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Xavier Laurentino 

Chef and owner, Barcelona Tapas

A native of Barcelona, Xavier Laurentino had stints as a television actor and a bodyguard before moving to New Orleans in 1986. He intended to stay for one year, but in 1995 he was still here, working as a contractor and running an auto shop. That year, he also had his first job in a restaurant kitchen, cooking at Lola's Restaurant (3312 Esplanade Ave., 488-6946) after its owner, his friend and fellow Spaniard Angel Miranda, was injured in a car wreck. In 2002 Laurentino opened his own Spanish restaurant, Laurentino's, in Metairie and later relocated the business to the Riverbend, where it's now called Barcelona Tapas (720 Dublin St., 861-9696).

Gambit icon: What do you think of the spread of Spanish culinary ideas in America?

Laurentino: What I wish was that it happened 25 years ago, because a lot of people have misconceptions. Some people still hear "Spanish food" and think tacos and enchiladas. It's unbelievable, but I still encounter that almost every day. Someone will say "So this is Spanish food?" I say, "Yes." They say, "So are you from Peru or something?"

G: There are a number of items on your menu called canoes, which are different combinations of meat and cheese on small bread slices. Is this a traditional tapas style?

L: In Spain there are different styles and names for what we think of here as tapas. "Canoe" is just the name I'm using for what we call montaditos back home. It's the same thing as pinchos, which have toothpicks stuck in them, holding what's on top to the bread. These are basically tapas, but the big difference is a pincho or a montadito is a unitary thing, a little taste, whereas a tapa will be a little bigger and can be shared.

G: What do you miss the most from Spanish gastronomy?

L: I would say the easiness, the casual approach to tapas. We have a saying: "tapeo," it means going out for tapas. You call your friends and say, "Do you want to go have dinner or a tapeo?" When they say tapeo, you go around from one place to another and someone gets the round at each place, and that's how you go — boom, boom, boom — like that, until you drop.

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