At 58 years old, Dr. Miguel Sanchez Romera has already lived out one of his childhood dreams. Now, he is embarking on a second.
Romera dedicated the first half of his life to working as a neurologist in Spain, specializing in the field of epilepsy. This year, he moved to New York City in order to fulfill his other goal of opening Romera New York, his new restaurant where he works as executive chef.
“I have always believed that human evolution is cyclical,” Romera said, regarding the different phases in his life. “Many times, a place that has served to help a person grow - that same place doesn’t let you continue evolving. I needed a city like New York. It was the only city that could stimulate me, and it was a dream that I’ve had for many years.”
Long before he arrived in New York—or even Spain—Romera was a young child living in Argentina, where he suffered from health problems that fueled his desire to become a doctor.
“When I was very small, I had asthma and problems with my eye, so I had a strong relationship with doctors,” Romera said. “Around 11 years old, I had an asthma attack, and I told my mom when I was older, I wanted to become a doctor to cure myself.”
Romera went on to learn medicine at the National University of Cordoba, Argentina. During his studies, he developed an interest in human behavior and the intricacies of learning what drives people to act in certain ways. This led him to explore the field of neurology—the study of the brain.
“It was a specialty in which new things were happening,” Romera said, “That’s why I chose it. I never regretted it once. It’s one of the most passionate specialties that exist in the world of medicine.”
Despite the developments in his field, once he earned his degree, Romera realized that he could not continue to grow in Argentina, which had fallen under military rule around the same time period. So he made his first major move to Barcelona, Spain—a city that would allow him to pursue his desire of basic investigation and research.
But his asthma forced him to live on the outskirts of Barcelona proper. With little to do outside the city, he turned to cooking in his spare time.
“I cooked in my home, but I wasn’t a chef,” he said. “In my first approach to cuisine, it was simply a hobby. But because of my scientific background, I began a self-teaching process without pursuing anything in particular – still simply cooking.”
As his talent in the kitchen grew, Romera hosted dinner parties on the weekends for his friends and colleagues, while keeping up with his 9-to-5 at Hospital Policlínica del Valles, and his own private practice, from 5 to 10 p.m., during the week.
At one dinner party, a colleague brought along a female wine expert, who was well-versed in the culinary world.
“I remember two dishes I cooked—I made daikon radish with oysters and rosewater and served it with my own homemade black truffle mayonnaise,” Romera said. “I also made baby goat kidneys with artichoke.”
After the dinner, the woman asked him why he didn’t take cooking more seriously.
“Her words were very precise,” Romera said. “She said, ‘If you create a restaurant and feed people, you’re going to make them very happy. You should think about it.’”
Romera took heed of her advice and soon opened his first restaurant, L’Esguard.
L’Esguard was only open for dinner Thursdays through Sundays.
Despite the hectic schedule, Romera juggled his jobs well. He was appointed chief of neurology at the hospital, and within two years of opening, his restaurant was awarded a Michelin star.
His opportunity to move to New York came when hotelier Sant Chatwal dined at L’Esguard. Chatwal was looking for a chef who could develop a concrete concept about health with an innovative tilt for a new restaurant. He saw potential in Romera’s “intense creative spirit.”
Thus, Romera New York was designed and opened in September 2011. Romera had to leave his hospital work and his practice, but insisted that his background in medicine still influences his daily life, including his cooking.
“Right now, in this moment, I’m a doctor who cooks,” he said. “I’ve said many times I’m a doctor who cooks and not a cook who doctors. I’ve never stopped my activity as a doctor because my cuisine is a prolongation of medicine, just from a different perspective. My medical ethics are still the same.”
This means that diners won’t find much in the way of saturated fats or strange chemicals in Romera’s food. His favorite dishes to cook involve vegetables and seafood.
“It would be a contradiction having a 30-year background in medicine to make chemical molecular cuisine or to prepare anything not directed towards health,” he said.
Romera isn’t any less busy since ‘officially’ leaving neurology to work full-time in a restaurant. He still e-mails back and forth with his former patients about their health issues and said he only sleeps four hours a night. And he doesn’t plan on stopping or slowing down any time soon.
“I’ve never placed limits upon myself,” he said. “Each day feels like it’s just the beginning.”