Since I am a self-taught chef, and have always worked on my own restaurant, I don’t have a professional resume. In lieu of it, I will write an account of my professional experiences without which it would be difficult to understand who I am.
I was born in Barcelona, Spain in 1959. I dropped out of high school at age fourteen. I always had trouble with authority, so even though I had a great family, I left my house a year later. After almost two years living on the streets, I finally got a job as a bouncer at a club called Magic, I was seventeen. Bouncing led to a more professional outlook and I became a bodyguard. Around the same time, I started a career in the movies. Body guarding was a good way to make money, acting is what I did for my soul. From that point on, art, in one form or another has always been a part of my professional life. By age twenty six I decided to retire from both professions. I had made enough money to retire, or so I thought. I also had played the bodyguard roulette long enough. At the same time, I had my fifteen minutes of fame as an actor and I didn’t like it all that much. I knocked out a paparazzi and I thought “this is not for me” However, since I lost a couple of roles in American movies because I didn’t speak English, I decided to come to the USA and learn the language.
My initial intention was to stay in New Orleans for one year, learn English and go back to Spain. I did learn the language; however, I also met someone that changed the course of my life. By age twenty eight I was married, without a profession, and living abroad.
I almost never regret past decisions, but there was one that always haunted me, and that was dropping out of school. The last time I saw my mother before moving to New Orleans, she worried about my future. She told me “you are the only one of my children without a formal education, I know how smart you are and how capable of surviving you can be, but education is necessary and without it you will have to work on physical jobs. I fear that life will turn on you one day at an old age, when your strength is no longer there, and you will suffer the consequences”. I saw the apprehension in my mother’s eyes and it really made an impact on me. She had worked so hard for her children, and I had given her so much grieve. So, once in New Orleans, one day at the end of class, I asked my English professor, Miss Elenita Rodriguez, “what do I need to do to get to college?”. She told me about the GED. I bought the book and passed the exam in one month and before I knew it I enrolled in Delgado Community College.
My advisor asked me, what is your major? I don’t know I told him, I’m doing this because I owe it to my mother, and I want her happy and worry free. Then Mr. Wolf asked me is there something you like? I told him I use to be a bodyguard and an actor. He told me: “we don’t have anything to complement body guarding, but we have a great communications program”, and so, communications it was. After three semesters, I transferred to Loyola University, and on December 1992 I graduated Summa cum laude in TV Production with a minor in Drama. I flu my mother to the graduation ceremony and life was good again.
I spent the next two years gently divorcing my best friend and trying my hand at different arts. In the end, metal sculpture conquered my heart. I was inspired by a local, metal artist called Luis Colmenares. I opened a shop, bought the equipment and started my artistic career in the metal discipline. I never sold a single piece, but I had the time of my life. One thing led to another, and that metal shop turned into a mechanic shop for classic cars, then it turned into a car paint shop, and finally I started helping friends with home improvements, and just like that, I became a contractor. The lure of designing kitchens and bathrooms got the best of me.
In 1994, I helped my friend, Angel Miranda, build and open his second restaurant. He named it Lola’s in honor of his mother Lola. His first restaurant, “Altamira”, which I also helped him build, left him totally bankrupt. During five years he had a myriad of chefs, but never cooked himself. Therefore, this time, I helped him build Lola’s and I loaned him 500 dollars to buy food to open, however, as a condition I asked him to do the cooking himself, and he did. Lola’s took off slowly but surely. In six month it had become the new neighborhood gem.
It is at this point that my own career as a chef began.
The telephone rang at 2 am on the morning of December 14th, 1994. In a soft voice, almost like a whisper, my ex wife announced “Angel is at charity hospital, he had an accident and it looks like it is really serious”, and it was “really serious”. His lower jaw was hanging by a thread; his frontal lobe suffered a massive hit as he had been thrown out of his car and landed on the back of his head. It took him the better part of three months to “escape” from the hospital. The next day, I called the crew of Lola’s and told them “today we will close, but tomorrow we will open”. Sheryl Gerber, our celebrated freelance photographer was at that time part of the wait staff and she asked me: “but who will cook”? “I will”, I said without giving it much thought. Against the will of Angel’s family in Spain, the next day I opened Lola’s for business. (His family thought Lola’s was going to be as bad as Altamira and wanted to sell it right away). As customers walked in, they were told what the situation was. That evening we had a couple of burnt paellas, some very spicy chicken and a few other mishaps. The night went really fast, and as I put out the last entrée of the last table, a thundering noise brought me back from the depths of my focused mind. The applause caught me by surprise, it was the end of my first shift, and we had 84 covers. I went from actor to chef in one night.
