I’m having lunch at the Royal Academy of Arts, where Spanish chef José Pizarro has just opened two restaurants. The first, the Poster Bar on the ground floor, is ideal for a quick bite. “Always what I love,” Pizarro urges, “is pincho de tortilla with bread and coffee. Or a glass of cava if it’s not too early.” The second, in the Senate Room upstairs, is called José Pizarro and is more of a sit-down affair with a long bar, tall windows and Italianate decorative panelling.

Face to Face, 2020, by Eva Beresin hangs over a mantelpiece in Pizarro’s London home
Face to Face, 2020, by Eva Beresin hangs over a mantelpiece in Pizarro’s London home © Max Miechowski
Lluvia, from the series Tribute to Rain, by Gabriel Giménez
Lluvia, from the series Tribute to Rain, by Gabriel Giménez © Max Miechowski

When Pizarro was approached about taking over the spaces earlier this year, he was struck by how Spanish they felt. “Downstairs is like one of those little bars in Spain with bullfighting posters on the wall,” he says. “Upstairs is like the casinos in Madrid, where everyone goes to meet.” His Spanish tapas menu is the perfect fit. My lunch upstairs consists of a succession of small plates as vibrant and winning as any of the Hockney works in an adjoining exhibition.

Cinco Jotas Jamón Ibérico, ensaladilla rusa and Puerros quemados (confit leeks in burnt butter with Catalina Reserva salted anchovy)
Cinco Jotas Jamón Ibérico, ensaladilla rusa and Puerros quemados (confit leeks in burnt butter with Catalina Reserva salted anchovy) © Max Miechowski
Napkins illustrated by Norman Ackroyd and Tracey Emin
Napkins illustrated by Norman Ackroyd and Tracey Emin © Max Miechowski

There’s a pan con tomate that is pleasingly soggy with the pulp of Catalan tomatoes; a plate of jamón ibérico that glistens with ribbons of fat and coral-red meat; large white prawns spooning in a pool of garlicky chilli juices; confit leeks topped with curls of mellow Catalina Reserva anchovy; prim rectangles of truffle and Ermesenda cheese sandwiches; and a trifecta of desserts – a chocolate pot with sea salt and extra-virgin olive oil; green apple sorbet with basil oil; and lemon ice cream with PX vinegar reduction – that I savour alternately, a teaspoon at a time.

Coloured Etching by Norman Ackroyd hanging in a bedroom 
Coloured Etching by Norman Ackroyd hanging in a bedroom  © Max Miechowski
“Cooking and art go well together…” Pizarro with some of his art collection
“Cooking and art go well together…” Pizarro with some of his art collection © Max Miechowski

Four ways to cook like an artist

The Kitchen Studio (Phaidon, £29.95)

With an introduction by chef Massimo Bottura, this book brings together personal recipes (with fascinating doodles, paintings and iPhone snaps) from more than 70 artists including Christian Holstad (persimmon parfait), Vik Muniz (ravioli all’ uovo) and Subodh Gupta (jungli maas). Is it a cookbook or artbook, asks Bottura. Both.

Cooking for Artists, by Mina Stone (Kiito-San, £35) 

Mina Stone has cooked for Urs Fischer, gallerist Gavin Brown and painter Elizabeth Peyton, and runs the restaurant Mina’s at MoMA PS1 in Queens. This book – and her latest, Lemon, Love & Olive Oil – is filled with dishes inspired by her Greek heritage, such as Greek fried eggs and saffron rice.

Arty Parties: An Entertaining
Cookbook, by Julia Sherman (
Abrams, $40) 

From the creator/author of Salad For President (a blog and cookbook about the kitchens, gardens and workplaces of artists and their favourite salads) comes this sequel on how to host like an artist, with easy-to-follow party recipes like cucumbers with tahini and sriracha and grilled romaine with celery-kumquat salsa.

Studio Olafur Eliasson:
The Kitchen (Phaidon, £35)

Drawn from the lunches that Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson cooks with guests in his studio kitchen in Berlin, this book combines more than 100 vegetarian recipes (including bifun rice-noodle salad, Tuscan kale risotto and winter root soup) with poetry and philosophical musing

I get to try more dishes, including a devilishly creamy Russian salad and a Basque cheesecake, at Pizarro’s house in south London, where I’ve come to see his own extensive art collection. For while this collaboration with the Royal Academy makes good business sense – Pizarro already owns two restaurants in Bermondsey, one in Broadgate and a pub in Surrey, and this affords him the perfect spot in central London – the residency means more to him because he is so passionate about art.

It was at his two restaurants, José Tapas Bar and Pizarro Restaurant, up the road from White Cube Bermondsey, that his interest in the subject was first piqued. The gallery’s artists and staff would use his restaurants like a canteen. He cooked dinners at the gallery too, including a feast for 165 to mark the opening of Gilbert & George’s The Beard Pictures and Their Fuckosophy exhibition in 2017. The irreverent artists insisted on having carabineros prawns, so they could instruct their guests on how best to eat them, namely by sucking the heads.

Pizarro enjoys spending time with artists (“A glass of wine with Anselm Kiefer. Can you imagine?”). He asks about their work. He is inspired to buy. Now, his house is filled with works by White Cube alumni including Antony Gormley, Eddie Peake and Harland Miller as well as artists from other galleries such as Angela de la Cruz, Celia Hempton, France-Lise McGurn, Allen Jones and Alberto Reguera. Tracey Emin, now a close friend, was a key influence. Pizarro remembers gifting her a first edition of his first cookbook like a fanboy when she came into the restaurant. She later reciprocated by giving him one of her prints. Now he owns several of her works, including a bronze cat, given to him after he threw a dinner for her and Picasso’s biographer Sir John Richardson, and a maquette of her 9m-high bronze sculpture The Mother, soon to be installed in Oslo. Pizarro gets most emotional, however, talking about a collaborative work with Louise Bourgeois called Waiting For You, which Emin gave him for his 50th birthday a few days before my visit. Apparently, both chef and artist were in floods of tears.

Perhaps surprisingly, few works in Pizarro’s collection touch on food. There is COOKING by Peter Blake; a work by Joseph Kosuth featuring a chicken pecking at a KFC box; and a ceramic bowl by Urara Tsuchiya, commissioned by Pizarro’s psychotherapist fiancé, Peter, whose dome is covered with Pizarro’s favourite seafood (squid, scallop, clams). Turn it over, and you discover what looks like an orgy, featuring Pizarro and a giant crab among other participants. “It’s not something you show your mum,” he remarks.

Over the kitchen table hangs another provocative work, a self-portrait by Finnish artist Iiu Susiraja. It shows her lying on a bed with a glitterball, some sausages between her legs and a bottle of ketchup hanging from her mouth. When Pizarro asked her to explain the work, she texted back a “recipe” for how her art is made, including the following ingredients: “1 roundish girl, 1 everyday life equipment, 1 sack of dry humour.” 

“Cooking and art go well together,” concludes Pizarro, though he can’t exactly say why. Is it the shared creativity? Do chefs and artists both thrive off “feeding” people? Or is it a simpler bond? “I love to cook for people. I love entertaining,” says Pizarro, “and food brings friendship.” 

@ajesh34

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