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A sculpture by Argentinian artist Tomรกs Saraceno at Noma, Copenhagen
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We, Chefs beyond cooking
t exts a n d photo g r a phs b y
D O C U M E N TA
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Contents Introduction: Advertising, haute cuisine and other fundamental human needs 13 Thirty-three words: Open René Redzepi
(Noma, Copenhagen, Denmark)
(D.O.M., São Paulo, Brazil)
(Mugaritz, San Sebastián, Spain)
(Ultraviolet, Shanghai, China)
Passion/Taste/Memory/Taste again/Texture/ Growing/Repetition/Mentor 137 Joan Roca
(El Celler de Can Roca, Girona, Spain)
(Mani, São Paulo, Brazil)
(André, Singapore, Singapore)
(Astrid y Gastón, Lima, Peru)
Authorship/Terroir/Now/Unfamiliar/Context/Tools/ Interface/Less/Subtext/Play/Waste?/Paradox/ Reinvention/Naming/Storytelling 249
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A reminder of the seasons: El Celler de Can Rocaâ€™s interior forest in the dining room
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Signage at Bodega 1900, Barcelona
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(Osteria Francescana, Modena, Italy)
(Tickets, Barcelona, Spain)
(Septime, Paris, France)
(Viajante and The Chiltern Firehouse, London, UK)
Consistency/Family/Mise en place/Resilience Daniel Humm
(Eleven Madison Park, New York, USA)
Juan Mari and Elena Arzak
(Arzak, San Sebastián, Spain)
(Nahm, Bangkok, Thailand)
(Quique Dacosta, Dénia, Spain)
Energy/Feedback/Fresh/Overlap Virgilio Martínez
(Central, Lima, Peru)
(Astrance, Paris, France)
(Asador Etxebarri, Axpe, Spain)
(Belcanto, Lisbon, Portugal)
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Introduction: Advertising, haute cuisine and other fundamental human needs
“If you want to create something unique, I think it’s important that you take inspiration from something outside of your own world” Chef Daniel Humm on why Miles Davis helped inspire and shape Eleven Madison Park
When I embarked on this journey I was maybe subconsciously following the advice of Abraham Flexner, an American pedagogue whose essay I vaguely remember reading years ago. It had been published in 1939 in Harper’s magazine under the auspicious title “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge”. He believed there is value in devoting time to apparently unrelated and indulgent activities, motivated solely by curiosity and without concern for any practical application because, as he said, “[often] the pursuit of these useless satisfactions proves unexpectedly the source from which undreamed-of utility is derived”. After working in advertising agencies for more than twenty years, I left my job as CEO of the BBDO agency in Lisbon to immerse myself in haute cuisine. I didn’t know what to expect. It was just something I felt compelled to do. To learn the foundations of cuisine properly, I went to France to study at the Alain Ducasse Centre de Formation in Paris. I absorbed all the classic cookbooks I could find and some others as well. I frenetically practised my French again, reading a five-hundred page Glossary of Culinary Terms on subways and trains, as I commuted very early in the morning to Ducasse’s premises in Argenteuil, on the outskirts of Paris. A few months later, while scaling fish, removing the veins from foie gras and failing to make the perfect pistachio macaron, I found myself thinking that there was much more to haute cuisine than learning techniques or following recipes. We are used to seeing chefs as cooks. But they are also storytellers, entrepreneurs, curators, artisans, mentors, activists and, last but not least, creative thinkers whose approaches and wisdom can translate into other areas. Every single day, they push the boundaries of cooking and what we mean by enjoying a meal. The inventive cuisine created in their fine dining restaurants is the result of unique ecosystems: places where a balance must be struck between a “question everything, no rules, no limits” mentality, and rigorous, Swiss clock production lines; between the gravitas
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of charismatic individuals and intense group collaboration; between the uniqueness of terroir and openness to the world’s vastness; between respect for cultural traditions and the restless drive to explore. How do they achieve this delicate balance? How do they arrive at an original point of view about their craft? What thinking, methodologies and inputs drive their creativity? How do they manage to stay at the top of their game, year after year? This book led me to go around the world, from Shanghai to Lima, New York to Copenhagen, São Paulo to Paris, to discover what we can learn from chefs, beyond cooking. Cooking is one of the few things with the power to bring together an array of different disciplines at the same table, inspiring them and, at the same time, feeding from all of them; from neuroscience to contemporary and modern art, from history to music, from literature to architecture, from anthropology to design. And chefs’ voices are also heard on forums about health, poverty, environment, technology, politics and economics. The fieldwork took me more than three years, researching and reaching out to some of the world’s most inventive and influent chefs and creating the conditions for them to share those insights with me face to face. Most of these conversations took place over a lunch with the chef. There is something symbolic about sharing a meal that I believed would make our exchange of ideas flow differently. If you’re looking for recipes, I must warn you that this book doesn’t have a single recipe. It may be mouthwatering at times, but that is not its purpose. It is rather an invitation to expand our minds through food, if you will. Which, in a sense, is nothing new. Today, our brain weighs approximately 1,3 kg but millions of years ago it wasn’t larger than those of other primates, probably not weighing more than 450 grams. It is thought that the invention of cooking created the conditions for it to triple its size since then. Eating cooked food instead of raw allowed us to ingest many more calories in less time and feed our bodies and brain in a much more efficient way, freeing time for activities other than gathering and digesting food. Apparently, the part of the brain that grew the most was the cerebral cortex and, within it, the association cortices, the brain regions responsible for making associations [hence the name], which receive and integrate “inputs” from a number of different areas and support more complex cognitive functions [language, memory, attention, abstraction, judgement, emotion]. These are also some of the regions that are most active when we are relaxed, letting our minds wander freely, engaged in uncensored cogitation, making all kinds of connections, a stage which is also known as “silent thinking” [more precisely, random episodic silent thought, or REST, as neuroscientists once called it]. It is during these moments that access to creative insights usually occur. It is a bit farfetched to say that cooking made us all more creative, but I found some comfort in knowing that at least it had something to do with it. If nothing else, because we can derive immense pleasure from both.
