Interview with Santiago Granda
Santiago Granda is one of the references of the rich Ecuadorian gastronomy and one of the international ambassadors of the culinary offer of a country where gastronomy is a mixture of mountains, volcanoes, sea, tradition and avant-garde, and of course, an example of Ecuadorian cultural identity.
At the age of 18, he started working in the sector as a kitchen assistant at the Hilton Colón hotel in Quito, and later travelled to study and work in Spain. Today he is the director and one of the founders of the Instituto Superior Tecnológico de Arte Culinario de Guayaquil and the training centre La Escuela de los Chefs.
After training in gastronomy in 1993 at the Escuela Superior de Hostelería de Madrid, he specialised in international cuisine, and after a formative journey in important educational and gastronomic centres, in 2014 he obtained a degree in Gastronomy at the Universidad Tecnológica Empresarial de Guayaquil and a master's degree in Corporate Communication from the University of Barcelona in 2017.
He has written articles for publications such as La Revista Diario El Universo, and is the author and co-author of books such as the Culinary Guide to Bananas (2021), the Culinary Guide to Shrimp (2019), Guayaquil a Fuego Lento (2017) and From the Pacific to the Andes (2016).
Dear Mr. Santiago Granda, a young Mexican chef asked Spanish chef Santi Santamaria at an event in Mexico about the qualities a good chef should have. In your opinion, what are the qualities of a good chef?
Every professional should have similar qualities in terms of attitude and aptitude, much is learned in schools or universities, and throughout professional life, however, the cook has a special connotation that, while it may be innate in many, this must be worked on over time to develop, and I would call it the curiosity to taste and discover flavours, textures and aromas of all the food pantry of the planet.
We want to get to know Santiago Granda as a person and, therefore, from the depths of his heart, and regardless of egos, international promotion, social relevance and economy, what role does gastronomy play in his life?
I have been dedicated to gastronomy all my life, I have my memories even before I started working professionally, since at home I was taught a lot about service, cooking, eating well, so more than a profession, trade or what I have dedicated myself to in my life in different areas, gastronomy in my case has been and is part of my natural path in life. Every activity, trip, meeting of any kind I always end up associating with it and it serves me to accumulate knowledge and learn something more.
We want to know more about Santiago Granda, when and why did you decide to become a chef?
Surely it was something that had been cooking since I was a child, as I said, in my house my parents unwittingly perhaps played a fundamental role, always showing me products and cuisine, and I am referring to the local pantry as we never travelled outside the country, but that was very important to mark in my flavours and attachment to the kitchen, to the environment around it as the kitchen at home was the meeting place for the family and for guests. Then making the decision to make gastronomy my profession was almost the only option I had in mind.
You have shared the kitchen with other great chefs, what do you value most in the kitchen and how do you manage it in your proposals?
Since I started working with chefs at the age of 18, I have had the joy of sharing with dozens of them, of all nationalities you can imagine, ages, styles, character, and at some point when I lived in Malaga, one of them told me: "you listen, learn and do what they tell you as best you can, record yourself and write everything down, then at some point in your life you will take the best of each one of them". And that's what I did.
Regarding the food of your country, what dishes do you most like to prepare and why?
I like stews very much, I think they are one of the strengths of our country, they have a lot of flavour, personality, there is a lot of variety in the regions, textures, some are more like soups or stews, and they are to everyone's taste. Another chapter that I also like are the ceviches, but giving them a different alternative in flavours with fruits, herbs, infusions, it seems to me that it is a chapter that can become very fun and varied when it comes to preparing them without losing the identity of Ecuadorian ceviche, which unlike others always has a liquid or creamy sauce.
From a national perspective, what is your favourite ingredient and why?
If we look at it as an emblematic ingredient to promote Ecuador and its gastronomy, I think that cocoa is our main product, not only because we are the world's largest and best producer of fino de aroma, or because for some years now we have been developing some of the best chocolates in the world, but also because the Ecuadorian Amazon is the place of origin of cocoa on the planet. This fact has already been published by international researchers a few years ago where they found traces of cocoa more than 2000 years earlier than anywhere else in America.
