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Adolfo Jaime with the last gazpachuelo he prepared at the Balneario. Salvador Salas
Adolfo, the veteran chef from Malaga, retires after almost 70 years in the kitchen and serves up his last gazpachuelo
Interview

Adolfo, the veteran chef from Malaga, retires after almost 70 years in the kitchen and serves up his last gazpachuelo

He will surely go down in local restaurant history for having been the one who pushed hard for the restoration and return to splendour of the Baños del Carmen spa, one of the most iconic places in the city centre

Ignacio Lillo

Malaga

Friday, 3 May 2024, 16:15

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He's preparing his last gazpachuelo, a distinctly Malaga dish whose recipe is a key benchmark in many great kitchens. And he does it in what has been his home since 2015, the Balneario restaurant. In fact, after almost 70 years in the kitchen he could be praised for many things in his professional career, but the one that will surely go down in local restaurant history is for having been the architect pushing for the restoration and return to splendour of the Baños del Carmen spa, one of the most iconic places in the city centre.

Adolfo Jaime, the doyen of Malaga's restaurateurs, has retired. He hung up his jacket this week at the age of 81 (he will turn 82 in December). When he arrived for the first time at this forgotten part of Pedregalejo there was much to do as it was a cardboard city for the homeless, a place marked by decades of neglect. Now he leaves with the restaurant's reservation book full, with dozens of weddings and social events scheduled for the events season, and with a permanent team of more than 60 staff between kitchen and dining room that rises to over 80 from this month as high season commences.

The veteran cook, reflected in the lid of his tureen of gazpachuelo.
The veteran cook, reflected in the lid of his tureen of gazpachuelo. Salvador Salas

He is proud to be able to say that they serve a thousand diners for lunch and another thousand for dinner on the busiest days. He adds that his team, forged in the sort of 'culinary school' that he has created there, is so well-oiled that they are capable of serving 200 gazpachuelos, a dish that cannot be kept on the go, it must be prepared on the spot and served up immediately.

"This is my life, it's like a drug, I love my profession with all my heart; I would have liked to die in the kitchen"

Hardly surprising then that, on 1 May, they already had more than 400 diners booked in, with many more for the weekend. "The staff I have here are to be highly valued, because they give their heart and soul. When I said goodbye to them, I didn't have the words to say goodbye, because I'm never going to say it." His workers are left with his great example, because he was always the first to arrive and the last to leave, sometimes working from seven in the morning to one in the morning the next day. All that and only one day off a week.

He leaves despite not wanting to

The chef admits that he is leaving with a heavy heart, and it is not because his strength is failing him. He would not leave if it were not for the fact that his wife and family need him to spend more time at home. "This is my life, it's like a drug, I love my profession with all my heart; I would have liked to have died in the kitchen", he says with the determination of his first day at work. Yet at the same time he acknowledges that he owes them the many hours he has not spent with family, above all to his wife, Mari Carmen (77), his two children and his three grandchildren. "Here I have no fixed time to go home, but I cannot leave my wife alone for so many hours."

It is his last day, but Adolfo still shows us his hands covered with dough, after having coated some prawns and mint in batter for frying to a crisp. The very same hands with which he started work tending to the charcoal-fired cookers at the age of 12 in the now defunct Hotel Cataluña in Plaza del Obispo. Those hands would be blackened with charcoal as he loaded the fuel for the fire. "And I know less and less every day, because now there are new techniques and equipment", he says in a humble voice.

A master of masters

From now on he will cook very little, as at home his wife has always been in charge of what goes on the table. "Don't ask me what I'm going to do, I don't even want to think about it because I haven't slept for a week now knowing that I'm not going to come here every morning", he sighs.

But his head is buzzing with projects, and the first ones will happen at the hands of his friend Fernando Rueda, president of the Gastroarte association, who has come to help him in his last hours at the helm of the business. They are already planning events and meetings in which he will once again don his chef's gear, although this time he will be in charge of giving the orders as to when dishes will be served.

"Cooking has wormed its way into my life and it won't go away; I'm going to do stuff and keep in touch with my colleagues". In fact, most of the young chefs in Malaga regard him as their teacher and benchmark.

"We have created a school in the Balneario without realising it; here I leave a good legacy as a culinary concept, as much in the kitchen as in the dining room", and he has trained almost all of them personally. From now on, Antonio Baños, as maitre d', and Haddin as head chef, will take up the reins. The veteran restaurateur is also regarded as a sort of oracle to whom businesses turn whenever they need a reliable chef, maitre d' or sommelier.

"Whatever my colleagues need, I am always at their disposal, because in this way we enrich our cuisine. The fact that good young people come to the fore and pass through various places enriches our offer". He adds: "We're going to leave behind the places offering ready meals and franchises, we're going to do good things, let the restaurants create their own dishes and enrich the cuisine of Malaga."

"I can't get rid of this bug I've got in my body; I'm still going to do things and keep in touch with my colleagues"

The chef also has words of thanks for the Balneario restaurant's partners: "They have been really brave, they were visionaries because when they came here there were only homeless people, and they knew that this was going to be an important place in Malaga, and they have created just that and are now reaping the rewards."

As his only request on his last day, Adolfo Jaime calls on the city authorities to come to an agreement to protect the monument (it is an Asset of Cultural Interest): "Take care of this corner of Malaga that is unique in Spain; they have to do something to prevent it from flooding during storms because the spa suffers a lot."

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