Max Colombo has achieved his dreams to pursue the life of a chef: Opening his own restaurant (Xemei ) and having it become the benchmark of the city, having continuous visits from characters that he, as a music lover enjoys serving ( Patti Smith sends him signed books, Lady Gaga fell asleep in his house after a concert at the Palau Sant Jordi, Paolo Conte says eating at Xemei is as good as in Italy) getting the respect and admiration of famous chefs in town (Abellan, the Adria’s ) and having them offer you advice on how to cope with local suppliers.
Instead of the traditional fare you would expect to find in an Italian restaurant in Spain , he had the sense to go for the dishes he grew up with and even cook some of those which he learned in various jobs along the way: ” From Harry’s Bar in Venice to the most terrible places. ” Proof of his wisdom was to bring back the fresh Venetian pasta sauce . “It’s the poorest recipe in Venice. It consists of poaching old onion slowly for several hours and topping it with anchovies . Formerly, the poor gave sardines as gifts and salted them for a couple of hours so they would seem like anchovies. ”
Like a good chef, he tries to be consistent with his orders and does not contribute to the irresponsible consumption of endangered animals . “There is a huge problem with overfishing. I, for one , just buy one tuna per year (about 500kg) in port Almadraba . We keep it in our own way to keep it in good condition throughout the year . No need for more . ” As for the meat, we do not leave a carbon footprint because, by only offering two dishes, goat and ox – tartar, we go unnoticed among the list of roasters, grills and hamburger joints that populate every corner. Still, some Spanish customs have rubbed off on him , “Yes, we serve goat from Lleida, poor thing, who is only 24 days old when slaughtered.” He apologizes (as a good Italian would) with hand gestures , hinting that a chef cannot always be perfect.
He justifies himself constantly throughout the interview. He feels that he and his brother have developed a reputation for being party animals, which is hard to deny. “People think that we are partiers because they see us in nightclubs. But it is because we are working all day, in Xemei or Brutal Bar. The only time we have is at night at the end of our workday, like all our friends. It is the only time we can take to meet and talk about food and work. It is no accident that happens in clubs. ”
Max , what are some of your favorite restaurants in town?
Suculent. It’s like being at home but with high level cooking. Sunday is always flamenco and I always meet up with Ferran ( Adria.)
Then there is the Shunka and Koy Shunka . Hideki is a genius and Sam is a magical Chinese man. The fact that they are a Japanese and a Chinese makes me laugh .
Also Dos Palillos, the bar and open kitchen are amazing .
What would you say is one of your favorite dishes?
Anything raw, from oysters to whatever.
What product do you like working with in the kitchen?
Seasonal artichokes, cheap fish such as anchovies … with vinegar!
What do you like to drink?
WINE ! Wine, wine, wine … Better not to know how much I drink in a day.
If you invited me to your house for dinner , what would you cook me?
This would be difficult because I have no kitchen at home.
Are you kidding me ! A chef without a kitchen at home?
I’m in the kitchen of my restaurant all day. I eat there. No need to cook at home . If I came home I would serve something raw or heated with a torch.
Max with his brother Stefano in his restaurant Xemei by Cecilia Díaz Betz.
Photos: Cecilia Díaz Betz.