Chef profile - Nick Hill, of the Hispanist in Hull

Since opening the Hispanist last year, in the ornate Victorian surroundings of Hull’s Paragon Arcade, Nick Hill has seen both trade and reputation increase exponentially.

The Hispanist in Hull. (Dave Lee).

Now reopened after the lockdown, Nick and partner Alex Spurr offer authentic Hispanic dishes inspired by the best food from Spain, Mexico and across South America. The building is a former sweet shop so everything is prepared and cooked in the downstairs store-front area and served upstairs in a labyrinthine series of rooms.

Nick’s passion for Hispanic food began during visits to Spain in his pre-teens. After taking Hispanic Studies at university, he relocated to Valdepeñas in the interior Ciudad Real region to teach cooking and English to the locals. He also worked in restaurants in the region before attending catering college back in the UK. He then earned his culinary spurs at several restaurants in Hull.

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Despite the setback of the virus regulations, the Hispanist is already back doing a brisk trade – which is no mean feat considering the snug nature of the dining rooms.

A light lemon curd topped with sable (cookie) crumb and surrounded by a teepee of salted lime caramel shards, is typical of Nicks handiwork. (Dave Lee).

Can you remember the first dish you ever cooked – and was it a success? I remember joining an after-school cookery club in primary school. We used to bake cakes and scones and, if I remember rightly, chicken curry with a jar sauce. At home, I recall attempting to cook a Sunday roast but it didn’t end well. I ended up in A&E needing stitches.

Who is your inspiration in the kitchen and why? The chef who inspires me most would be Enrique Olvera, head chef and owner of Pujol in Mexico City. I would never try to replicate his dishes but his attitude towards food is what inspires me. He’s a storyteller and he creates a link to his culture and history through food. Although the food I cook isn’t a link to my own culture, it is a link to my story. Olvera tells you everything about himself through his food, I want to do the same; to state who I am, where I’ve been and what I love. His books are the ones I spend most of my spare time reading.

What was the first recipe book you ever owned? I can’t quite remember the first recipe book I owned but I remember the first book I bought myself was Gordon Ramsay’s Secrets. I cooked his pommes dauphinoise and I couldn’t believe food could taste that good.

If you organised a dinner party, which three people would you invite and why? First up would be Claudia Roden, author of The Food of Spain. I’d love to cook for somebody like that. She’s another storyteller and somebody who drew me further into the world of Spanish cooking. I’d like to thank her for a book that I’ve gone back to over and over again. Secondly, Keith Floyd, who is sadly no longer with us. I used to watch his programmes as a small boy and be mesmerised by him – a six-year-old wanting to be a middle-aged, middle-class, British eccentric, bow tie and all. Next, speaking of cooks who mesmerise, Marco Pierre White. He totally blew my mind when I first saw his Cooking with Marco show, where he cooks for his four mentors. He was 27 and owned a three Michelin- starred restaurant. I thought he was god.

What is your favourite ingredient and why? An obvious one, but winter truffle. I might be from a council estate in east Hull but even I know there is nothing that can’t be improved with a shaving of Italian winter truffle. Every time I taste it, it’s like the first time all over again.

What did you get up to during lockdown? I spent the first few weeks worrying about where it would leave the business and how I would be able to get back to work. I went on a cookbook spree, I collect them, so with idle hands and an Amazon account, I spent a pretty penny.

As we came towards the end of the lockdown, I started menu-planning, something I swore I was going to spend all of lockdown doing, but Netflix got in the way.

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James Mitchinson