When Brazilian Vanessa Trefois did her first stage (she returned for two weeks in 2004) at elBulli, she worked in the main kitchen. For years after—through subsequent stages at Mugaritz in San Sebastian, Celler de Can Roca in Girona, and Ryugin in Tokyo, her emphasis was always on savory. But a stint at Pierre Hermes in Paris convinced her to change her ways. Now, in addition to consulting for Saõ Paulo’s new Restaurante Terrasse, she has her own chocolate shop, Amai.
What was your least favorite task at elBulli?
The rabbit heads. You had these whole heads, and you had to cut them open and scoop out the brains in one piece. It wasn’t very nice.
How did you get along with the other stagiaires?
I had really good friends, but it was also hard some times. You’re with them all the time, sixteen hours at work and then you all live together too in this cramped apartment that nobody gets around to cleaning. It’s very stressful.
Did you ever have a moment when you thought, I can’t do this anymore?
No, I never thought I can’t do it. I thought I might kill someone if I kept doing it. There was one day when I was cleaning the floors at the end of service and another cook came up to me and told me I was doing it wrong. And he was so nasty about it that I took the broomstick that was in my hand and hit him with it. The chefs came running up to me and said, “Vanessa, what are you doing, are you crazy?” But at that moment I had had enough.
What is your impression of Ferran from that time?
There was a lot of shouting. But I understand it. That was the year they invented spherification and the New York Times story came out. Also, he got married that year. So he was under a lot of pressure.
Are any of your recipes for chocolates inspired by your time at elBulli?
Brazilians are still pretty conservative when it comes to chocolate—they don’t like a lot of strange combinations. But I do make a chocolate with yuzu, and I first learned about yuzu at elBulli.
What was your favorite family meal?
Once I got to make feijoada.
If you had to sum it up, what would you say is the most important thing you learned at elBulli?
Ferran was always the first person there and the last to leave. He showed me what true passion and hard work are.