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Villa Mercedes: Life on a plate

Where does the inspiration for an outstanding menu come from? NATIV sat down with Iván Acquista, head chef at Villa Mercedes, to find out.
© Álex Soto

Tell us a little about your earliest food memories from home.
I remember the whole family getting together around a table in my grandma’s house. She was a great cook – she used to do rice, pasta dishes or anything really. For her it was an excuse to have all the family together. I also have a very clear memory of my mum’s empanadas and my dad always cooking meat. Both of my parents have their own restaurants so I come from a background where food was a very important part of our lives.

Do you remember your first time cooking in the kitchen?
As a child I remember helping my father on Sunday mornings prepare food for lunch for the whole family. But my first real kitchen memories are from Granada when I came to Spain almost 20 years ago. That’s where I started to learn how to cook produce from the sea.

Who was your biggest food influence as a child?
The biggest influence for me was my grandma. She comes from Valencia, so we ate loads of rice and Spanish dishes in general, but we also often had French food, Italian. Becoming a chef I was influenced by the whole environment I lived in – everything is inspiring in some way.

When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
I never really thought or dreamed of being a chef. It was totally normal for me to always be around food, growing up in an environment of people being passionate about cooking, but only in recent years have I understood that food, the kitchen and cooking are my true passions. Cooking for others, making them enjoy something, and making them happy.

Can you tell us a couple of eureka moments from your food travels?
In 2022 we organised an event in Budapest with the legendary chef Rafa Zafra at MTV for 150 people. It was really interesting as loads of important people from the hospitality industry attended. One of the biggest moments was to work on an event with Albert Adrià [of El Bulli and Tickets fame], who also used to be my boss and taught me how to be a professional chef.

Which meals, restaurants and influences stand out?
Each cuisine is very different and influences a chef from a different perspective. My biggest influences are Ferran Adrià and Albert Adrià and what they created in El Bulli, then Sergi Arola and I also like what Francis Mallmann does. And I love David Muñoz. Inspirational restaurants on the island for me are: Los Enamorados, Sushiya Aoyama and Sa Nansa. A meal that stands out: chicken Milanese with mash potato (this dish is very special for me) and I am a big fan of matured and fermented things in the kitchen.

Name three key ingredients you could not be without.
Garlic, olive oil and pimentón de la Vera.

Is there a dish at Villa Mercedes that sums up your food philosophy more than any other? 
It would be the empanada with pancetta and caviar – empanada because of my Argentinian roots and caviar represents the sea.

How do you see your food repertoire evolving in the future? 
It all depends on the evolution of the full team: I think we can learn from one another and grow together to give the best culinary experience possible to our customers. What I would like to do in the future is to introduce techniques I have learnt with my brother Adrián and apply them to dishes where we would combine them with traditional cuisine – which is easy to say but harder to do as there needs to be a certain harmony!

Passeig de la Mar, 14 07820 Sant Antoni de Portmany Eivissa (Illes Balears), Spain.
T. 971 348 543. @villamercedesibz