Meet one of the most original and innovative Chefs. Before creating DStage, Diego Guerrero trained in the kitchen of Martin Berasategui, el Bulli, and Goizeko Kabi. Allard Club won two Michelin stars while under Diego’s supervision as a head chef. Not only does he experiment with food in a way not often seen in haute cuisine, but he doesn’t forget about his basque roots while inventing a new way of serving known dishes. His “egg with bread and pancetta” caused him to win the Pil Pil Award for Basque Gastronomy.
The Best Chef: Let’s start at the beginning.
Diego Guerrero: When I was born?
The Best Chef: No 🙂 When you became a Chef! How did it happen?
Diego Guerrero: I was 18 and I had to choose a career to go to university. I didn’t know what to do, I was a little bit lost. I couldn’t decide between art (I used to draw at that time) and journalism (I was also writing). Cooking was my last choice and I didn’t know why I even thought about it. Maybe because gastronomy is such an important tradition in my country? My grandmothers, my mum, and my aunts used to cook very well, but not professionally. My parents asked me: “Why do you want to be a chef?” I didn’t know how to answer so I said: “I want to.” As you can see it started casually. But in the very first years, I felt comfortable with the values, the philosophy, and being with the team working towards the same goal, this feeling… It was good for me. That was one of the first things that made me fall in love with gastronomy.
The Best Chef: You’re originally not from Madrid. You’re Basque. How did it affect your career and what made you come to Madrid?
Diego Guerrero: It started with a school in Bilbao, then I became a trainee in a Martin Berasategui. After that, during the third year of the school, I went to train in a traditional basque restaurant, very successful in Bilbao. When I turned 20 they offered to continue my apprenticeship in their restaurant in Madrid, but my parents didn’t have a lot of money so I decided to start working in this restaurant and became a trainee elsewhere. My first experience with Madrid was very good. At 23 I had to come home to do some community work which was an alternative to military service. At the same time, I was offered a head chef job in a small village in my country. So at 23, I became a head chef. I didn’t know how to do it, but I tried. I stayed there for three years and was offered to come back to Madrid, which I did, because the big city offered more opportunities.
The Best Chef: DStage was opened in 2014, right?
Diego Guerrero: Yeah, I was running that restaurant in Madrid for 12 years, we were winning many prizes, stars, and we were successful, but I didn’t feel comfortable there, so I quit in 2013, and in 2014, I decided to open DStage.
The Best Chef: What is the idea behind DStage?
Diego Guerrero: Basically to tell the story in our own way. To tell how we see luxury, and how we see gastronomy. To talk about going back to my roots and my values – why I became a chef. I did it because I wanted to tell stories. That’s why in the past I was drawing, writing, and cooking. It was my way of expression. I didn’t want to forget why I became a chef. Because when you are successful, win all kinds of prizes, there are many people behind your work, you may feel like a prisoner in your own gilded cage. I needed to be free again, and express myself in the way I wanted. I thought it was the right moment to do it – I had some years of experience, some knowledge, and I knew how I want to run a restaurant, how I want to tell the story.
The Best Chef: Your cuisine at DStage is very special. You play a lot, I remember when we were here things were inverted – a dessert didn’t feel like a regular dessert. How do you create your cuisine, what is your inspiration?
Diego Guerrero: The best experience I want is when we can transmit, tell the guests about some concept, about the knowledge, and send them some messages, but at the same time, we can make them play a little bit, make them think, surprise them. We don’t give them enough information, we let them play first and tell the story after. People that come here have to feel something different from what a regular haute cuisine restaurant is, and what it’s supposed to be. I don’t want it to be what it’s supposed to be. To be different, more alternative, more connected to us – this is our main goal.
The Best Chef: So it’s like an experience for the guests. You don’t want to serve a regular meal, you want to give them something to make them think.
Diego Guerrero: Yes. Actually, we try to have as few rules as possible because with fewer rules we can be more creative. And for that, we have created this space. To do what we want, but to do what we think is the best way to do it. We don’t lose the intensity, the concentration of all this, we are always doing our best. We don’t want to make you feel bored here. We don’t want to make you say: “It was good.” “But was it good or not? Like others?” No, I don’t want to be like others. I want you to say: “It was different!” This is my goal.
The Best Chef: Yes, that is also my experience – the meal that I tried was something vastly different! We visited many restaurants and yours stands out because of the concept, techniques, and product. It was something different!
Diego Guerrero: Thank you! This is the best compliment we can have as a team. To do something different you have to take a risk. When you take a risk, you can fall. You can fail, but at the same time, you can succeed. But you constantly feel that you’re alive. You feel that you’re doing something that makes sense. If you do what you’re told to do, do it like the others… Well, that would make me feel sad. This is important for me – to be authentic.
The Best Chef: DStage as a restaurant is a part of an entire concept. Can you tell me about other elements?
Diego Guerrero: At the very beginning, in 2014, we started DStage with a lot of bookings, a lot of work, very high speed of working, so we decided to close on the weekends to give the team more life quality. A year after we decided to open our creativity spot – DStudio, because we realize that to make this brand work for years, at this speed, we have to, you know, to keep up the strength, to have the muscles to do it. Our muscle is creativity. So we had to invest the money we didn’t have in a lab, we started to work even more with creativity, and that’s how DSpot was born. The first DSpot was established in 2016. In 2019, we opened DSpeak. I don’t like to say that it’s our casual restaurant, because I don’t feel like this is casual. I feel like it’s the little brother. But this is another way of telling people who we are. Because we are many things. We are not only one thing. This is one version of what we are, and DSpeak is another version of what we are. But the philosophy is the same, the same team because all the people train in both places. The philosophy has always been to be the most sustainable that we can be and to have DSpot close to DStage. To have DSpeak close to DStage, to have Dpickle room – the cocktail bar – close as well. Everything is in the same neighborhood, allowing us to do a circular economy. We can be zero waste food and be sustainable with all the things we do… and be in touch with all the projects at the same time.
