The most unique thing about this classy Spanish restaurant might be the chef/owner, José “Pepe” Gutiérrez. He is far different from the traditional American type of chef who stays in the kitchen all the time, concentrating on cooking.
“I don’t like the American restaurant system,” says Gutiérrez. “Here, people are making just salad or just serving. In Europe, we do everything.” Gutiérrez explains that he learned everything from cooking to serving to managing while in school in Madrid.
Although the restaurant employs an experienced waitress, Gutiérrez greets every customer, takes orders, and serves while he cooks in the kitchen. He always chats with all customers about their cultural backgrounds and current issues. He never seems to leave them alone.
Gutiérrez has been rated excellenct from the Zagat Survey. The restaurant also has won other awards from local media. It has been appealing to diverse customers from different countries in the region, which pleases the chef, who loves to learn about different qualities in people.
Gutiérrez was born and raised in Madrid. After studying cooking and business administration in Spain, he worked all over the world as a chef. He worked in Paris, Venice, London, Puerto Rico and Canada before coming to the United States.
The first restaurant he opened in Baltimore was the Old Madrid Restaurant, which was operated from 1973 to '84 near Johns Hopkins University. From 1984 to '90, he had Casa Pepe in Little Italy. After spending seven years in Spain, he came back again to Baltimore to start a new restaurant, Café Madrid, in Fells Point in December 1997.
Seafood is the favorite choice among the customers. Paella, flavored cooked rice with seafood, is an authentic Spanish dish that Gutiérrez recommends for everyone. The sangría has been highly praised among customers as the best sangría they have ever tasted.
The interior decorations are organized in classy tones with paintings from Spain and antique furniture. Among them, cute handmade “Thank you” cards displayed just inside the entrance catch customers’ attention.
“Those are from students from Martin Luther King Middle School [in Prince George’s County],” explains the chef, smiling. He invited the students, age 11 to 12, who normally do not have chance to experience other cultures, to his restaurant for lunch during Christmas time. Messages, a few written in Spanish and most with cute drawings, tell that they had enjoyed the Spanish food and a new cultural experience, and give gracias to “Chef Pepe.”
“Those things always make me happy,” says Gutiérrez.