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Creativity [and therefore, cooking too] is also related to the plasticity of our brain and our ability to constantly form new synapses, new links between neurones, when we come across new stimuli or new learning. Or to disregard existing ones and let them fade away when we unlearn. We could probably say we are our synapses. The links we make and unmake. The ones we nurture and register in our long term memory and the ones we let go to leave room for making new and unexpected associations. If you’re reading this, you are probably a food lover, someone who likes to cook, a chef or a gourmand. But if this is not the case, if you were moved by curiosity alone whilst looking for inspiration outside your own world, I hope your appetite for novelty will be sated too and it will lead to many new synapses. Each chef ’s story is unique and it prompted the exploration of different subjects. They are indeed an example of how you can be distinctive, whilst working in the same area and often dealing with similar ingredients, similar processes, similar structures. If it’s true that all chefs have their own persona, their own narrative, their own drives, their own creative approach, it is also true that a lot of it is shared between them. In all these conversations, certain themes kept cropping up. What it means for a chef to find their own voice and claim a cuisine d’auteur and, maybe more importantly, what happens afterwards. How they manage to keep it alive and fresh, looking ahead and making progress, because that’s truly the hardest part of being a chef. These thoughts can resonate with many of us. Some for their literal meaning, others as an analogy or a metaphor for many things beyond cuisine and food in general. They say our brain is designed to find patterns and make associations in a constant quest for meaning. We may pay special attention to the unusual, what is outside of the norm, but we also don’t like chaos and randomness, we like to make sense of things, to connect the dots. As the book developed, I collected 33 words and imagined the links between them, to illustrate the different steps of what I felt to be a journey about authorship and a search for singularity that we could all relate to. They not only draw a connection between the chefs but also establish a bond between them and us. They form a book within the book, inserted between the conversations with the chefs, so as to highlight each particular stage of the process and how those thoughts are intertwined. It is fair to assume that we all try to be authors in what we do for a living, regardless of what it is, provided we are passionate about it. If not authors in the artistic sense, then at least in terms of doing something that is worthwhile, unique and conveys an expression of ourselves. Something that makes us proud and which we could put our name to. We, Chefs. João Wengorovius
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A selection of pages from my notebooks, my trusted travel companions
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Thoughts, stories, sketches and notes from 2013 to 2017
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Notebook – Lyle’s, London, 2014
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Thirty-three words Open
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Open “Every breath you take, every move you make, every smile you fake, every claim you take... I’ll be watching you.” The Police, unbeknown to themselves, were food visionaries. We have come from an era of kitchens hidden at the back or in the basement of restaurants, from where dishes would mysteriously appear, to kitchens that blend seamlessly with the dining room and let the magic unfold before our eyes (or so it seems). This openness changes everything. How food is prepared, how cooks behave, how chefs relate with the diner and, ultimately, how guests experience the meal. At the heart of the open kitchen is acknowledging that if cooking is a social and creative act, diners take pleasure in being a part of it, seeing things being cooked, knowing more about process, the quality of the ingredients, where food comes from, who is behind the stove, what the story of that dish is... If they feel they are participating and learning something new, the whole thing becomes more memorable, more rewarding, more shareable. And it works both ways. According to a study published in Harvard Business Review1, chefs actually cook better when they operate in open kitchens where they can see customers’ feedback for themselves. In the words of Alex Atala: “The closed kitchen allowed people to be comfortable working dirty. With an open kitchen, everything starts being better. The hygiene is greater. If they’re being seen at work, nobody’s running around and it’s all silence, everybody is oh!” he makes a straight posture as he says this and grins, adding “we make better food. It gives more pleasure to people, but the other side of that is also good.” If you see the customer’s reaction, you can fine tune what you’re doing, prompting a kind of virtuous cycle, as David Chiang, the chef from Momofuku in New York, points out: “All our restaurants, for the most part, are open kitchen so you can see everything: how they eat, how they react and I can always change a few things to evoke a different response. A little more spicy, a different knife cut on the vegetable...”2 Not all fine dining restaurants necessarily have an open kitchen (although increasingly a tour of the kitchen is a must), but they all operate in an “open kitchen” world; one that is shaping how fine dining is moving forward. Chefs are much better informed about what other chefs are doing and this, in turn, made it possible for more interchange and for different cuisines of the world to be in the spotlight. Our foodscape is more diverse and vibrant and we are more knowledgeable about food than we ever were. And the more educated we are, the more we value high-quality food. Consequently, there is no longer just one or two centers of gravity for gastronomy but many, linked together in a flux of ideas. Chefs’ natural inclination to be open-minded about new ingredients, new cultures, new people, new techniques, has found fertile ground.
Left: Open kitchen at André, Singapore Open 21
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“Openness is really important because cooking is about evolution not revolution,” says Heston Blumenthal. “We come across ideas, we borrow, we steal, we take, whatever, and then we adapt that to our own cooking and then we have to be open to give information back – that’s how gastronomy develops.”3 This new framework also poses some challenges. “The original doesn’t seem authentic,” Quique Dacosta says about a friend who, on his first trip to El Bulli, ate something he had already tried elsewhere. Ferran Adrià’s dishes and concepts were probably the most imitated in the world. Despite the fact that, at the time he appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine (“The Nueva Nouvelle Cuisine: How Spain Became the New France”, 2003), Facebook did not exist. And in 2006, when The Restaurant magazine named the world’s best restaurant for the first time, the iPhone had yet to be launched. And when, in 2010, they announced El Bulli was going to close the following year, Instagram was just a few months old. One can only wonder how it would be if it were today. As Blumenthal remarked, cooking has always been based on sharing directions and knowledge, following instructions, observing and imitating others, but at a time where there are more screens than people on the planet, nothing was ever shared on this scale and with this immediacy. There is no such thing as secret recipes anymore and new creations are not new for long. What is original? What is a copy? What is new? What is old? Who did this? With so much noise, these old questions are being asked ever more frequently. Everything chefs do now is almost instantly posted. The craft is being stripped in a way that was not possible just ten years ago. Perhaps that is why they use the term “food voyeurism” to describe our obsession with photographing and sharing all we eat and “food porn” for the boastful way we present food in our pictures. And so diners now arrive at a restaurant with a whole new set of expectations. They are much better informed (or misinformed) upfront. They have probably already seen pictures of the dishes, watched videos of the chefs and read blogs from other diners or food critics. Maybe they have even eaten a similar dish from someone else, who copied it in the meantime. And yet they expect to be surprised; to experience something for the very first time. Is there any room left for magic in the world of the open kitchen? you may ask. Fortunately, yes. And that is what makes it so interesting. Everyone copied El Bulli dishes but no one could reproduce an El Bulli. The same with Noma. Look at René Redzepi. He couldn’t be more open about what makes his restaurant tick. He speaks his mind about his approach to ingredients and techniques and regularly broadcasts live episodes about what is going on “backstage” at Noma. It is easy to find his recipes and you can even read his diary (which he wrote for a whole year and which offers the most candid insights into his creative process and the dramas and joy of running his
Left: Open kitchen at Septime, Paris Open 23
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restaurant). But no one can make a Noma. Just as it is impossible to reproduce places like El Celler de Can Roca or Osteria Francescana. “It’s the chef cooking the food that makes the magic, not the recipes,” René wrote. As David Chiang explains so clearly: “You need to merge that [ubiquity of information on the Internet] with some kind of craftsmanship and failure. If you just replicate the recipes without replicating the failures that went into it, you are going to get something that is meaningless.”4 The novelist and poet José Luís Peixoto once said: “seeing life is not the same as living it”. Indeed. Just as seeing pictures of a dish is not the same as tasting it. And so, despite the growing abundance of instructions, a fundamental truth prevails: having the world’s best recipes won’t make us the world’s best chef. Why is that?
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RenĂŠ Redzepi Alex Atala Andoni Aduriz Paul Pairet
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René Redzepi Noma, Copenhagen, Denmark
othing grows alone. One of the creative techniques that René Redzepi likes to use when developing new dishes is to “look at an ingredient in its natural context”. What other things live around it? What kind of relationships develop between them? Under what conditions does it grow? Pick a mushroom in the forest, for instance. What else is nearby? Moss? A snail? What does the snail eat? If you observe these interactions, new combinations start to emerge and eventually, you’ll discover a surprising way to cook the ingredient. What would I find if I looked at the chef in his natural context, I wondered? What else or who around him makes him who he is? So I made arrangements to stay not one, but three days in and around Noma. Had I arrived a couple of weeks earlier, I would have found nobody there to talk to. When Noma was named the world’s best restaurant in June 2014 (for the fourth time), René Redzepi surprised everybody at the ceremony by announcing that they would soon be closing the famous Nordic restaurant. They had long planned to open a pop-up restaurant in Japan and recouping first place (they had dropped to number two the year before) would not change that.
The chef tells me later: “It’s a place where the food is so good, the quality of the food is unbelievably high, honestly, some of the best restaurants in the world are all in Japan! The chances of failure were huge for us.”) And yet, for him, the answer was very straightforward: “This is about giving the team something new,” he said at the time. When René talks about the team, he means literally everybody, including the dishwasher, Ali. The same dishwasher to whom he once passed the microphone to speak on behalf of Noma, at a World’s 50 Best Restaurants event. So when the opportunity to go to Japan arose, the whole team had to go with him to Tokyo too. Plus their families. No one was left behind. Ali Sonko is from Gambia. I recognize him immediately when we meet. He is holding a big pan in his hands and greets me with a simple “Hi!”. I remember watching a video of him dancing in the kitchen with one of the cooks. “Ali is the happiest guy I know” said Redzepi’s tweet. So I ask him if it is true. He duly raises his arms in the air, starts dancing and beams a smile that fills the whole room. I guess René was right. Despite initial concerns and a multitude of last-minute hiccups, the pop-up was a success: The 3,456 available seats were snapped up in less than 24 hours, leaving nearly 60,000 people on the waiting list1.
It appeared counter-intuitive to trade such a comfortable position – another deluge of reservation requests, more media attention, the terroir so deeply ingrained in their cuisine, the ingredients they know so well, a work environment so familiar they could almost work blindfold – for the unknown.
In the hungry world of tweets, Facebook posts and Instagram, everyone had something to say about it, a photo to post, a witty comment to make.
