Electra House’s Alfonso Ales on why he moved to Adelaide

Adelaide entices another big name chef to set up shop here, as former elBulli and Bilson’s chef Alfonso Ales will relocate to Adelaide in January.

Adelaide entices another big name chef to set up shop here, as former elBulli and Bilson’s chef Alfonso Ales will relocate to Adelaide in January to become Executive Chef of the $10 million Electra House project, due to open in February. Once upon a time if you had to name heavyweight South Australian-based cooking identities, the list would have stopped at two – Maggie Beer and Cheong Liew. That’s not the case now. Adelaide is buzzing with prized cooks, from chefs who moved to Adelaide and made their name here with their daring food (Jock Zonfrillo and Duncan Welgemoed) to Andrew Davies, Lachlan Colwill and Jordan Theodoros, to prized recruits (Scott Huggins and Emma McCaskill). And then there are the celebrity chefs who have lent their name to restaurants (Jamie’s Italian and Sean’s Kitchen). Now comes Alfonso Ales with his impressive list of credentials, having worked in some of Europe’s most acclaimed restaurants. The Spanish chef cooked at Spain’s celebrated Michelin three-starred restaurant elBulli, before working in places such as Michel Guérard’s Eugénie-les-Bains. He moved to Australia and became Head Chef at Bilson’s and later helmed Jonah’s on New South Wales’ Palm Beach. Ales says he was planning to move to Adelaide with his family before discussions began with Electra in October. “We wanted to get away from Sydney,” Ales says. “I was in Sydney for five years and it was too hectic and stressful. My wife and I didn’t think it was the right place to bring up our daughter in terms of how stressful the city is; we thought it was a bit much. So we were looking at possibilities to move, and I thought the best conditions were in Adelaide in terms of what we were looking for.” After October, Ales visited Adelaide once a month for a week at a time and he will relocate here in January. Ales will be completely focused on Electra when he moves and won’t consult for other places across the country. “I’m bringing my sous chef from Sydney [Kitak Lee], he worked with me at Bilson’s, and for a couple of years was at Momofuko Seiobo. He was in the same position; he wanted to get away from Sydney as well, so I offered him this project and he is really excited about it.” The ambitious Electra House on King William Street is one of the most exciting and adventurous bar and restaurant projects to ever hit Adelaide. Over three floors, with a capacity of 700, Electra will feature a bar and beer garden on the ground floor, a Mediterranean restaurant (Olea) on level one and function spaces on the top floor. The bar and beer garden will feature tapas, with Ales saying Electra’s will be a global-inspired version of Spanish street food. “The Spanish dishes are there because that’s my influence, Spanish food is what I love the most, but I’ve got to work in many places. I lived in France for years, Germany and a lot of places in America, which will be reflected in the menu. We’re going to have dishes from South America, from the Mediterranean, Spanish dishes and some American BBQ. My sous chef is Korean, so we’ll have some influence from there as well. I want to make it multicultural – like Adelaide, a very multicultural city – the menu will reflect that.” Alfonso Ales Alfonso Ales With the restaurant, Olea, Ales wants to make it an “approachable place”; it won’t be about Michelin stars or chef hats. “I’m from an old world generation, that type of restaurant is gone,” says Ales about fine dining restaurants. “They’re not sustainable anymore. The public doesn’t ask for them because the simple reason is that you can get really good food for a smaller price, with all these wine bars and restaurants that are popping up everywhere. “Where I’m from, Seville, which is a small town, it is much more into street food and tapas. Tapas comes from Seville, the whole concept of sharing food and eating small portions, is from my hometown. There’s not a real culture of restaurants, there are some really good restaurants in Seville, but they are not as popular as tapas bars. I’ve grown up with that culture of simple food based on taste, sharing and having a good time with friends and family. That’s what I love about food – that community feel – and that’s what I’m aiming for with Electra. We are aiming for a restaurant that is affordable and sustainable – where guests can come and feel like they are old friends with us and not have to feel that they are intimated by anything.” One of the reasons Ales was attracted to Adelaide was that the city reminded him of Seville. “Adelaide is the closest Australian city to where I grew up. It’s the same size, it also has one million people, and it has a Mediterranean climate with really hot summers and mild to cold winters. It has very defined seasons, which is something that I was missing living in New South Wales. “I like the fact it’s a very cultural city with lots of festivals and interest in culture, which was something I was really missing. When people asked me what I missed most from Spain, it was always the same things: food, family, friends and culture. People seem to know a lot about food and wine, and the Central Market in the middle of the city – one thing I was missing from Europe was a market where you have all your suppliers and growers in one space. I find that inspiring and I was missing it because there was nothing like that in Sydney, at least not as nice as this one.” electrahouse.com.au

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