After his stage at elBulli, Christian Puglisi returned home to Denmark to work at Noma, becoming sous-chef there and overseeing its stagiaires. In August 2010, he opened the well-received Relæ in the Nørrebro neighborhood of Copenhagen. “We knew from the beginning that we wanted to find a place with low enough rent that we would only have to be open four nights a week,” Puglisi says. “This life is too hard already to have to work more than that.”
What part of mise-en-place did you like the most?
I liked anything where I got to use a knife. For a while, I was prepping oysters in the small kitchen. It was two hours every day opening oysters, but I got really good at it. It made you better at something you know you’re going to use in the future.
Removing the seeds from zucchini for the risotto dish. There’s no future use for that.
Any good Ferran stories?
One day, I had come in early and was working alone in the kitchen. Ferran walked in, so I said ‘Buenos dias.” He didn’t respond—not a word. It was weird to be so close to a person who is huge, a huge part of history and still not be very close to him at all. But I understand, there were thirty of us. And since I finished the stage, he’s been great. When I saw him at 50 Best in April, he came over and gave me a big hug. I feel closer to him now than I ever did during the eight months I worked there.
Do you feel like working at elBulli changed you?
Definitely. It really changed my way of looking at food. Not with all the super famous stuff—the foams and spheres that everyone always talks about—but in how I approach a product or technique. There’s a structured creativity that I learned there. Before, I thought that creative cooks cook by instinct. But at elBulli, they’re very scientific about their creativity. I remember once the head chef from Charlie Trotter’s came for a visit, and I was asked to translate for him. He got a tour that I never had in the five months I had been there. Oriol [Castro] was pulling out all these folders that described the techniques they had tried, including the ones that they were going to wait until the following year to debut. It was so impressive. I realized they could keep doing this—inventing new techniques and recipes—forever.
Is there a dish on Relæ’s menu that owes a direct debt to your time at elBulli?
A certain percentage of all my dishes do. There aren’t any spheres or anything on our menu—that’s not what we do; we’re much simpler. But the way I look at even a carrot now is different. I want to try to understand it.
What was your favorite family meal?
The grilled sardines were really good. But they were also a problem. During your break, you wanted to eat in like 42 seconds, so you had time to go outside and get some fresh air. But the sardines had all those small bones. You couldn’t eat them fast or you’d choke. I had no patience to pick through them, so on sardine nights, even though I liked them, I always went hungry.
If you had to sum it up in one line, what would you say is the most important thing you learned at elBulli?
I learned the future of creative gastronomy.