Why bother? Why risk his reputation in such an unprecedented endeavour, especially in a country known for its exceptional cuisine? (Tokyo has more Michelin stars than any other city in the world, including Paris.
One of the most popular dishes at the pop-up was the fermented black garlic “origami” that I am eating now. It looks like a flower and tastes like a sweet with hints of acidity provided by a thin ant paste. There were also the
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“I felt I had to reach a point where every day is a distillation of the place you’re in. You know, it’s a distillation of the culture, the people, the ingredients, everything” 1. A pair of pears 2. What are the materials, the colours, the texture and the ambiance telling us? 3. A 150 years old Mahogany clam
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ribbons of shaved frozen monkfish liver on toast that is melt-in-the-mouth delicious. But, for René, something much more valuable was achieved. When I ask about it one of the cooks, Viviane Mello, a cheerful Brazilian girl with tattooed arms, she says: “It was the best experience of my life.” Everybody I encountered later seemed infected by the same high spirits. I look around. Noma’s aesthetics are faultless. From the black and grey tones of the dining room to the dishes themselves, from the chairs to the flowers, the wooden spoons and forks, the staff uniforms, the logo typeface, the fabric of the napkins and the imperfect ceramic tableware. I must confess, I have a weakness for Scandinavian design. The movement that emerged from that region in the 1950s, promoting highly functional objects with minimal, clean and simple lines, produced iconic pieces we all love. From Arne Jacobsen’s egg chair to Poul Henningsen’s artichoke lamp, from Alvar Aalto’s vases to Eero Aarnio’s ball chair, from Hans Wegner’s wishbone chair to Vernon Paton’s S chair, they all have understated elegance, beauty and a timeless nature. If you look at Nordic cuisine today, I think you can also find the region’s stamp in the way nature is reflected on the plate, as well as a common philosophy of purity, simplicity and freshness with dishes that are always very seasonal due to the area’s extreme weather. Noma was the indisputable precursor of this movement. Sometimes beauty is presented as a mysterious gift from nature. Mahogany clams are creatures over a hundred years old. As I contemplate this single shell in a bowl of stones on my table, I am having mixed feelings about my legitimacy of touching (let alone eating) such a rare example of exceptional longevity. Judging by the number of lines on the shell, this one was probably born around the same time as Einstein was formulating his theory of relativity. Although you won’t meet Einstein at Noma, there are some very bright people there. Two of them are Lars Williams, head chef of R&D, and Arielle Johnson, a
scientist recruited last year. Their lab can be found in the courtyard behind the restaurant. I pass a few shipping containers converted into fermentation rooms and climb the stairs. Their job is to find new flavors and processes, which means constantly trying new things and failing. “You need to deal with these failures and move forward, never stop experimenting,” says Lars. They are always tasting different food in search of the next flavor. “Like all cooks, we have this ingrained inclination to taste everything around us.” I don’t know why, but the image of babies eating sand on the beach came to my mind. A few days ago, Lars went to a friend’s house for lunch. While he was at the window, he noticed a trail of ants, so he picked up a few and started tasting them, one after the other, until his wife cried: “Stop! You’re embarrassing me!” I raise the issue of insects and he shows me a box full of grasshoppers – not very appealing, really. He then grabs a handful of bee larvae and hands them to me. Like most westerners, my instinct is one of rejection, which is why these insects are normally fermented and then added to a sauce. That said, I am well aware that eating meat like we do is unsustainable and inevitably insects will play a greater role in our diet. “Can haute cuisine play a part in that journey?” “Yeah! We have to show people how delicious they are”, he says. Lars, who like Viviane has a penchant for tattoos, is another unlikely food lab professional. He studied literature but fell in love with cooking and joined the French Culinary Institute. He came to Noma after having worked at the Fat Duck (chef Heston Blumenthal’s legendary restaurant in Bray, UK) and W-D 50 (the much admired establishment overseen by chef Wylie Dufresne in New York). Like in all great restaurants that I have seen, the diversity of backgrounds seems to be a catalyst for creativity. “There must be around 25 different languages spoken in the kitchen,” he says.
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Noma receives thousands of applications from people who want to work as interns, some of them already working as chefs elsewhere. Only a few are chosen and even fewer go the distance during those first months.
“It looks like it is going to snow,” he says.
“What do you look for?” I ask. “Attitude, capacity for hard work and become part of the team. More than a fantastic CV,” says René.
His observations are more like those of farmers, fishermen or foragers. If your work depends on it, your awareness, involvement and sensitivity are “always on”. In his 200-page diary2 – “A work in progress” – René makes almost as many references to the weather as he does to ingredients or the mood of his team.
I pay a visit to the first floor of Noma, where the prep kitchen is, to see some of them. Fifteen cooks are patiently peeling plums and then shelling each stone which will be eaten raw in one of the dishes. There is flavour in unexpected things, I thought. Bones are usually discarded, but not here. One of the projects René created a few years ago, as a stimulus for their creative process, was called “trash cooking”. It made use of things normally thrown away, like fish scales or potato skins. That’s how his mind works. A constraint is merely an excuse to focus your attention on a theme and work obsessively on it, an opportunity to look at what others usually overlook, a source of energy. Until it is no longer a constraint. “Cock-a-doodle-doo!” I am now in the toilet and listening to the sound of chickens and chefs talking in the kitchen. It’s a soundtrack entitled “Stream of Noma”, featuring hundreds of recordings of life at the restaurant, suppliers’ farms and sounds of nature, piped into the bathrooms. Why not? I ask myself. The following day, René suggested we should have lunch together at Amass – the restaurant of his former head chef, Matt Orlando – where he would have more privacy and more time to talk, avoiding the constant interruptions at Noma. It proves an excellent idea. The food is exceptional and the place – a large, airy and bright warehouse – is perfect for relaxed conversation. Redzepi is looking out of the window. “Is it snowing?” “I’m not sure,” I reply. It is the beginning of April and, although a little chilly, this morning was only partly cloudy.
I didn’t realize at the time that we were not just talking about the weather. A chef doesn’t talk about the weather the way a tourist does.
And that’s because they are all intertwined. You cannot understand Noma if you don’t understand the significance of the weather for their work. Sometimes it is a gift, at other times a major constraint, but always a creative trigger. Seasons dictate pace, offer new possibilities and bring a sense of connectedness with Mother Earth. In Scandinavia, a sudden change in the weather can alter an entire menu out of the blue; “the wild card” as he calls it. A sunbeam breaks through the clouds and crosses his face. It’s not snowing. He relaxes. “I need to go back to go forward,” I say. “To the beginning, to your DNA. Because identity and uniqueness are very important things for a restaurant. I remember reading your first book, where you describe that defining moment when you decide to focus exclusively on Nordic food. You had already opened Noma but without the concept you have today. What happened?” “To tell you the truth, you can have an idea at the beginning but an idea is just a vague constellation, in the sense that nothing is produced, other than some thoughts, you haven’t actually compiled anything,” he says. “So I’ve found that, only when I actually started working, that’s when you start shaping the idea. The idea is totally hollow, you have to fill it with meaning and content, and that only comes through the work. And through the exploration of landscape, through meticulously working season by season, year by year.” “And wasn’t that happening already at the beginning, in the first Noma?” “It was happening but I wasn’t conscious of it.”
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Lars: “You need to deal with failures and move forward, never stop experimenting” 1. Lars Williams, head of R&D 2. Arielle Johnson, flavour scientist, MAD’s head of research 3. Shipping containers converted into fermentation rooms and the lab 4. Grasshoppers
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Unsure of what he meant, I persist: “Weren’t you making French food with a Nordic touch, using French techniques?”
I remember the berries and greens soaked in vinegar for one year that were the first thing I ate yesterday. It made me feel just like that.
“Yes, absolutely. Mostly it was recipes from France, from the restaurants where I have worked or recipes from El Bulli [where he also worked]; I just changed the ingredients. So I thought that could be a local cuisine somehow, that if you had a French celery velouté and I just used Danish celery and Danish crème fraîche.”
“And I was so fascinated about that from the beginning and then, you know...”
