Michelin Star Chef Dani Garcia On Bringing Spanish Cuisine To Casa Dani New York - Exclusive Interview

Dani Garcia has achieved the highest honor a chef can achieve on three separate occasions. Still in his mid 40s, this Spanish chef has earned three Michelin stars for his cooking, a degree of recognition most chefs can only dream of. (And do dream of, for the record.) Garcia's culinary achievements come thanks both to his skills in working with the foods of his home — which is the Andalusian region of Spain, by the way, which is worth noting as so much of Spain's cuisine varies by region — as well as his willingness to experiment and extrapolate. 

The chef describes his award-winning approach to cooking as "Cocinacontradición," which is a portmanteau of the Spanish words meaning "kitchen" and "contradiction" — the English language equivalent would simply be "kitchencontradiction." What Garcia means by the term is an embracing of traditional Andalusian flavors — from spices to seafoods to oils — offset by ingredients sourced from far and wide. He means a cold dish served beside a hot one, their contrast a part of the dining experience, and local foodstuffs prepared with global techniques.

Tthe next time you find yourself in Midtown Manhattan, just a few streets west of the Empire State Building, you need to try to get a seat at Casa Dani, the chef's newest restaurant, which pays homage to the Spanish-Mediterranean cuisine for which Garcia is vaunted. Garcia exclusively spoke to Mashed about Casa Dani, tuna, olive oil, and macaroni and cheese, which was a pleasant surprise, really — if a multi-Michelin starred chef loves mac and cheese, so can we, right? 

Dani Garcia started cooking as a teen and never looked back

Did you grow up cooking, or come to food in your adult life?

Well, I didn't grow up cooking as such because as a child I had other interests such as football, but I did see my father cooking at home from a very young age, and that's one of the great memories I have of him. The subject of cooking came to me more in my adolescence when I decided to study cooking.

What are your personal favorite dishes to cook?

When it comes to cooking at home, I like to do anything. My daughters, for example, love it when I make them some good mac n cheese. One of my favorite dishes is prawns with garlic, and when I don't go to [my restaurant] Lobito de Mar to eat them, I prepare them at home. In winter, there is also no shortage of noodle and mussel stews.

What is one ingredient you can't live without?

Olive oil! I can't imagine a good dish without this ingredient; for me, it's fundamental. A good extra virgin olive oil enhances any dish.

Is there a chef you would love to have cook a meal for you?

There are so many chefs I would love to have cook for me, it's impossible for me to decide on just one. Probably, with the new path I want to take with my cooking, I would love to eat [from] a menu from 50 to 60 years ago in Paris [prepared] by any chef.

Dani Garcia talks Spanish Cuisine

What do you wish more people in America and around the world knew about authentic Spanish cooking? Is there anything you think is misunderstood?

I don't think there's a misperception of what Spanish cuisine is, because it's tapas, rice dishes, etc., but it's always been seen in an informal way. There are so many products in Spain that are super premium and that deserve a restaurant with a little more elegant tone than eating cheap tapas. There are "super products" that [are] totally great, and that is the Spain that we want people to know and that is what we have brought to NYC with Casa Dani.

What are a few of the signature foods of Spain you wish everyone could try?

There are so many Spanish foods that I wouldn't know where to start. From the classics, such as tortilla de patatas ([which is] Spanish omelette) and paellas, to the not so well known, such as traditional stews, gazpachuelo or marmitako. Spanish gastronomy is so varied and so rich that you could eat a different dish every day without having to repeat yourself.

Dani Garcia talks about his new restaurant

What is the one dish at Casa Dani guests simply must try? 

Undoubtedly, the oxtail brioche. This is the dish that has been with us since its creation in New York, almost a decade ago, and is undoubtedly a bestseller wherever it goes. We have it in Bibo restaurants (Marbella, Madrid, Doha, London, and Ibiza) and in the delivery line that we have in Spain, and without a doubt, it had to accompany us on our return to New York.

What helped inform the menu at the new restaurant?

At Casa Dani, we focus on what we would like people to know about Spain that they don't know. On the one hand, tuna; we live in Spain in the best tuna fishing area, 120 kilometers from my house, where the best almadraba tuna is caught. This is something that many people outside Spain probably don't know about, and it was something we wanted to transmit. Then there is also the issue of rice, the perception of a type of paella that is not realistic in comparison to the real paella, the socarrat type, more airy, thinner, where the rice is almost sautéed at the end, where it stays just right. We really wanted to show that part of the rice dishes.

What is the near future like for restaurants in general, and further down the line, do you think things will get back to normal?

We, in Spain, live within a certain normality — for quite some time now, restaurants have been operating with their normal opening hours. Sometimes, it is compulsory to ask for a COVID passport, etc., [but] the functioning is relatively normal so I have no doubt that the waters will return to their course.

Visit Casa Dani on W. 33rd St. in New York City.