A native of San Sebastián, chef Luis Bollo has perfected his craft at various Michelin-starred restaurants throughout Spain. Named “Chef of the Year” by Esquire, Bollo has been credited with bringing modern Spanish cuisine to New York. As his Chelsea-based restaurant Salinas celebrates its 5-year anniversary, we caught up with this longtime Jersey City resident to get his take on Spanish cuisine in the U.S. and the cultural revival occurring in Jersey City.
How long have you been a Jersey City resident and what part of Jersey City do you currently live in?
Chef Luis Bollo: I lived in Newport from 1999 to 2005. Then we moved to the Grove Street downtown area where my wife and I have been living since then.
What attracted you to Jersey City instead of New York or Brooklyn?
LB: I like the urban, multicultural feel of Jersey City. Another reason why we chose to live in Jersey City is because my wife works at Rutgers in New Brunswick. It’s easier for her to commute from Jersey City than from Brooklyn or Queens.
You’ve worked at numerous Michelin-starred restaurants all across Spain. Why did you open Salinas in New York City?
LB: I think New Yorkers appreciate what other cultures can contribute to their own. New Yorkers are in essence multicultural and have sophisticated tastes for culture. This made me believe that what I can offer would be well received.
What I have done at Salinas is to use tapas and paella as a genre and tweak the tradition with new techniques in order to create new dishes that are different, yet still familiar.
Salinas is celebrating its 5-year anniversary. How difficult has it been to get diners to look beyond paellas and sangria when it comes to Spanish cuisine?
LB: I think tapas and paellas are both clichés [of Spanish cuisine] and also an important gateway for Spanish chefs to introduce other kinds of Spanish cuisine to New York diners. What I have done thus far at Salinas is to use tapas and paella as a genre and tweak the tradition with new techniques in order to create new dishes that are different, yet still somewhat familiar.
What region or cuisine of Spain do you think is most underrepresented in the U.S.?
LB: I think the food from the Canary Islands has great potential because it reflects the many cultures that have cohabited on the islands, such as Guanche, Venezuelan, African, Japanese, Indian, and Korean.
Being Basque [Chef Luis is originally from San Sebastian], I also think Basque cuisine can be explored from new angles. One way would be through a Basque steak house.
I would certainly consider opening a restaurant in Jersey City. What concerns me most is that the cost for a liquor license in New Jersey is high and there are not many available.
Jersey City is undergoing a renaissance. Would you ever consider opening a restaurant in Jersey City?
LB: Of course, I would certainly consider opening a restaurant in Jersey City if a great opportunity arises. As said in The New York Times, Jersey City is becoming the next Williamsburg in terms of artistic vibrancy and demography. But what concerns me most when considering opening a restaurant is that the cost for a liquor license in New Jersey is high and there are not many available. For this reason, it is hard to conceive a restaurant that does not emphasize liquor sales. At the same time, it’s difficult to create a successful BYOB gastronomic restaurant without sizable liquor sales, as we saw in the case of Thirty Acres.
What do you like to cook at home and where do you recommend going for quality Spanish ingredients?
LB: I enjoy when my wife cooks since I spend my whole day cooking. If I have to cook, I prefer cooking something that is not Spanish. I like playing with other cuisines and add my own interpretations. I get quality Spanish ingredients from Despaña on Broome Street in Manhattan.
Esquire just named Jersey City’s “Dullboy” one of the best bars in the U.S. Where do you like to go locally for drinks and food?
LB: I don’t usually have too much time to go out for beer. When I can, I like going to Zeppelin Hall Biergarten to watch soccer games while having nice German beers. Plus, it’s right in front of where I live.
Salinas | 136 9th Avenue (btwn 18th & 19th St) | www.salinasnyc.com
(Images: Salinas, Michael Tulipan)