It’s a fine line, I thought. Sometimes it is unclear what we mean by local and to what extent are we are really being original. “But as you were cooking it and seeing the response of diners, you realized that this was not the case. I mean, you weren’t distilling the essence of the place, which was always one of the things that I thought was interesting. As in, you go somewhere, you travel somewhere, and you smell and you see the place, you learn about the culture of the city, you get inspired...” He pauses to tell the waiter that he is having a glass of wine. “Me too,” I say. Matt Orlando, the chef, arrives with a dish of potatoes cooked in beer, Norwegian scallops, burnt lemon and soured cream. “Beautiful!”, says René, as I take a photograph. “This is really good! It’s beer and scallops. It’s potato that is cooked in beer and dried,” says Redzepi. “Where were we?” “The second phase of Noma,” I remind him. “Exactly! I have always found it amazing to be a tourist somewhere, going to see the sites. You land at the airport and go outside. You smell the air, you feel the freshness, you feel your senses absorbing the place and then, you know, you go to the museum, you get to know the history of the place, you get a sense of the people, you talk to them. But I have always felt that I have only really arrived at a place when I start tasting the place. As soon as you start consuming the very place you are in.” “I know exactly what you mean.”
“You felt you had to do more?” I say. “I felt I had to reach that, reach a point where every day is a distillation of the place you’re in. You know, it’s a distillation of the culture, the people, the ingredients, everything.” “But isn’t that the same as saying that the Portuguese should cook Portuguese, the French should cook French, the Spanish should cook Spanish, you know, the terroir...?” “Yes,” he says. “Why was it different for Scandinavia? Didn’t you have it here?” “Not at all! In very few places. Maybe it exists on an old fashioned level. You know, from a grandmother’s perspective. How you serve rye bread and pork in many ways, stuff like that, which are eaten a lot. Not in an elevated way, not in a way that looks to the future and that has a purpose of exploring togetherness and life through a meal.” René was reminding me that restaurants are not just about sustenance; like so many things we value because they offer something beyond their functional dimension. “Before, here and in most places and cultures, food was cooked to feed you, to survive, to give you energy. I mean, in religious parts of our country, taking pleasure in eating is still very complicated, very problematic, you know. So it was a very new thing, it was so distant from us we didn’t even think there were enough ingredients, we thought like...” “What could we eat?” I suggest. “Yes, what could we eat? What’s there?” Matt brings a possible answer to the table: “Chips made with salted black trumpet mushrooms, smoked monkfish liver and black garlic.”
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“Oh man! This is beautiful! This is amazing!” says Redzepi again.
“In one hundred years... what is the point?”
“Enjoy,” says Matt.
“Because I like it.”
“When was that?”
A cook arrives and explains how they make their bread. “Our bread is made from potato fermented for around two weeks and then finished on the barbecue outside.”
“It was during the first year of Noma. Because in the first year of Noma I was already working ninety hours a week, going home, sleeping on the couch every day, just drinking coffee, never eating. You couldn’t sleep at night because you were just thinking what was wrong, what’s going on, and it was one of those moments when you think: What do you want to do here? Do you want to continue like this? And burn out completely? And maybe just leave the industry because you know... It was only my pride regarding failure that kept me doing it. I wasn’t really happy with the situation, it was just mindless work, for no money, for nothing, no purpose!” “Nothing?” I say. “Other than just showing that you can run a restaurant. So you ask yourself: What do you want to do, what would make you happy, what would be fun to do, how do you want to live your life?” “The drive to make a difference was part of that?” “No! I don’t believe in working for a legacy... at all. I think nobody gives a shit! Unless you are Gandhi everybody will forget you, so don’t even think about it.” I was puzzled. Ferran Adrià’s foreword, when René appeared on the list of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2012, came to mind: “With his restaurant Noma, René, 34, has already done something historic. He has placed Copenhagen and the Nordic countries on the global map of gastronomy. Today he is at the apex of the culinary world [!]. There is no such thing as the best. But it is possible to point out something much more important: the chef who is the most influential, the one who establishes the way forward. René occupies this position. He is already influencing chefs around the world not just with his cooking but with his philosophy.” “But somehow you have done something different, you have inspired people and the work of restaurants around the region and the world,” I suggest.
“So why do you do it?”
Katherine Bont, a friendly Australian “team leader” in the dining room of Noma had told me her husband was working here, and I make a guess: “Have I met your wife?” A little taken aback, he laughs: “Yes, you have.” “Nice to meet you. My name is João.” She came to Noma after working in Japan and Thailand. I remember that she sent her job application to René via Twitter. How many companies are hiring this way? “Where have you been around the world?” René asks me. Shanghai, Bangkok, Singapore, Barcelona, Dénia, Girona, San Sebastián, New York, London, Paris, Lima, Modena – lots of places. I am flying to Brazil now. “Anybody in Portugal?” “Yes of course, Nuno Mendes at Viajante [and The Chiltern Firehouse] in London and José Avillez at Belcanto in Lisbon.” “You know I have never been to Portugal? My wife is from there.” Rather stunned by this, I ask: “Was she born there?” “She spent the first six years of her life there.” “Yes? Where? And you’ve never been to Portugal? That’s a sin! You must go!” “I know! I want to. My wife wants to go.” “So, you were with Massimo in Osteria [Francescana]?” he asks, after I mention some of the chefs I have met thus far. “Yes, in the wine cellar. I have eaten with chefs in different places. Sometimes in the dining room, sometimes in the kitchen, like when I had lunch with Joan Roca or Arzak.”
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Left: “Chocolate forest” Ali Sonko: dishwasher, partner at Noma and “the heart and soul of the restaurant”, according to René Redzepi
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“He is amazing, Arzak! If I am like Arzak when I grow old, I’ll be happy.” René wants to know what the book is about. I look at Amass’ large kitchen overlooking the living room and say: “My book is about that. The open kitchen is the perfect metaphor for the world we live in. Everything is transparent, you can see what is going on; there are no secrets anymore. No secret recipes. In an instant, you can have access to all the recipes of every chef in the world.” René nods his head. “But the truth is,” I continue, “that the world’s best recipes won’t make you the world’s best chef. That is my starting point. And I ask why, if you have all the information, all the tricks...” “That’s very interesting!” “...Why is it so hard? For a start you have to learn how to cook. That, in itself, is hard work, and not as easy as it seems. And you have to find the right mentors along the way. It is very much about mentoring, practicing, learning from the classics. I don’t know how important you think the classics are in this industry...” “I think it is very important! I agree completely. And the foundation of actually knowing and respecting history. I believe that the cleverer you are with these things the better you innovate. The way I think of innovation, the way we approach it, is a very simple but very time-consuming way...” “How do you do it?” “We try to study a lot. By that I mean we have to read, we have to know what is going on in the world. We have to know what happened in the past; we have to read about natural sciences, about chemistry; we have to read about the seasons, how food is grown, meet people that know about these things. Innovation happens when you’re able to mix all of those past experiences together and, through the use of your intuition, find a synergy with the now.” “A synergy with the now?” “Like when you see something in the moment, something that stimulates you somehow – a flavour or a smell
or something – and then, if you have the right intuition, you find a synergy with the past and fuse them into the present; that’s when something new happens. And I think you cannot do that without...” “Without that previous knowledge and the right foundation.” “Yes.” “That is what I am writing about. And then, even if you achieve that level, which takes years of practice...” “Yes.” “You have to get hold of something else, which is good ingredients.” “That is probably the most difficult part,” he says. “What I call ‘ingredients’ is more than literally food ingredients.” “OK.” “The first one is taste. There’s no point trying to find ingredients if you don’t have a good palate, an educated palate. And for that you need to taste a lot of things, many times. And as you know very well, taste is much more complex than it seems; it’s to do with smell, how you feel, the context, the colour of the plates... Everything influences taste.” “Yes.” “And then the taste of what? I think you said somewhere that we live in an edible world.” “I did.” “We have a huge amount of ingredients to discover, many more than people think.” “Of course.” “Most of us always...” “Focus on the same ingredients,” says René. “Yes. Around the same ten recipes or the ten ingredients that we know well, that we feel comfortable with. That, to me, is like living in a great neighbourhood, some nice area of Manhattan, for instance, but never going out of Manhattan.” “Yeah [laughs]. So many people do that!”
