‘Freelance chef’ Emma Warren on Spanish cuisine, and her sliding doors moment

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Emma Warren.

Emma Warren has definitely had her sliding doors moment. At 21 she got a two-year working visa to the UK. She wanted to go via Japan which meant her choices for flying to Europe on JAL were Zurich, Paris, Madrid, Rome and Barcelona.

“I chose Barcelona for no other reason than it was on the beach,” Warren recalls.

Fast forward to today and Warren has just completed her second Spanish cookbook, Islas – Food of the Spanish Islands.

Had Warren chosen any other European city options her life may have been very different.

Even a week before she was to leave for Barcelona she was at a friend’s wedding and bumped into a school friend, Martina. “We got talking and Martina said she was moving to Barcelona to study and she said come and stay with me,” Warren said.

“I’d studied horticulture at uni so I began working on organic farms for a couple of months. I knew no Spanish at all so was basically mute for a year. It was the most humbling, scary thing ever.”

After returning from organic farming, Warren had another friend who was holidaying in Greece who was about to go to Mallorca to work in his auntie’s boutique hotel. “I worked as a breakfast chef at the hotel for three months.

“I had no cooking experience and hadn’t even really cooked for myself and to cook en masse in a commercial kitchen was very demanding at the start.

“But I was awestruck by the work and how much fun it was. We cooked with seasonal island produce – food that I had never seen before.

“I was awestruck by the work and how much fun it was. We cooked with seasonal island produce – food that I had never seen before.”

“After three months I moved back to Barcelona and Martina. A couple of days later we were sitting in a bar and we saw an expat friend. He said they were looking for someone in the kitchen and that I should ask to see if they would employ me. I did and they said can you start on Wednesday.

“I stayed until the end of the year and then decided to finally head off to London where my boyfriend was.

“I lasted two months and went back to Spain and lived there for four years. I met my future husband, now ex-husband there and when we broke up I went back to Australia.”

Warren set up a Spanish restaurant at The Spanish Club in Johnston St, Fitzroy. For four of the next 10 years she lived in Spain.

In 2016 Warren helped friend and fellow chef Karen Martini set up a restaurant in Ibiza. The two have worked together now for many years.

Her first book, The Catalan Kitchen, was published last year. Writing Islas was a juggle, having just had her son, Hector. “I normally write in long blocks but was writing in 30 minute intervals mainly at night.”

Islas showcases Warren’s passion for an often-neglected cuisine from humble villages in recipes handed down from generation to generation.

Warren describes herself as a freelance chef, working with the high-profile Martini and also Matt Preston in developing recipes for their books, as well as working on large events. She also helps with recipe development for some of the major food producers.

A third book? “I’m having a break. It has been pretty full on and want to spend some time with my family.”

Islas, Food of the Spanish Islands is published by Smith Street Books and is available at all good book stores for $49.99.

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