Born in Montreal, Charles-Antoine Crête had accumulated some interesting experiences by the time he started at elBulli. He started working in kitchens as a teenager, but took time off to stage at Tetsuya’s in Sydney, and to help open a new restaurant there. He also spent time in southern Australia working as a tuna fisherman and on an olive farm before moving on to first Japan, and then Barcelona. Today, he is chef de cuisine at the same restaurant where he began his career: Toqué!, in Montreal.
How did you end up staging at elBulli?
I really wanted to stage there, so I must have sent my resumé in eighty times. But I never heard back. Finally, my boss just bought me a ticket to fly to Spain and told me to go. So I showed up there—I remember it was pouring rain and I was soaking wet—and asked to speak with Albert. He had no idea who I was. I was like, I’m Charles, Charles Canada! Finally he realized it was the guy who had been sending him emails every day. So he said, “Ok, I’ll take your resumé.”
And once you got there, did it meet your expectations?
I had been a sous-chef in Montreal by the time I arrived at elBulli, so I was pretty hardcore. It’s the way I had been trained. So I loved the way the kitchen worked there, especially Oriol Castro. He was so dedicated.
Were there any tasks you particularly disliked during mise-en-place?
Cracking the rabbit heads in two. And cleaning the crab under those lamps—it would take an hour to get one gram. Plus Eduard was always there telling you to go faster, faster. It was his first year as sous chef and he was so nervous. He wanted to do well, but he put so much pressure on himself that he would get a little crazy.
Do any memories in particular stand out from that time?
One day, Oriol got the idea he wanted to see if there was water inside cactus. So he, Stefano Baiocco, and I went across the street to Ferran’s house and secretly cut one down. But Ferran came out and caught us. He was so mad! We tried to escape, but in the rush, Baiocco dropped the bag with the cactus, and it broke open in the middle of the road.
What was your favorite family meal?
Can I do the opposite of favorite? Because it was the mackerel. I hated that mackerel. We ate so much of it that year. It wasn’t even de-boned, they just cooked it on the stove whole, with some potatoes. Those nights I would hide food in my station, and during service whenever no one was looking, I would eat, eat, eat. I was starving!
If you had to sum it up, what would you say was the most important thing you learned at elBulli?
That creativity requires discipline.