Yann de Rochefort-Boqueria

Interview: Yann de Rochefort

After introducing New York to Boqueria back in 2006, owner Yann de Rochefort has now opened several of the Barcelona-inspired tapas bars throughout the city, including the recently opened outpost in the Garment District. In this interview, he tells us how it all started, the secret to running a successful restaurant and his favorite tapas dishes…

Fom a career in corporate marketing to the restaurant industry – how did this come about?

Long before the idea of opening a restaurant – let alone several – became a real project, the genesis of Boqueria had started with repeated exposure to Spanish food and culture. Though I grew up in France, I returned to Spain through my childhood, during boarding school as an adolescent, and later when I was receiving my MBA. I spent time living in both Barcelona and Madrid. Later in life, as a marketing executive, I realized my love affair with Spain went far deeper than the work I was doing for corporate shampoo and liquor brands.  I started hatching a plan to open a Spanish-inspired bar with some friends, and for some reason I didn’t forget it. I opened my first project in 2000, and haven’t left the restaurant industry since.

Boqueria-spread and wineImage credit: Molly Tavoletti

What inspired you to open a Barcelona-style tapas bar in New York?

We opened Boqueria to bring the energy and experience of Barcelona’s tapas bars to NYC. My love of tapas bars has been lifelong – having visited Spain since I was a kid – it’s a fun way to eat which a “regular” meal never was. These experiences and memories inspired me to open Boqueria in 2006 as our take on offering all the fun of tapas bars while elevating the quality of the design and food.

You opened Boqueria’s first location in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood in 2006. Was it always your ambition to open more locations?

Not necessarily. With each Boqueria opening, we’ve really tried to create something new and look at each new location as an opportunity to bring a unique restaurant to the surrounding neighborhood. We choose spaces based on architecture; neighborhoods based on their culture and history, and our main goal is to continue to foster a positive employee culture, so that trickles down to our guests.

boqueria-garment-district-dining-space

What do you think is the secret to Boqueria’s success?

We focus on creating a great culture – we want every employee to feel that they have value and purpose within the organization. We have created a predictable work environment in an industry that is known for turnover, so that staff always knows what to expect. This kind of culture makes for a happy team that’s driven by a shared passion for Boqueria, and this helps to further engage our guests. We also foster a palpable energy in our restaurant and think about the full picture: we love to give our guests an experience where every sense is engaged, from food and drink, to design, to the sounds, smells and feel of the room.

What is your go-to tapas dish?

The gambas al ajillo are usually always on my list when I eat at Boqueria – [chef] Marc has taken a very classic dish to the next level with the addition of reduced lobster stock and brandy. It is now a much more complex and interesting dish than any version of the classic I have had elsewhere.

Boqueria-chicken with vegetables and potatoesImage credit: Molly Tavoletti

Boqueria in in Midtown offers several new dishes on the menu – what are your favorites ones?

I’m very proud of our breakfast menu, and the dishes we’re able to create with our new six-spit rotisserie, including Pollo al’Ast: slow rotisserie-roasted free range organic chicken, roasted potatoes, root vegetables and salsa verde; and Cochinillo al Horno: a whole roasted suckling pig.

Chef Marc Vidal has also debuted his first breakfast menu, offering a Catalan country-style Esmorzars de Forquilla (‘fork breakfast’). What dishes can we expect?

Expect to see dishes that are inspired by leisurely Spanish breakfasts like Revueltos de Gambas: a soft-scramble of shrimp and Guindilla peppers on country toast; and our homage to the NYC staple – the breakfast sandwich – with house-made chorizo, Mahón cheese, sautéed kale and fried egg on an English muffin.

boqueria-platterImage credit: Molly Tavoletti

You just launched your first cookbook – together with chef Vidal. Can you tell us a little more about the idea behind the project?

Our cookbook, Boqueria: A Cookbook, from Barcelona to NYC, published on May 1st. With our first cookbook, chef Marc and I – along with our director of operations Zack Bezunartea – wanted to not only share some of our favorite recipes, but also give people a real sense of what the restaurant is about from the places that inspired it, to stories from the past ten years. It was so fun for us to relive the history of the restaurant and the moments that mean the most to us while writing this book. The recipes are a combination of restaurant favorites made accessible for the home cook (Marc tested everything in his own home kitchen!) and dishes we remember from our respective experiences of living in Barcelona.

Featured image: Yann de Rochefort

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