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“Imagine what you’re missing! You never see a beach, you never see a mountain, snow, Paris, whatever.” “Yeah... I know.” “So that part about the need for us to be curious, constantly finding new ingredients, new combinations... is also an analogy of how people are limiting their possibilities by sticking to what they already know.” “Especially in these times, when there are all these things happening in Europe and around the world with these right-wing movements. At times, you feel that the world is going backwards. So I completely agree with you.” “Do you keep discovering new ingredients? What was the last ingredient that you’ve found?” “Yes, actually the most recent was last week; you had it on the menu. You know the dish where you wrap up the fish inside the milk?” I remember it well. “Yes, it’s fantastic.”
“Because there are so many solids in milk. As you reduce the water content, you are left with the solids. It’s like when you make salt. You have a glass of sea water, you let it evaporate and the solids are left. The same thing happens with the milk.” I must try that, I thought. “That is just one of many [new ingredients]. This year, we have had so many because we also went to Japan. It has really been a year of discovery, a year of learning, unparalleled over the last six years. What we’ve discovered is not just about new ingredients, new cultures, but also about the team, about being together with people...” “I thought it was great motivational tool,” I say. “I’ve talked with members of your team and everybody told me it was the best thing ever.” “Me too. Honestly. Professionally and personally, it was the greatest experience I’ve ever had.”
“It’s a fish I haven’t cooked before...”
“Was it hard to organise?”
“What’s the fish?” I ask.
“Oh, yeah! Actually, I think of it like a pregnancy. A bad one.”
“It’s lumpfish. It’s local but considered a poor man’s fish. Because we have used the roe for many years, we found out that it is caught with nets in small boats; it’s not trawling, and you catch about 50/50 of male to female fish. We also discovered that the fishermen would throw away the male, because it’s considers a bad fish; you just want it for the roe. So I thought, what a waste! I don’t want to be part of that waste! We are supposed to be some of the best craftsmen in the world; we are supposed to cook poor fish somehow.”
I laugh. “In which you feel sick every day, your wife feels sick every day. She can’t walk, she has to leave work because it’s too difficult; and the delivery, you know, is three days of constant pain... and then the moment you have the child, it’s like: This is the best thing that has ever happened to me! And you forget all about all the trouble. It was like that. Setting it up was one of the most painful and most difficult things I’ve ever done.”
“So you gave it a try.”
“Why did you go there in the first place?”
“We began buying it and I was blown away! It’s really one of the biggest surprises.”
“So many reasons... Hold on.” (He takes another bite.)
The dish looks like a pancake – made of milk – that folds like an envelope around the fish and the roe (hence the name “Male and female lumpfish with whole milk”).
“Years ago. Years ago.”
“I love the milk too, the texture is amazing,” I say. “It’s just milk.” “How are you able to make the milk solid?”
“When was the first time you thought about it?” “Even before all the bad things that happened?” There was an outbreak of norovirus in February 2013, when 67 diners fell ill after eating at the restaurant. Noma was crucified by the media. The world’s best restaurant “poisoning” its clients, as one famous newspaper wrote at the time. It was just irresistible. As soon as
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1. Potatoes on the dehydrator tray 2. “Lambic fermented potatoes, Norwegian scallop, burnt lemon, soured cream” 3. Chef Matt Orlando in his greenhouse 4. Re-used bottles and graffiti on the wall at Amass
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you’re number one, you become a target for any flaw or mistake you make.
“They were ready to go for it. Ready to attack. Nobody wanted this to happen on their shift.”
“Even before that,” says René. “The norovirus was a major motivation! You just say, fuck it! Our team was torn apart because we couldn’t believe that it had happened. The head chef, Dan, was depressed. He was just so unhappy because it happened on his shift, you know what I mean? I needed to tell people that this is not life or death, and that they should relax, it’s not the end.” That said, reading the media at the time, it looked like it was. It’s at these moments of crisis that companies reflect on what really matters.
“Then it’s a very good story about how you get back to number one after that.”
“I needed to tell them that the most important is still having friends, colleagues and family. As long as we have that, we can draw up a plan and come out of this much stronger. So that was really one of the reasons to say, you know what? This needs to happen in Japan. I had already been talking about it, trying to set it up but it was quite difficult. It was kind of on hold, but then we said, fuck it! This is going to happen.” A few months later there was another setback: Noma lost its top spot on the 50 Best Restaurants list (although the voting had already closed at the time of the incident). “And the 50 Best was on top of that?” “Yes. So, you know how the press works. Then afterwards...” “Then there was also a guy who left.” René points at Matt in the kitchen. “It was this guy [Matt Orlando]. He had left just before that. So he leaves, then we lose number one and people were like: Ah! It’s over!” “It’s the beginning of the end...” “No. They just said it was over.” “And then? You get pissed off?” “Of course you do! You’re like: We decide when it’s over! Nobody else decides. We make the decision to say: Now, it’s over for us. It’s not up to you. We’re the ones that are here every day. And it wasn’t finished.” “And how did the team respond?”
“But do you know how surprised we were? I swear to God.” I was there, I remember how surprised the team were. “We went there, and I don’t drink a lot of alcohol, but I thought, ‘Fuck, I am going to get drunk!’ And we splashed out, we booked everybody in at the Claridges hotel, all ten people. We cannot afford these things but I said, ‘you know what, fuck it’.” By now, I was already accustomed to the fact that René uses the f word a lot. I am not a professional journalist and I don’t know what the etiquette is or the protocol one should use in these situations, so fuck it, I’ll just tell it as it is. “We are going to go there, we might be the last one on that list, you know? Or whatever. If we start slipping down the list, it’s something you have got to accept if you are a part of it, you know. It’s about the energy in the world. It’s also about where the energy is, the spirit. It’s like a pulse. What is the pulse of the world? What’s happening? What are people talking about?” “And you felt that Noma was...” “I just thought that’s what was happening and I accepted that. I told myself: remember Newton, remember Newton. You go up but you go down. That’s just natural sciences.” “But then you want to go up again...” (laughs) “No.” “You wanted to go up or that wasn’t a goal in itself?” “I thought it was impossible, I thought, ‘forget it’! The only thing we do know is: We’ve worked the hardest we can, the best that we can...” Matt approaches the table again and René says: “I could eat ten bowls of this!” and Matt replies with a smile: “We could make that happen, you know.” We go back to the pop-up in Japan.
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“So it was like, fuck it, you know? Also because, if you consider what is good for the list [The World’s 50 Best Restaurants], going to Japan is not good.” “Why?” I ask. “Because it closes the restaurant for three months, nobody can eat there.” “Did you think about that when you planned going there?” “I didn’t care anymore, I just wanted to do what I wanted to do and I wanted to learn, to bring the team together again. At that time we were together again, as we were before, but going to Japan has meant that we are even more together now, like... the team now, it’s a friendship for life.”
Or just because we are all obsessed with recipes, with finding successful recipes that give us a sense of control over a volatile and nuanced reality, and then falling into the trap of repeating them ad nauseum. Both advertising and fine dining are primarily about stories, about making something special in terms of meaning, not just what it looks (or tastes) like. Both thrive on charismatic leaders but also on nurturing incredible teamwork. Both are driven by in-built curiosity. And both deal with the ephemeral. Both defy the ephemeral. Yet I decided to just highlight something that all great agencies (and great restaurants too, I imagine) must deal with and that I have found the most difficult: how to stay on top.
“They are all going to leave at one point, but there will always be a connection because we went to this summer camp, this winter camp, together.”
“It’s very different,” I say. “But very similar too. There are things like keeping high standards, drawing a line and then saying: ‘Below this line I would never go.’ You know what a mean? You kind of know where your line is, everybody knows where their line is.”
“And why Japan?”
“Yes,” he says.
“I thought it was very important to go to a place that is very different.”
“Now, this implies some tough calls,” I say, “internally and with clients, when things are below that line, not at the level you believe they should be. Maybe postponing campaigns and driving the client crazy with that, asking the team to start over, when you know they haven’t been sleeping for a few nights... What’s it like here? Does it happen that sometimes, something is not quite right?”
