Daniel Chavez is the chef and owner of OLA Cocina Del Mar, an unpretentious Spanish eatery in Marina Bay Financial Centre. Daniel’s food is joyful, simple and tasty, with a focus on fresh, sustainably sourced ingredients.
When, as a teenager, Daniel’s family moved from their homeland of Peru to Florida, he discovered a passion and talent for cooking. This started him on a journey of learning and exploration, taking him to kitchens all over the world.
In Spain, working in the Can Fabes kitchen of prominent avant-garde Spanish Catalan chef Santi Santamaria, opened his eyes to importance of seasonal produce. It was also the place where his creativity started to flourish. Daniel would go on to open Ossiano in Dubai and Santi in Singapore for Chef Santamaria.
A stint in the kitchens of Les Amis, under Chef Gunter Hubrechesen, introduced French cooking techniques to Daniel. It was also pivotal to helping him better understand the food loving culture of Singapore.
These lessons are reflected in his cooking style today. Dishes are tasty, light and refreshing to the palate, with ingredients that complement and highlight the natural flavours of the produce. Some plates are reflective of his training in Spanish cuisine, others a homage to Peru.
Daniel has teamed up with some renowned foreign chefs for very special culinary collaborations at OLA. Highlights include the Tiger’s Milk Gang event featuring Peruvian chefs Gaston Acurio (No.7, Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants; No.30, The World’s 50 Best Restaurants), Virgilio Martinez (No.1 Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants; No.4, The World’s 50 Best Restaurants), Mitsuharu Tsumura (No.2, Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants; No.13, The World’s 50 Best Restaurants) and Rafael Piqueras from Maras; GGGola with Gaggan Anand (No.1, Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants; No.23, The World’s 50 Best Restaurants) and Al-Andaluz X Catalan/ the OLA Pintxos Bar with Paco Morales.
Daniel’s aim is to bring the best traditional cuisine in the most relaxed atmosphere, so that you can truly feel at home at OLA Cocina Del Mar.
1. What is your philosophy when it comes to food?
If I have to put it in 1 word: “Flavor”. Yes, it is a very simple approach but at the same time a very sincere one. All of our efforts in the kitchen of OLA are always towards that goal.
Our restaurant is located in a Financial District and in most occasions our customers are always pressed for time. Because of this our dishes have to be tasty and also quick to execute. The only way we can achieve this is by sourcing the best ingredients we can get in the market. A good tomato with Olive oil and salt naturally tastes good already. This is the beginning of everything we do here.
2. Name your most Favourite dish on the menu? And why?
OLA is a Spanish restaurant as most of my experience was done in Spanish cooking yet lately we serve a couple of Peruvian Dishes by request of our patrons.
Still at the end, I am Peruvian so I have to say Cebiche, which is basically any seafood marinated with lime juice, chilli and a little red onion. For us there is no better dish that this one. Basically I can eat it every day, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Always super spicy.
3. Main considerations when it comes to choosing your ingredients?
Yes many. But to make it simple to understand: In order showcase a particular product it in the “A la Carte Menu” we should be able to receive the produce every day of the week in OLA.
On the other hand if it’s a seasonal item that we can get delivered only in a specific day of the week because of the logistics behind it, then we work together with the kitchen team to come with a new Special Dish”.
We usually have between 4 to 5 different Daily Special Dishes that are constantly changing.
4. How do you see the growing demands for sustainable produce affecting the food world?
I believe sustainability is a responsibility of every chef in the world nowadays.
In many ways the food industry has caused already too much damage to the environment so now all of us: Chefs, Consumers, Restaurants, Suppliers, etc have to do a bigger effort to reduce the effects of the bad impact that has already been caused to the earth. If we don’t work together nothing really much will change.
5. If you weren’t a chef, or in the food business, what would you be?
I would love to say a musician as I am totally in love with all kinds of rhythms and also find fascinating the life that a rock band usually lives. From when they start from the bottom until they manage to develop a personal style.
The problem is that I am not really good playing any instrument so it is more of a crazy dream than something that I can actually achieve.
6. Do you have a memorable food experience that impacted you as a child or young chef?
When we were kids my brother and I wanted to go to Disneyland. Instead, my parents brought us to the North of Peru to the city of Tumbes. As a kid, this is not a place you want to be since there is nothing much to do for children.
Everything changed when we started to go to the Northern Peruvian restaurants and we ate some of the most amazing seafood I have ever eaten in my life. We were introduced to “Conchas Negras” which is something similar to a black cockle that most of the times is eaten raw. It is not the nicest thing to look at but the flavor is no unique and with so much character. Unbelievable.
We then rented a car and drove all the way to Lima stopping in every town to eat the local food. This is when I started to fell in love with food. I was 12 years old.
7. What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
For sure to cook!! This is the big irony. When you are learning to cook all you want is to become a Chef and run your kitchen. Then you become a Chef all you want is to cook but you don’t get to as much as you would like… What to do….
8. Other than creating good food, what are the most important qualities that make a successful chef?
I believe even more important than cooking in this Industry is to be able to lead and a Team that has ambitions. Many people actually end up learning this craft yet very few actually end up running their own operations.
Cooking might seem easy compared to the capacity to manage and motivate people. To consistently strengthen working relationships and challenge your co-workers in my opinion is the most difficult part of the job. To me this only comes with good valuable experience.
9. If you had a choice of anything for your last meal, what would you choose to have?
I would love to have a boiled potato with some chopped chilli, some olive oil and some salt. This delicious!
10. Do you have any tips for budding chefs or restauranteurs?
I don’t think I have any tips for chefs and restauranteurs as I am starting to learn myself but for the young new chefs who are starting the career only 2 small advice: First: Be Patient.
Second: Laugh!!! As much as you can. You are going to need it.