Chef Paras Shah says adios to Barcelona after just three months of running the kitchen at the buzzy Spanish wine and tapas spot that opened on East Passyunk Avenue in mid-July. The chef, who’s from Queens but trained in Spain, is leaving to work on his own Spanish restaurant concept with Jeffrey Weiss, author of Charcutería: The Soul of Spain. Shah will remain at Barcelona through the end of the month while Barteca restaurant group, which owns Barcelonas up and down the East Coast, searches for his replacement.
Shah has been with the company for about a year, working at the New Haven, Connecticut, location before transferring to Philly to open Barcelona East Passyunk. Add to that 15 years of working in kitchens, and he’s ready for a break.
“More than anything else, it was putting in so many hours and not being able to dedicate time to my family. That’s been weighing on me quite a bit,” says Shah, who’s 41. “It’s not an older person’s game to be in the kitchen 15, 16, 17 hours a day. I want to learn how to have a work-life balance.”
Shah stresses he had a good experience at Barcelona — “it made me a better chef” — and he’s enjoyed living in Philly, but “things came to a head.”
“Your back hurts, you get that little nagging ankle injury you’ve been ignoring, and it gets harder and harder to push through,” he says “I love to cook, I love serving people. I love translating Spanish food and lifestyle and culture. I just want to seek another avenue to do that.”
Shah met Jeff Weiss when they were the only two Americans awarded an Institute of Culinary Education scholarship to train in Spain. Already in his 30s, after entering the culinary world later than many chefs, Shah thought he didn’t have a shot at getting into the program. But he won the scholarship and spent 14 months working at acclaimed Spanish restaurants, including the Michelin-starred El Bulli in the Catalonia region and Echaurren in La Rioja.
Shah and Weiss share a passion for Spanish food, Shah says, and the two chefs stayed in touch when Shah returned to New York and Weiss went back to California, tossing around the idea of one day opening a restaurant together. That restaurant is now in the works. It will likely be in California and, they hope, be the first location of many.
“I can’t get into too many details yet, but we want to represent Spanish food and Spanish culture in a more accessible way,” Shah says. “We’re not going to skip the traditional methods of preparation, but we want to package it into something more accessible for the general public.”
Opening a restaurant in California doesn’t sound like the most straightforward way to spend more time with his parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews in New York City, but Shah is banking on having a lot more flexibility down the line, once he’s the boss and not in the kitchen every day.
“I don’t want it put in my obituary, ‘he worked his ass off and was super duper successful, but he forgot his mother’s birthday,’” Shah says. “I’d rather be known for: ‘He cooked some stand-up food and his mama was proud of him.’”
Eater reached out to Barcelona and will update this story if the restaurant responds with any thoughts on Shah’s departure.