He pauses briefly, as if reflecting on what he has just said.
It makes a lot of sense, I said to myself. We are attracted to the familiar, but we learn from differences. That’s how we stretch what we already know. René seems to have read my mind, and asks: “Do you think this world it’s different from the advertising world?” The answer to that question is why I was drawn to this project. Despite the differences, I could see endless parallels that I found inspiring. Maybe it is because cooking is also a creative act, or because it involves caring for other people. And if you are unable to empathize with others, you shouldn’t work in advertising, because you will never be able to get into their heads. Or maybe it is because of the need to design elements of surprise, the coding and decoding that is required for an ad or a new dish to succeed, or the importance of context in the interpretation of the “message”.
“It happens every day, you miss a second, you miss a bit for that one table and so they would be waiting too long or something, so you have to...” “Improvise?” “You say, ‘The kitchen made this for you.’ Not to disrupt the rhythm, you put in something else, but you don’t say anything!” “You don’t have to say it.” “No, because you go there with an excuse, you know, they don’t need to know that. They just need to know you are there for them. You know we are not going to let you wait here. Take this.” “And you gain some time.”
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“What do you want to do, what would make you happy, what would be fun to do, how do you want to live your life?” 1. “Fermented black garlic” (before) 2. “Fermented black garlic” (after) 3. Mise en place 4. “Monkfish liver”
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“Yes, that’s how we do things, split-second decisions. They are tricky because often, something goes wrong in the heat of the moment and you get angry. And when you get angry, it’s difficult to be objective, you sort of get blindsided. So it’s really tricky to keep your calm, to be cool.” “You talked about Dan [Giusti]. Is he effectively your right-hand man?” “He is my right-hand man, yes.”
and I want it to be a place that encourages that. I think it would be a failure if we didn’t.” Matt is not a one-off. There are many other chefs that have successfully pursued their own avenues after time at Noma. And many with René’s help and encouragement. “I want Noma to be a place that encourages people to say: I am going to go for it. And you know what? I am going to do my best but if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.”
“How do you keep him? I mean, how do you keep him motivated? Because they all leave eventually.”
“It’s not the end of the world, as you said.”
“Yes, because if you do that...”
“And how do you choose your team?”
“That is a disaster! If you do immoral things, if you fuck people up, you are left alone. And, when it comes down to it, that’s all you’re left with; the people. Because at some point, you know, the shine disappears, the sun won’t shine as bright on you as it does right now; and all the people that want to be with you at a certain point, are going to move on.”
“It’s all about maturity and their spirit, that’s how I choose them. And how do I keep them? Well, the job is challenging in itself, every day is like Champions League semi-finals, lunch and dinner. I know they are about to leave when they are very confident and sometimes know things about a situation at your restaurant better than you do. That’s how I know they’ll be leaving soon... It’s a moment when you realize...” “And there’s nothing you can do about it.” “I don’t want to, because I believe it would be selfish to have them stay; it would be selfish if I said no. It’s good for me if they stay. But you know what? It’s not good for them. They have to go out and try, go out and challenge themselves.” That struck a chord with me. This happened all the time at agencies; creative teams and account managers who leave for a leading role somewhere else or run their own agency. It caused problems but also allowed for other people to step in. “You have to move on and find the next person.” “Of course. We do have people who stay for ten years, which is amazing! That’s also what we build on. We have three people that have been with us from the beginning. But they are also different types of personality. Unlike these guys that are just... like Matt [he looks at him busy in the kitchen]. You know that he wants to try by himself
“No, it’s not. As long as you don’t fuck people up.”
“Isn’t it also this sense of pride, like ‘I’m a mentor of all these guys’?” “I don’t think so. People ask me how it feels to be like a father to all these people. Do you know what? They worked with me and they did a very good job, but they are individuals with their own ideas, their own originality.” “They stay there as long as they feel they’re learning something.” “Yes.” “That they’re still being pushed.” “They stay until they start to say: If I can control this restaurant, I can do this on my own! I have my own ideas now, I know what I like about food. When they say, ‘I know what I would like to cook’, once you start having that...” “It’s the beginning of...” “It’s really the beginning because then you might look at what is going on and say I am going to do my job but I would like to do something else.”
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I pick up where I left off: “You learn the techniques, then you have all these ingredients to learn about. Then you cook according to what you’ve learned from others and then there’s a moment when you form your own perspective: food should be like this or restaurants should be like that.” “Yeah.” I retell an anecdote I once heard from Alain Ducasse. “I told you that I went to Paris for training at the Centre de Formation AD in Argenteuil. One day, the six of us were invited to have breakfast with him at Plaza Athénée and he told us a story about the previous night’s dinner. He had visited a friend’s restaurant, a former chef of the group, who had left to open his own restaurant. So he goes there and the friend asks him at the end: Alain, did you like it? What did you think? And his answer was: “Everything was perfect, my friend, but there are dozens of restaurants in Paris that can cook just as well. What’s your story?” When I heard that, I just thought: this is exactly what it’s like with brands and advertising! It’s not about cooking well, because at this level of course you cook well.” “So many people cook well!” he says. “But if you don’t have a point of view, a story... That’s why I was talking to you at the very beginning about the DNA of Noma.” And that’s why Michelin doesn’t matter to us anymore, because...” “They are not looking for that? They are not judging it?” “I think they are but it doesn’t determine the business anymore because we developed something that people see as a very special story and that keeps us full, 30 times more than we need to be, you know. Whereas being a three-Michelin star restaurant is something that puts you into a category where a lot of other restaurants are, and it creates a certain level of expectation...” “But can you verbalize your story? I think Noma’s identity was challenged by going to Japan, in the sense that you could say, OK, it is not going be Noma in Japan; it is
going to be something that has to be true to our identity but also true to that place.” “Yes.” “And those moments are when you challenge who we are, what defines you. What was unique about that experience? Where was Noma in there?” “You know what? When you go to Japan, a place where traditions are so important, it’s actually very easy to stand out.” “Really?” “Yes, because everybody does it the same way it has been done for the past 500 or 600 years. So coming in as an outsider, trying to look at these ways of eating and these ingredients in a new way, in our way, makes it seem so different and fresh. For the Japanese it was so different, it was like wild to them! It was sort of an immigrant perspective on the place, and that came so easy! I don’t think we needed to do more than that.” In many situations, we need an immigrant’s perspective to get a fresh approach, I thought. “Not many places have such a rich history as Japan, not just for simple peasant dining but also for fine dining.” “For fine dining?” I ask. “For fine dining! They have a thousand-year-old history of the best dining.” “That’s also something missing from my book: Japan.” “Japan is difficult, but you need it in there. You have to go to Japan. The food is just so good!” “From the ingredients to meticulous professionalism,” I say. I ask him about the differences between the East and the West and how that had influenced him. “There were so many things that I learned there and one of them was that Japan is still a place where they respect the craftsman almost like an artist. And of course, if these people choose to only cook for 5 or 6 people a day, or 6 or 7 or 8, there is room for it; the system supports that sort of thing.”
