The man who goes by Jeremiah Bullfrog first learned of elBulli in 1999, before the restaurant had much of an international reputation. Still, he was intrigued by what he heard, and in 2001, left a position as executive chef at Light, a popular lounge in New York, to do a stage. While there, he ran into what he calls “some bumps in the road,” and only ended up staying three months. These days, he runs GastroPod in Miami, an Airstream trailer-turned-food truck that serves gourmet street food, and is a popular fixture at local music festivals and art exhibitions.
Any tasks you particularly disliked during your stage?
I was in the cubby, or Small Kitchen, for what seemed like an eternity. And every day we had to clean chicken feet. We even had a song for it—“Patitas” and this silly little dance.
And ones you liked?
I was really good at the sepia [cuttlefish]. They would set me up there in back with three bins, and I’d divide it into liver, ink sack, and meat. We would brunoise the meat to make this risotto without rice.
What was your impression of Ferran?
I thought he was crazy. He would come in and just speak to Oriol or Raurich [chefs de cuisine]. Albert Adrià talked to me, though. He would chat with me, and show me some things. He wanted to practice his English. He was a godsend.
What did you do on your time off?
One time another stagiaire and I drove to Pamplona for San Fermin. We rented this tiny Peugeot and had this idea that we could get there in two hours. So we got off work at 1am and started driving. Only it took like six hours. We got there just in time to hear the gunshot go off in the distance. So we missed the running of the bulls. I thought I’d get up early and run the next day. But we fell asleep under a tree or something and missed that too. And then it was time to go back. Sort of the stagiaire experience of running of the bulls.
You ended up leaving your stage early. What happened?
I’d get into arguments with two of the other guys there in Small Kitchen, one from New Zealand, and the other Spanish. It was stupid stuff, but it escalated. The last one was over horchata—you had to make almond milk in the Thermomix, then six or seven guys would strain it through cheesecloth. You had to be strong, and I got really good at it. But one day someone said ‘You’re not doing it right.” I responded, “You know what, I’m doing it just fine.” It went from there. Maybe there was a push or shove. And that was it. I got sent to the almacén, and Raurich came out and told me I was out of there.
What did you think of the food you saw at elBulli?
That was a big year for gelée. There was a dish that called “vegetables,” that was just squares of gelée—red, white, green, black, orange. Red was tomato, orange was carrot. I remember reading something that Ferran said, that the gelee should taste better than the actual vegetable. But when I finally got to taste it, I thought no, it doesn’t. They weren’t really that great.
Or the pea soup. They used Birds-Eye frozen peas, like you could get in the supermarket. It’s a cool soup—hot and cold at the same time, but I remember thinking, why not wait until peas were in season? But who am I to tell them what to do?
What was your favorite family meal?
I liked cooking them–since I was in Small Kitchen, I did that quite a bit. It was the only real cooking that went on at elBulli.
You sound pretty disillusioned.
Yeah, I was. I had some anger about the place for a while—it seemed like a lot of hype. It took me three or four years after I got back to get over it.
And now? Do you feel like your stage was worthwhile?
Absolutely. It was awesome in a lot of ways. I loved living in Spain, going to the market, getting a baguette every day. I met a lot of great people, and I got to see some amazing things.