If you ask me about our local gastronomy, I really like working with seafood, Ecuadorian fishing is formidable and working with it is always a pleasure.
As for other ingredients, green plantain, peanuts, coriander, naranjilla, chilli are elements that are always present.
We all have a mother or a grandmother, which dish reminds you most of your childhood, and do you prepare it in a similar way or what have you introduced to make it with the Santiago Granda personal brand?
Well, as I said, my first cooking teacher was my mother, she has an endless recipe book that I hope to record sometime, I remember many of her dishes, but above all the soups, potato locro, caldo de patas, barley soup with pork; and also the afternoon snacks, white carrot cakes with cheese, empanadas de viento, cakes of ripe plantain, etc.
Tell me a little about your training and experience to become what you are, what has it meant to you to study and work in Madrid or Barcelona?
Becoming a professional requires a good combination of studies and experience, training is very important, I value it very highly, which is perhaps why I ended up dedicating myself to it completely. My first experience was in Quito but in the area of Hospitality and Tourism, however, it was not what fulfilled me completely, since I wanted to study cooking, it is then when I was lucky enough to arrive at the School of Hospitality in Madrid, where I saw for the first time a cooking school, huge, full of students, teachers, movement, structure, it was something that had never existed in my country and seeing it was incredible since what most marked me was the quality and formality that was given to the profession, at that moment I understood how important the profession that I had decided to follow was.
And in that training, which chef or teacher has influenced you the most?
I have had several, such as Manfred Krauth, Pablo Zambrano and many other chefs from the hotel chain where I started in Quito. Then at the Escuela de Hostelería de Madrid I always recognise and thank my teachers who are now my great friends, Enrique Iglesias, Eduardo Durán who, without knowing me, took a foreigner as their pupil and now 30 years later we remember them every time we continue to see each other. In my working life I remember Ignacio Muguruza, Pedro Subijana, Pablo Urcelain, Edorta Álvarez, Manu Sánchez, bosses and teachers who left their mark on me: responsibility, love of cooking, doing things better and better, being curious, being respectful of others, and also enjoying our profession, something that is very common in all Basque chefs.
How does a chef deal with creating or updating menus, and what do you think customers value most in their menus?
I think that the customer values the honesty of the chef when presenting a proposal, I mean that a chef cannot launch into proposals which, however fashionable they may be, are not his or her essence or which he or she is unaware of. A chef must create his menus based on his style or concept of cuisine, which he has worked on throughout his life. It may be true that it evolves, but one has a style and cannot change drastically, on the other hand, it is very important to have an updated local and global pantry, this nourishes us a lot when thinking about a new menu.
In your menu proposals, what are the main choices for pairing wines and spirits?
I am not a drinks specialist, I know something, but when it comes to pairing I always ask for the support of one of my sommelier friends, however I like the menus to have a sequence of harmony with drinks, for example in our country a ceviche is consumed a lot as a starter for which a blonde beer is the ideal pairing, but we also opt for a sparkling wine or a dry white; The reds require a more careful calibration to ensure that they don't overshadow the dish, but also that they don't go with it as if nothing had happened. I'm not much of a sweet wine and liqueur person, but I must admit that in some cases they combine quite well.
In relation to Guayaquil's gastronomic proposal, what makes it unique and different?
Our city is the most important centre of entrepreneurship and business in Ecuador, the port through which more than 70% of the country's products enter and leave, it is a warm city at the foot of the river, this has meant that over the years it has become the main point of convergence of all the regions and provinces, so here we find communities from the Amazon, highlands, coast and Galapagos. How has this influenced you? Because people travel with their customs, products, recipes, and this has made Guayaquil a kind of hotbed of everything that can be found in the country.
From the ancestral cuisine of Manabí, the Afro-Esmeraldean cuisine, the mountain traditions of the north, centre and south, the typical cuisine of Quito and Cuenca, the exotic dishes of the Amazon and the best products of the Galapagos.
