Meet the Ibérica head chef bringing mouth-watering, flavoursome Spanish cuisine to the streets of Leeds

From cooking in the Barcelona mountains to Leeds city centre, one thing that has stayed with chef Enric Garriga is his love for the “magic” of simple ingredients.

By Rebecca Marano
Saturday, 16th October 2021, 4:45 pm

Enric, 34, was born in the town of Argentona, a small village near the Catalan Mediterranean coastline.

His first food memories are the vivid smells of his Grandma's home cooking, as the prepared traditional dishes such as Escalivada on the oven fires in her house.

“The smell of the roasted peppers stays long in my memory”, he reminisced.

Enric Garriga is the Head Chef of the much-loved Spanish restaurant Ibérica in Leeds city centre. Photo: Simon Hulme

He began working in kitchens at the age of 15 and his first job was as a pastry chef, creating sweet, delicious ‘pasteles’ and perfecting his Coulant de chocolate.

Enric said: “I was amazed by the processes as I discovered how the dishes were being created.

“From a few simple ingredients, magic could happen!

“Different flavours and complexities of dishes emerged.

Ibérica Head Chef Enric Garriga cooking the amazing Croquetas with serrano ham. Photo: Simon Hulme

“I loved the creativity and freedom that can be taken to create new plates.”

His cheffing training saw Enric work with Josep Maria Freixas, a famous Catalan chef, who’s son Ramón went onto to win two Michelin stars at his own eponymous restaurant

He then worked as the head chef of a restaurant in the mountains of Barcelona called Salmaia, before moving to the UK in 2014, where he began working at the Ibérica restaurant in London.

Enric’s culinary talents saw him rise through the ranks, moving to the Manchester restaurant as a Chef de Partie, and then moving across to Leeds when it opened, taking on the role of Head Chef.

Enric said: “My style of cooking is gastronomic Mediterranean with my ‘toque creativo' (my creative touch).

“I like to experiment and push boundaries with flavours and styles, always taking influence from the Spanish Med, and more recently from our Executive Chef, Michelin starred Nacho Manzano.

“Our menu has a big variety of Spanish food, authentic in a way that a native Spaniard would find themselves at home here.”

He added: “Of course my favourite food of Ibérica is the Croquetas. I love them. I’ve not met anyone that doesn’t actually. They’re the ultimate comfort food.

“You’d also find me ordering the Twice Cooked Lamb on my visits, and our latest menu addition the Suquet, a traditional Catalan fish stew with hake, clams and mussels.

“Being Catalan, this just reminds me of home, and eating freshly cooked Suquet takes me back there with wonderful memories.”

The last 18 months have been tough for the hospitality industry but Enric says the team at Ibérica have worked to adapt, creating meal kits for people to cook at home and hosting online weekly wine tastings that have proved so popular they have continued post-lockdown.

Now restaurants have reopened, Enric says customers have enjoyed walking safely back into the impressive venue, with its stunning glass roof and artwork adorned ceilings, and enjoying the authentic Spanish flavours once again.

The restaurant is also relaunching the La Bodega bar in the cellar, with a more relaxed vibe, different selection of drinks excellent tapas.

Enric said: “When the kitchen is busy, and everything is going well, it’s my favourite place in the world to be.

“Of course there are stressful services, and it's tough, but it makes returning home at the end of those services even more enjoyable.

“I like to learn different things everyday, which in the kitchen is a certainty, and of course, my family motivates me always.”