By Hannah Connolly
ood memories are some of the most prominent of our lives, dinner with a loved one, a childhood treat or a holiday with orders shared amongst friends. These moments stay with us, not just because of the food but the world in which a plate inhabits at that specific moment in time.
Making food memories for countless diners is Nieves Barragán Mohacho, a chef and restaurateur who over the course of her career has not only garnered two Michelin stars but altered the perception of the dining experience.
“I never understood why kitchens were hiding,” she tells me over the phone. We caught up during the mini heatwave that saw Londoners flock in their droves to alfresco dining spots, parks and markets across the city to bask in the first wave of spring sunshine.
Nieves is a key proponent of the open kitchen movement, putting the joy of dining at the forefront. “When you can see it, hear it and smell it as its cooking, that is the magic.” In what she describes to me as the ‘show,’ this all-access set-up fosters a unique experience that elevates every mouthful.
This approach is best exemplified in the layout of her Michelin Star restaurant Sabor, one of the city's most beloved dining spots. A restaurant that came to life through the love of Spanish cooking.
"I think it is about the open kitchen, showing and understanding being a chef is not only about men."
“I like stewing and braising, we have what we call a “spoon dish”, this can be rice and beans. This is my cooking style when I am at home.” Which, in essence, is the beating heart of Sabor, explaining to me “I think what we created with Sabor, with the counter which is more tapas-style, with the bar and then Sabor is the traditional Spanish cuisines, it is what people make at home.”
Like so many of us, Nieves' favourite meal is one cooked by her mother: “my mum always made this stew, and people think rabbit is dry but I don’t know what my mum does but it is delicious and always so juicy. I have tried to do it myself and it is never the same.” She laughs as she tells me this and it strikes a chord, perhaps it is the love or generations of shared recipes but the soul placed in food cooked by a loved one is difficult to replicate.
But where did it all begin? Sports and graphic design were both on the horizon but food always remained a constant. “When I was young I was very sporty, but my mum was a very good cook and she was always talking about food and I was always going to the market with her.”
“I decided to come to London because my friend called me and I started working in a French restaurant and then I fell in love with London. I fell in love because I started to recognise and understand different ingredients from all around the world.”
It was from here that Nieves began to put the puzzle pieces together that led to her first Michelin Star at beloved tapas spot Barrafina acting as executive chef, to opening Sabor where she earned her second star and now, the opening of Saborcito.
"When you can see it, hear it and smell it as it's cooking, that is the magic.”
With just 17% of executive chef positions being held by women, Nieves is a beacon to an industry striving for change. I asked her about this and like with every question a sense of tangible passion flowed through our conversation.
“It is slowly moving forward, there are more girls, more women chefs. But how do we encourage? I think it is about the open kitchen, showing and understanding that being a chef is the same for women and men.”
She adds the importance of flexible working but ultimately her point was clear, it is about showcasing the beauty and the impact of passion.
“For me, Sabor is fun and that is the way it should be. Every day is different, you have new ingredients or a new dish to create and you need to keep it inspiring and inspired. It is not easy, don’t get me wrong, it's stressful, it's busy, it’s hot but you need to look at the other side, for me, I can't imagine doing anything else.”
“That is what inspires me every day and what we can do to encourage people. It is a beautiful job and that is what we need to show to encourage women – for me it is my dream.”
Sabor](https://www.saborrestaurants.co.uk/) is available for booking now.
At the precipice of a new opening, we caught up with the Head Chef of Sabor on her journey, the magic of an open kitchen and how to get more women in executive positions
By Hannah Connolly
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