Three months later, one evening, in the middle of the shift, I got an urgent phone call from “Batistella’s”, our fish provider at the time. I told the waitress, “I’m too busy” but Sheryl Gerber told me, “Xavier, you better get this!” Reluctantly, I answered and the lady at Batistella’s told me, “Xavier, you need to come right now; Angel is here, it looks like he escaped from the hospital. He can’t even walk properly and he is only wearing one of those hospital gowns that leave his behind exposed”. I got on top of the counter and told the clientele to put their dinner on hold. “I’ll be right back, I told them, I’m going to get my friend Angel”. When we walked back in, everybody stood up and applauded. That night Angel sat at a chair at the counter, toothless and with his behind exposed but at home at last. The next day, after refusing to bring him back to the hospital, I started retraining him on his own recipes. A few weeks later, one night he told me “I think I can do it by myself”. It was a “memorable…” night to say the least, but with that kind of determination, Angel Miranda retook the helm of his restaurant, and the rest is New Orleans history.
My friend Angel Miranda passed away on September 22nd, 2011. As he always dreamed, he died a rich man, and his beloved Lola’s became a New Orleans classic. His family was wrong and I was right. Undoubtedly, I consider this episode of my life my greatest culinary accomplishment, and the source of inspiration for “Laurentino’s”, my first restaurant which I opened June 2nd 2002, and named it in honor of my father.
Laurentino’s was my personal culinary school. I read and studied, I tried, failed, and retried. In the end, I developed my own style, a cuisine that is definitely Spanish, yet it homely fuses with the great cuisines and raw products of Louisiana.
I believe in continuing education and so, every year I went back to the old country and “worked” with some of the best restaurants in Spain.
• I spent a month in Carcastillo, province of Navarra, during the summer of 2003. There, I worked with the elders and chefs of the village to recover ancestral recipes from the Rioja region. Some of those recipes like “Lamb Chilindron” showed up on my menu and became instant favorites.
• In 2004 I met Salvador Sauleda and he invited me to stay and work with him at his new catering plant for two weeks. Mr. Sauleda is considered one of the best pastry chefs of Spain as well as one of the most prominent Caterers in Europe.
• The lessons learned with Mr. Sauleda served me well when in June 2006 I went to Miami to cook a giant Paella with my friend Boni Guenechea, Chef Owner of “Paella Party”.
• Later that summer I was privileged to spend two weeks at “Can Fabes” under Chef Santi Santamaria, RIP, the first chef in Spain to be awarded three Michelin Stars. With Santi I learned the difference between a restaurant and a three-star-in-the-Michelin-guide restaurant. By his side I affirmed my uncompromising attitude towards “first class product” which characterizes the Catalan Culinary Movement and my kitchen as well.
• In 2007 I was lucky enough to be admitted to a three-day, hands-on seminar with “El Bulli”, the number one restaurant in the world. Under El-Bulli-Chef, Andres Conde, I learned the ins and outs of “Molecular Gastronomy”. Some of those techniques have showed up from time to time on my menu, like my oyster spherification suspended on liquid-tomato vinaigrette.
• On April 2007 I bought the old Cafe Volage from Chef Felix Gallerani and I spent the next two and a half years rebuilding it with my own hands.
• On October 2009, the little strip mall where I had Laurentino’s for 8 years was, unceremoniously, sold and demolished, so I had no other choice but to close it. I kept my staff and for the next three months we all worked feverishly.
• Finally, on February 2, 2010 we opened “Barcelona Tapas”, our present venture in the River bend area of New Orleans.
I believe that my contribution to the New Orleans culinary diversity is the authenticity and honesty of my cuisine.
At Barcelona Tapas, I’m proud to offer an authentic “Tapas” dinning experience.