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“There must be around 25 different languages spoken in the kitchen.” 1. Absolute focus 2. “Grilled onion with onion preserves” 3. Viviane Melo 4. “Fresh langoustine and flavours of the ocean”
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“That micro... specialization?” “That micro business. There are people that are willing to support these people financially.” “It is not a business in itself it’s...” “I don’t know what it is. It’s not a business, in the modern sense. Maybe 50 years down the line it will start being profitable, I don’t know. But to be in a place of such economic magnitude, and to have a place that is so different in terms of business, is just amazing! So the example of a young chef that wants to go out and buy a restaurant, who wants to cook ramen for eight people every day; that can happen in Japan!” “It can?” “Yes. For anybody in Copenhagen, it’s impossible! Do you know why it’s impossible? Because finding a space somewhere where people are, where they would be willing to go, would be too expensive. Forget about it! That means you need an investor. Honestly, I think only one person in two million would want to be part of such a thing. Most people say: You know what? It sounds great but then, you are going to build up this brand and when the brand is ready, when you are all good, how many outlets can we have? What’s the expansion plan? In ten years we are going to have one hundred small ramen shops. Can we roll it out? That’s what everybody talks about in the West! Everything is about growth, leveraging your brand. Building something up and then leveraging and then selling out! Yeah! Getting a hundred million a year or fifty or whatever, you know. That’s what everybody talks about!”
tions. In Japan, first you create a relationship. You might have to spend months, years sometimes creating these relationships before you can perform a transaction.” As I listened to the chef, I was reminded of Predictably Irrational, the title of a very interesting book by behavioural economist Dan Ariely. In it, there’s a chapter which highlights why we are sometimes happy to do extraordinary things, as long as we are not being paid to do them. Through a series of scientific experiments, he demonstrates how we are willing to work harder when no money is involved. There is something about most of these fine dining restaurants, and about Noma in particular, which fits this description quite well. Of course, no one is being exploited or working for free, but they’re not there for the money either. Wages are low, working hours are crazy and return on investment cannot be measured in dollars, euros or Danish kroner. (René told me later that last year’s profit was only 2 per cent. And there were times when the business was in the red, as he admits in his diary.) They are moved by another kind of currency. As Ariely says, things like loyalty, pride, a sense of purpose and social gratification can all be incredibly powerful motivators and contribute to a life much “more satisfying, creative, fulfilling and fun”.
It’s obvious that for René there are a thousand things more important than money. He could “leverage the brand” if he wanted to, but it wouldn’t make any sense.
The key is always keeping in mind the difference between relationships (governed by social norms) and transactions (determined by market norms) and finding out ways to design your life with more of the first and less of the second, whenever possible avoiding mixing the two because “every time market norms prevail, the social norms are pushed out”. And the magic will rarely return.
“We could,” he says, “but I am very happy with my situation.”
I guess René Redzepi doesn’t need to be told this. He made his choice long ago.
I reflected on my previous conversations. I have yet to meet a great chef whose primary motivation is money.
“Let me take a picture of you,” I say.
“There is another thing about Japan. There, everything is built on relationships, while here in Scandinavia, I would say in most of the West, most things are built on transac-
“Yes, I’ll show you. I spent two years studying photography before going to business school. I love it. Maybe that’s why advertising appealed to me.”
“Are you going to have pictures in your book too?”
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“It’s pretty wild what you are doing.” “It’s very ambitious.” “Very ambitious!”
As I came to understand later, that was just the beginning. René’s Periscope stories became a powerful tool to convey Noma’s work philosophy and the chef ’s sensibility.
“How would I classify the book? It’s not a cookbook, it doesn’t have recipes but it’s all about food at the same time! And using food as a vehicle that everybody relates to, even those who don’t know how to cook, to communicate other things.”
Matt brings us a dessert which, as he explains, consists of buttermilk ice cream with burnt honey on top, yogurt and six different types of pickled flowers from the kitchen garden.
“The philosophy of food...” he says. “What I find very interesting about your project is that, even though you are knowledgeable, you are an outsider for us, which I feel is so good and refreshing.”
“That’s because the seeds have been in vinegar, these are last year’s flowers.”
“Hmm! There’s acidity here,” I say.
“Seeing things slightly differently.”
“What is there to eat? What is unique about this region?” I ask.
“Ah! Because our world is so inbred, you know? Everybody knows everybody! Including the journalists. You also don’t seem like a restaurant person because you are way too curious for a journalist! And also because you come from a creative field, you have a creative mind.”
“A lot of fish, a lot of shellfish, nice langoustines, urchins [...]. What is unique is the wilderness; we have 25 million people living on a landmass so big that it dwarfs Spain with only half the population of Spain living in an area that’s five times bigger.”
This prompted us to talk about journalism and the perilous state of the traditional media business and the various threats it is currently facing. René shows me his phone: “Have you seen this thing from Twitter called Periscope?”
“With a lot of wilderness?”
“I’ve downloaded it but haven’t tried it yet...”
“So that is your source...”
“Look, this morning I put this one on, cycling through Copenhagen, talking about spring and Easter. And 412 people watched it live!”
“That is the main source of inspiration.”
“Amazing!” “Then people ask questions, so all these people join, and then I respond because they can hear my voice.” “I can be at home watching this?” “You can! Watching live!” I was curious about his enthusiasm. At a time when so many leaders of all types, from business to culture or politics, are trying to grasp how to deal with social media, here was a chef embracing it. Talking directly to his guests, his followers, his critics, his fellow chefs, his team and potential employees. Live. No intermediaries, no rehearsal, no safety nets.
“Everything is literally as the wilderness made it: wild food, berries, mushrooms, seeds, herbs, flowers, birds, forest animals; you know, when the berry season starts there are 6 varieties that are edible, and so on.”
“Why wasn’t it used before? Was it neglected?” “Nobody used it, it was just dormant, sleeping.” “Not even the more traditional, regional food?” “Just dead, nobody was using before all these seeds here, these roses; you remember the roses that you’ve had?” How can I forget? The dish is called “Fermented wild plums and wild beach roses” and it’s really a masterpiece. A fruity, sweet and bitter circular pink shape inside a delicate napkin. “This is a wild variety of rose that exists on the beach. But nobody thought of eating them. I only started using them because I remembered my childhood in Macedonia when the roses started getting old, about to sort
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â€œPaintingâ€? the plates with kelp marinade
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Private dining room
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“Yeah. No more scallops, we thought. Because we were used to just getting them from Rungis [the gigantic food market outside Paris that supplies most of Europe], we didn’t realize that one of the largest exporters of scallops was actually a neighbouring country, Norway, that sells ten thousand tons to Rungis. With this discovery, we started connecting to our place again, connecting to the landmass. We started travelling and meeting the people, not putting names of towns on the map but names of ingredients. This discovery was just amazing!”
“What were the ingredients that you had to you say no to? Or that you continue to say no to? Olive oil?”
“You have built a network of suppliers. How many do you work with, right now?”
“Now, I don’t feel like I am saying no anymore, because there is a seasonal rhythm where I expect what I expect. I don’t expect citrus anymore in December and January, February and March, because it’s not here.”
“More than a hundred.”
of wilt. My aunt would pick the petals and put sugar water over them, and we would drink it as a cold drink, you know?” “It’s a good idea actually.” I tell the chef that one of the things that makes it easier for people to define their identity is defining what they’re not, saying no to something. “And when you focus on these ingredients, you had to say no to others.”
“I know.” “But I used to, when we first opened. It was like oh!, it’s winter I am supposed to have citrus...” “Products that were coming from the outside?” “Yeah. Southern Europe, Latin America... I love to eat it, you know, but for cooking at Noma I don’t miss it at all. In the beginning it was a creative catalyst, to say to yourself you know what...” “Let’s take this out,” I say. “Let’s take this out! Not because we think what we have is better or anything like that, not at all! It was just, if we are going to explore our place, let’s explore. Let’s just try to cut out everything that we have always used from southern Europe, which we know works.” “Which was what? What were the key defining ingredients?” “Well, first of all, there were typical luxury foods like truffle and foie gras, those are the two that you see on any menu; second came all the things like citrus and the oils, olive oil – those were two mega components. In the beginning, we thought it was also stuff like nuts, we didn’t realize that there were hazelnuts, walnuts, chestnuts, everywhere here. We also thought, OK, no more urchin.” “Sea urchin?”
“I’ve found there is something in this industry that should be very inspiring for others. It’s that the relationship with suppliers in other industries is usually a power-based relationship – I have the money, you do what I want!” “Transaction,” René points out. “Yes. And here there’s intimacy, mutual ‘ownership’. Because you need good ingredients, you need the best ingredients you can get. I believe they are sometimes a catalyst for the creative process, giving you a combination that hadn’t occurred to you, products that you’d never thought of...” “That’s how it is right now. It’s crazy that the connection and the relationship with the people that grow the food and our producers is so strong that they are actually innovating with us, pushing us to go for new ingredients.” “You cannot do it alone, innovation increasingly comes from a good network, an eco-system,” I say. “A community of respect, equality...” “What about business partners? You need business partners.” “I know... [laughs] but it would be better if we didn’t.” “Yeah but...” “It’s tough! That one is the toughest thing!” “What is their purpose? Because I don’t see anybody making money.”