The Best Chef: Your mission is sustainability. Things you don’t use here you use in, for example, DPickle?
Diego Guerrero: Yes, I’m trying to use 100% of the products. For example yesterday we got Bonito del Norte, so we use the heads, the hearts, and the brains here, but the meat goes to DSpeak as a dish for the summer season. We take all of the parts and use them in different places. These ideas come from DSpot. This is how we work here. We use parts that would be thrown away in a regular haute cuisine restaurant. And even though what people call “the best part” of Bonito goes to DSpeak, here we have caviar – it’s one big menu, it’s one story about Bonito. Here (in DStage) things are weirder, more theoretical, more conceptual, more philosophical, more about trying to take you out of your references: of your taste references, of your memories, of your culture. We try to give you different things and make you fight with your senses, fight with your thoughts. So that’s why here I can use the parts that another restaurant would usually throw away. Because here I want you to think, apart from eating. I want things to happen to you.
The Best Chef: Apart from this type of sustainability, you mentioned we can focus on social sustainability. You were one of the first Chefs to close a restaurant on the weekends for the team’s better work-life balance.
Diego Guerrero: You can’t say that you want to be sustainable with the planet and not be sustainable with your team – your little planet. My planet begins here, my world begins here. When I quit the other restaurant I was scared, because I left all the work that I’d done and what I’d fought for for twelve years. But at the same time, I felt free. I told myself to try to hold on to this feeling as much as possible. When we opened DStage we tried to conquer our freedom. This is our place of freedom. Why can’t we break the rules? Why can’t we close on the weekends if that would make the team happier? But when the pandemic came we were scared because of the money, because we were closed. When we opened again we said: “We need to recover – the muscles and the strength.” But how can we manage to make the team happy? They felt scared, they were at home for months. I felt I had the responsibility to make them feel secure, and create a safe space. So here we decided to change the timing and now we close for 3 days: Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Doing something different doesn’t always mean with the dishes. Your life is more than a dish.
The Best Chef: Nowadays in gastronomy, there are discussions about the number of hours of work at the expense of your private life.
Diego Guerrero: It’s already changing. Young people are going to show us, regardless of whether we want them to, what the future is going to be. Because they are the future. We developed our habits of working this much years ago. But the times are changing, they always are. The world is constantly rushing. We don’t think about why we run. I run because you run. Maybe if I can make you stop, if we can be a little bit slower, we can look around, and see new things, look into people’s eyes and see new things, not only the cellphone and social media. It may be a little naive, but we have to think about it seriously. There is only one life and I’m 47. I want to live and enjoy it with my team. I don’t want to run without knowing why.
The Best Chef: And being in a rush is bad for creativity.
Diego Guerrero: In this small world, DStage, I try to learn this every day, because then I remember why I created DSpot: creativity needs to go with another speed than the restaurant’s speed. Here we have little time to do mise en place because people are going to be having lunch at 1:30. So we need constant speed and focus. Time does not exist in DSpot. We think there. We think about an apple: what do we know about apples, how many of them are there, what are the best apples and why… We try to learn as much as possible about something so that we can ask the questions: “What can we do differently?”, “How can we tell people about it at DStage or DSpeak or DPickle?” and “What have we learned?” And to do that you cannot rush. You have to take your time.
The Best Chef: What are your plans for the future?
Diego Guerrero: I don’t care much about the future. I care about the present. I believe deeply in enjoying the day. I believe a lot in intuition. The only thing I know is that I don’t want to do things that don’t make me happy or make me feel comfortable. I don’t have to be happy all the time, but I have to be comfortable with myself, be honest with myself, not lie to myself because I don’t want to lie to anyone. So I have to feel free, feel comfortable, and we’ll see what happens. Why do I love my job? Why do I love what I’m doing? I can grow and I don’t have any limits. But I also don’t have ambitions like: “I have to build 3 restaurants, one in a year.” The ambition I have is to surprise myself every day, and to surprise my team with the things we discover. Now we are curing fish with rice and seeing what happens. This for me is magic, little things. This is DStage. This is to amaze, grow, and enjoy. This is how I want to be every day, surprised like a child and always in touch with these emotions. That’s it!
The Best Chef: Any new DPlaces in mind?
Diego Guerrero: Maybe. Why not? But we don’t have plans, we float. People ask me “Why don’t you do this?” “Didn’t you think about that?” No, I didn’t think about that, but now I can, you gave me an idea. I didn’t have this ambition, but now – why not. But I don’t rush to do it. Tomorrow is tomorrow. I live in the present.
The Best Chef: Last question. Why D? Why D-stage?
Diego Guerrero: Well, I was thinking about a name – it had to be different because the philosophy was to be different. Stage – because we are on the stage, we give concerts, two shows a day to different audiences. The songs are the dishes, we are the actors. And the letter D… my family, my friends told me: “It’s your first restaurant, you need to put your name in it!” And I was shy, I didn’t want big letters. If you want to have your name written in big letters, visible to everyone, maybe you should go to the psychiatrist. So I put in the D, like “the”, I turned it a little bit so it looked more like G – my surname is Guerrero. And the name suits the philosophy – you ate here so you know that there is a lot of work behind something that looks simple!