team will be there and I won’t be there, because I will have thought that I can’t give any more of myself. I think I’ve done a billion other things. And now it’s basically a question of keeping it going and bringing in new people who are capable of it. The pandemic has shown me that you can live happily and in freedom. I know it’s a bit contradictory because it was precisely a time when our freedom was taken away to live locked up at home. I know we went through a lot of negative things, but I learned a lot. And on a personal level, I had one of the best times of my life. I refreshed myself mentally, psychologically, I also lost weight… I spent time with my daughters that probably would have been impossible otherwise. And that is also very present in my mind.
You felt a lot of freedom, from what you say?
In the end, it’s incredible that, even though I was between four walls, I got up in the morning, but I was free to do what I wanted. There was uncertainty too, obviously, but I experienced it in a tremendously positive way. And above all, I learned a great life lesson: that not everything is about work. I also thought a lot on a professional level and many new things came up. But above all I lived. I know it’s contradictory, but for the kind of life I have, for me, it was to feel tremendously free. Therefore, I learned that, if one day I left everything, there would be a lot of things to do.
In a way, the same as when you left the three Michelin stars to be able to develop other projects.
I didn’t want to be imprisoned in a three-star Michelin restaurant that bears my name, because people were waiting for me. It won’t be very funny that maybe if you open the restaurant for 200 days, you’ll be 180 days out. You have to choose what you want to be in life. If I had chosen that I just want to be in my three-star restaurant and be there all my life, then I probably wouldn’t be doing everything I’m doing now. In that sense, I had got that far, but I felt that it bothered me so that I could keep growing. I needed a little bit of psychological freedom to say: “Hey, today I’m in Qatar or London, tomorrow I’m in Paris or New York”.
And you have succeeded in doing so, even returning to haute cuisine.
Now we are in a scenario that has nothing to do with it, where nobody thinks that coming to Leña, they are going to meet me. I have never given a service here in my life and I’m not going to. The restaurant is not called Dani García and I am not here. But we are free to practice haute cuisine without the need to pursue absolutely nothing as a priority objective. If it then comes, we are obviously happy. Beyond what has been said, I have tremendous respect for Michelin and it has given me everything. What happened is that there were priorities in life. In that sense, I couldn’t encapsulate my life in a three-star rating and let the opportunity to create what we are doing pass me by, or at least to try to do so.
And he is succeeding.