All this added to the fact that Guayaquil as such has a rich and varied cuisine of its own, which has been generated for decades, born in the markets, in the port, in popular homes and has been fused with local and foreign migrations, which has made Guayaquil's cuisine something special within the Ecuadorian menu.
How does it differ from other national dishes?
Each region or province has its own special flavour, I value this diversity very much, if I want to see a difference I will always find one, because in the coastal and highland regions by tradition we consume some different things, the climate also has an influence, however, there is also a lot of complementarity since in recent years we have been using Serrano products and vice versa and this is partly due to the proximity of our city to the orchards of the provinces.
Ceviche, seco de pollo, fish broth or encebollado, or rice with stew and meat are typical Guayaquil dishes, how do you treat these proposals from Santiago Granda's point of view?
They are dishes that reflect the identity of Guayaquil, the green plantain for example is eaten in the mornings with bolón, tigrillo, it is our breakfast, also our own encebollado, a soup of tuna with yucca, it is eaten from 7 am until 13h00, the vegetable stew, it is somewhat paradoxical, but despite being a hot land it is a winter dish and we only eat it at night.
Ceviches in Guayaquil can be a main dish that is eaten with rice as a side dish, there are shrimp, fish, shell, crab, octopus, our ceviche is very abundant, almost like a soup.
And it is because Guayaquil has these characteristics, the food must be abundant, with its own well-defined flavour, that has made our cuisine become one of the most representative of Ecuador, and at the same time the one that welcomes with appreciation the products and neighbouring cuisines that come to accompany the local one and to add to the culinary offer of the city.
How do you control the quality and consistency of the dishes to ensure customer satisfaction?
Cooking really has to be based on the quality of the raw material and ingredients, if you have a good selection and purchase, a large part is assured, the next thing is to have a good production process for which beyond standardised recipes you need qualified staff, those for me are the controls that every business must have.
You are also an expert in the management of the gastronomic industry, how do you manage the participation of employees from different countries in your team?
Throughout our 20 years of business in the academic area we have had employees of various nationalities, origins, Russians, Asians, Germans, French, Spanish, Italians, North Americans, Latin Americans, all have been welcome, some still collaborate in different ways, I am very empathetic with receiving people from other countries, I was also received at the time abroad and I was given opportunities and support, the fair and loyal thing is to do the same with all those who for some reason visit us and have the ability to develop as teachers.
What quality, tasty and nutritionally balanced dishes can you cook on a budget?
Legumes (grains as we call them here) are an important source of protein and carbohydrates, they are usually inexpensive, and combined with other vegetables are for me a perfect combination.
Also the use of cereals such as quinoa, barley, wheat are optimal, always combined with vegetables. A nutritious and tasty dish does not necessarily have to have an animal protein to be nutritious.
In our country, the use of yucca, green plantain, potatoes and legumes is very common in popular cuisine.
Do you have a process for comparing food and beverage costs to make sure you are maximising your budget?
In the company we manage with a budget per activity, class or workshop, this is structured based on the cost of food and beverages, staff and operation, we have it quite structured so that every time there is a workshop it is costed quickly.
Do you think Ecuadorian cuisine is well known in the world?
We are the great unknown in South America in terms of cuisine, although it is one of the most diverse in the region, and this is because we have not had a clear positioning strategy as we have had with products such as cocoa, shrimp, bananas, among others.
Finally, tell us about an Ecuadorian gastronomic secret.
One of the secrets of Ecuadorian cuisine is its diversity and proximity at the same time, we are one of the smallest countries in South America, however, we have the greatest diversity of climates, regions, coast, highlands, Amazon, Galapagos, with an impressive proximity between each one. In the same day you could visit 3 regions, this makes its culinary culture very diverse and at the same time very close, integrated with each other and resulting in a very varied and rich gastronomy in products, traditions, stories that is what we must make the world know.
Dear Mr Santiago Granda, thank you for whetting our appetite to bring us closer to proposals and a creator who lives and works for the avant-garde from a traditional base, with respect and quality.
The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.