Widely considered one of the most creative pastry chefs in the world, he currently lives in Bali, where he consults for the restaurant Ku De Ta, and oversees Willpowder, a website for specialty pastry products.
While you were staging at elBulli, were there any parts of mise–en-place or service, or any specific tasks that you particularly enjoyed? Any you disliked?
You know, I could probably recite my prep list there from memory twelve years later. I got to enjoy all of the preparation really, particularly the rolling out of nougatine plaques, which we were using for many garnishes that year, and making the air-bags for the tomato water sorbet snack. But I liked it all. One of my jobs was to take the trash out, and you know, there was a lot of trash at that place. Everyday Jose Mari and I would get in that little white truck and throw the garbage out. It’s not a job that most people get excited about, but I even liked doing that.
You staged in 1999, which was the last year that elBulli did two services a day. What was that like?
Two services a day, seven days a week. Every now and then we’d get a day off and Ruben Garcia (a fellow stagiaire, and today chef de cuisine at minibar, in Washington DC) and I would walk around the beach in Roses in a haze.
Any good Ferran stories from your time?
Probably my favorite moment was when all the international media started to descend, and he was moved to laughter by the thought of Roses in the Wall Street Journal. I mean, who’d heard of Roses?! In context now, of course, it’s quite ironic, since the axis of world cooking has continued to revolve around it.
Are there any dishes or recipes that you’ve gone on to create that have a direct link to your time at elBulli?
In Voyage to India (an India-shaped tuile, with topographical details created out of tandoori powder, chocolate parfait, and cilantro microgreens) we first included the now ubiquitous “mango caviar” and identified it on the menu with the zip code for Roses, 17480, as a sort of appellation. But the biggest challenge is to be original, especially when you’ve learned from Ferran and Albert Adrià. I prefer to think of my time there as a reference point for excellence rather than a library to copy from.
Do you feel like elBulli changed you? If so, how?
Without any hesitation or ambiguity, my career trajectory was transformed with what I learned at elBulli. More than the techniques, or style, the mindset: it’s not enough to dream it, even to do it, you need to dream it, do it, document it, train somebody else to do it, monitor it, sell it, promote it, serve it, and celebrate it.
What was your favorite family meal?
That’s a tough one. Probably fideua. Not many people outside Spain would finish pasta with mayonnaise, but damn is it delicious.
If you had to narrow it down, what was the most important thing you learned at elBulli?
Just being the best in the world is not enough.