Like nearly all of the restaurant’s permanent staff, Albert Raurich began his tenure as a stagiaire. But he went further than most, becoming chef de cuisine in 2000, and staying on another seven years after that. In 2007, with Ferran’s blessing and support, he left to open Dos Palillos, a tapas bar in Barcelona highly acclaimed for its Asian tapas. He and his partner Tamae Imachi have just opened a second Dos Palillos in Berlin.
How did you come to work at elBulli in the first place?
I have a Harley Davidson. So does Christian Escribà [a famed Barcelona pastry chef] and we would go out riding together. I went to culinary school with Sergi Arola, and one day Sergi told me he was going to spend the year working at elBulli. He said he thought there was still a spot open. I knew that Christian was friends with Ferran, so I asked him to inquire on my behalf. He did, and Ferran told me to come on up.
So I went up, and Ferran showed me around. He said the most important thing is that you like us and the kind of cooking we do. I laughed, because I thought it was the reverse: that they like me. But I got the job.
What was it like?
When you start, all the jobs are really mechanical. But I had already worked as chef de cuisine in another restaurant, so they gave me a bit more responsibility. I helped out the girl who was in charge of making family meal. And that was an important job, because, as Ferran always says, how can a restaurant feed its clients well if it doesn’t feed its staff well?
Were there any jobs you really disliked that first year?
Cleaning the coconuts was a bit much. There would be six or seven crates of them, and they all had to be cracked and chopped and peeled to make coconut milk. But one of the tricks of elBulli is to put the greatest number of people possible on the job to make it go faster.
Did you have much interaction with Ferran while you were a stagiaire?
I remember once he yelled at me for something. I had a hard time dealing with that, and half an hour later, when he passed by me again, I must have looked pissed off. He came up to me and said, “I don’t like to work with people who are angry.” Then he returned half an hour later and repeated the same thing. And I kind of snapped back, “More than being angry, I’m concentrating!” And he replied, “When I get mad at you I want you to get the message and move on. Change your expression, change your attitude.” Later, Lalo (then chef de cuisine) came up to me and said that was the first time he had ever seen Ferran explain himself after a fight.
What was your time off like? I hear that things were pretty wild at elBulli in those days.
Look, the restaurant is in an area that far away from civilization. Between that, and all those nights when we didn’t have any clients, we got kind of a reputation. Plus, Roses is a tourist destination, so there was a lot of partying, a lot of suecas [literally translates as Swedish women, but refers to any northern European girl who came to Spain for the beaches and a good time]. We definitely took advantage of that. And when you’re working at the demanding level that we were, you enjoy the partying all the more. But this myth was created. I won’t say it’s not true. But it might have been a bit exaggerated.
What was it like to be on the other side of the stagiaire/chef divide? All the ex-stagiaires I’ve spoken with from those years speak very highly of you.
I believe in explanation. I would always prohibit a chef de partie from getting on a stagiaire’s case if he wasn’t going to explain why. If all you do is recriminate someone, you’re never going to teach them to solve the problem. Just shouting doesn’t fix anything. Ferran once told me I had to be meaner. But I believe in dialogue.
What was your favorite family meal?
The Sunday paellas.
If you had to sum it up, what would you say was the most important lesson you learned at elBulli?
To have passion for your work. And to make every step you take—from ordering the ingredients to putting the final garnish on a plate—important. That’s what distinguishes elBulli.