Today we continue our chat with Charles Clark of Ibiza about his time meandering through the Mediterranean.
EOW: You spent some time traveling through Europe learning the Mediterranean cuisine. So help me connect the dots of how you went from riverside fryers and Chinese restaurants in Louisiana to a tour of the Mediterranean to a restaurant in Houston?
Clark: I was waiting tables to put myself through culinary school. After graduating, I knew I wanted to go to Spain but didn't have the means yet. I took a job as an executive chef, which I really wasn't qualified for. It was through that position I met a Spanish couple that offered me a job at their American-themed restaurant in Spain. I thought it would be a Spanish menu with an American twist, but it turned out they were doing hamburgers and hotdogs. So I gave my notice and then toured Spain and Morocco for another year.
EOW: How did you go about learning the intricacies of Spanish cooking during your stay in Spain?
Clark: I focused on the markets and concentrated on how the operators of the tapas bars lived and operated. Most of the tapas bars were owned by an old couple where the man would run the bar and his wife would make the tapas. So there really wasn't a chef. I would try to visit regularly and constantly ask, "What's this? What's that?" I was really interested in how the locals ate and tried to completely immerse myself in the local culture.
EOW: For the travelers in our audience, how would you recommend they accomplish total immersion in the local culture when visiting a foreign country?
Clark: If they're traveling to major metropolitan cities, they should go eat where the policemen and taxi drivers eat. The policemen will know the cheapest places to eat. The cabbies will know the best places to eat. Another little trick I do is I go to local cool, hip hair salons and ask them where's a good place to eat. These guys know where to eat because of their need to be in and out for lunch and their clients give them good advice on where to eat.
Come back tomorrow to learn which dish holds a special spot in Chef Clark's heart and how one would go about making special requests.