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“No. Nobody. ” “And then everyone asks what the point is.” “The point is achieving happiness.” “Beyond money.” “Beyond money. You wake up every day, breathe in... [he takes a deep breath] ahhhh! and say: I’m ready! I’m happy to go now and do my job. And you know what? At the end of the night, you tell yourself, I have worked! I did a good job! That to me is...” “Fulfilment.” “That’s fulfilment! And that’s also... having been on book tours and with people inviting you on fucking private jets and all these things, having you smell the money, there is nothing that can beat the physicality and the greatness of just doing a good day’s work. And you look a lot of people in the eye and they smile, and they feel they’ve accomplished something. There are high-fives and then, ‘OK, see you tomorrow’. I mean it’s also as much a feeling that you are part of something, part of a team, together.” During an AMA (Ask Me Anything) Reddit session that René participated in a few days later, at which he was asked what advice he would give to someone prepared to quit their job to go to a culinary school, the chef said in jest that he would advise them against it, before conceding that the profession can be extremely gratifying not only because of the teamwork, the community and the friendships one builds but also for the simple reason that, as he put it, “you get to make people happy every day, twice a day”. Who wouldn’t like that? I thought. “And that, for you, makes up for the effort and for the lack money.” “For sure.” “And also for the people who work there.” “Even for people who work there, because, let’s face it, any menu that you have tried at all of these restaurants should realistically be anywhere from two to five times more expensive. If it wasn’t, it’s because it is being subsidised by the staff, because everybody just wants to work and they stay until the work is done. And they come
much earlier than they should; nobody works forty hours in our industry.” “So you need something else, that sense of feeling part of something special. How do you articulate that sense of purpose?” “It’s difficult. But as long as you search for yourself, as long as you feel that whatever it is that you are trying to do in your work hasn’t been achieved (yet), that you have not yet reached nirvana, so to speak... because it’s the process of achieving something that is the perfect moment; that’s the interesting part. As soon as you reach that moment, it’s fleeting. And then you have to move to the next moment, which might be a new project or something that...” “That’s also why Japan made sense, raising the bar...” “Japan was probably a part of that, yes; raising the bar, learning more, making sure that we don’t keep repeating ourselves. One of the mega things of our work is that you have to wake up and dare to risk everything. Like going to work as if you weren’t considered one of the best in the world, daring to surprise, daring to take on big challenges, major risks in the work that you do.” Interestingly, daring to risk everything was perhaps a paradoxical answer to the next subject I wanted to focus on: How to ensure consistency? The toughest part of any restaurant (or business, for that matter). “Consistency is something I have found to be really hard, just like in agencies. Every agency has done at least one good campaign. The problem is doing it for cars, for toothpaste, for children’s toys...” “Diapers,” he says. “And diapers. Every day, every month, every year. And in restaurants I am trying to understand what sustains that or what the foundation of that consistency is.” “Yes. It’s the people, to me. To me, there’s no question about it!” René has to rush back to his restaurant and his people. “We’ll talk again tomorrow,” he says. And he grabs his bike and goes, while I stay around a little longer to get to know Matt.
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1. “Egg cured in fermented beef and the last potatoes” 2. Restaurant manager James Spreadbury 3. Sous-chef José Carlos 4. Positive/negative of a pear
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1. “Curdled milk and the first garlic of the year” 2. Concentration 3. Head chef Daniel Giusti 4. “The first shoots of the season with kelp marinade”
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The next day, I ask Redzepi if it’s possible to be in his kitchen during the morning and lunch-time shift. It’s not something they usually allow. I’m asked to be as quiet and invisible as possible, so my presence does not interfere, despite the fact that, according to science, that’s an impossible feat. The observer effect, as is known, means that the act of observing will always influence the phenomenon being observed. But, to be honest, everyone is so absolutely focused on their tasks that I find it very hard for them to even notice me. It’s a large and modern kitchen, just in front of the entrance with glass windows to the dining room. There are about twenty very busy cooks here, both male and female. Every corner and every surface is being used by someone. I stand with my back to a bookshelf and a camera in my hands. Hip-hop is playing out loud in the kitchen’s sound system. It’s Pharoahe Monch: “Get the fuck up! Simon says, get the fuck up! Put your hands to the sky! (Bo bo bo bo bo)...” Dan Giusti is the tallest person in the room. Everything revolves around him. Most of the time he doesn’t say a word. He keeps a serious expression and observes the whole room like an eagle from on high. Good peripheral vision is essential for any chef. If they don’t see the person, they listen, they smell and they know immediately if something is not going well. By now I’m in the same mood as the whole team. I’ve been infected by the rhythm: “(Bo bo bo bo bo)! Whether you’re riding the train or a Lexus-es. This is for either or Rolies or Timex-eses. Wicked like Exorcist, this is the joint. You holding up the wall then you missing the point.” At the back, on my left, three cooks are separating the leaves of the first shoots of the season, which will be served with a kelp marinade. All around, there are dozens of small plastic boxes with dozens of different ingredients. Each chef marks the ingredients’ names on the outside and checks if all the quantities are OK. There will be 40 guests in the dining room. Each one will be eating 18 different dishes. That means that 720 dishes
will be coming out of the kitchen soon. You can feel the tension building. The whole team from the dining room and the cooks gather around James Spreadbury, the restaurant manager, at the entrance. He will be sharing information about the clients, if they have been there before, if there was any special date, anything that may require special attention. From where I stand, I can hear that a German chef is coming with his girlfriend. Thomas Frebel, the sous-chef in charge of creating new dishes in the test kitchen upstairs, is here helping out. The first clients are at the door. Everybody stops what they are doing and goes there to welcome them. When you arrive at Noma, you are greeted by all the cooks and chefs, plus James and the waiters. You can’t help but feel they must have confused you with someone else – perhaps a famous actor or the prime minister. But no. It’s just you. The guest. Everybody goes back to their workstation and Dan shouts the first orders. “Yes, chef!” they all reply in unison. This will be repeated several times. When someone says “guests!”, it’s like having a remote control and pressing “pause” and then “start again”. In any normal kitchen something would get burned in the meantime. Now the volume has been turned down and the soundtrack of The Godfather is playing, which somehow seems appropriate, giving an even greater sense of drama to the scene. Clients continue to arrive and soon the kitchen is at full speed. It feels like a rollercoaster. On my right, they are making ten quenelles with this year’s first garlic to go with curdled milk. Waiters pass with empty plates which will be given to Ali. Opposite, there are twelve empty dishes laid out on the counter and five pairs of hands swiftly place different ingredients on each of them. They are using paint brushes, tweezers, spoons or their own fingers. When each is complete, a cook is assigned to bring the dish to the table and explain it. I could feel all the energy and enthusiasm of a kitchen brigade playing at its very best.
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I remember what Matt Orlando told me yesterday: “Energy in the kitchen is everything.” It can be addictive. It’s joy under pressure, driven by a sense of pride and camaraderie. The stakes are high, everyone depends on everyone else doing “what they are supposed to do.” It’s intense but I have also found it to be surprisingly light, smooth, fluid. The last guests are leaving. I notice that Daniel Giusti finally smiles. I go upstairs to meet René again. But he is not there. Someone tells me that he is flying to Australia today and maybe he forgot about our appointment. My flight is at the end of the day so all I can do is wait and see what happens. I ponder the light wooden sculpture – a work by Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno – hanging from the ceiling of the test kitchen. It’s a group of 3D hexagons stuck to one another like soap bubbles. In geometry, it is called the Weaire-Phelan structure and it is the answer to the question of how space can be divided into cells of equal volume and minimal surface area. But you don’t need to know that to get the message: this is a place where you are expected to think and create, not just cook. Suddenly I hear a child’s laughter; not something we expect to hear in a restaurant kitchen. It must be the chef, I think. “I am sorry!” says Redzepi. “I forgot I was flying to Australia today. Let me just give a piece of bread to my daughter.” I watch as he spreads the butter with the same huge knife he had used to cut the bread and hands it to his child. “We make it here. It’s delicious!” he says, taking a bite too. I have found bread and butter to be a fairly good indicator of a restaurant’s overall quality. It’s a sign that even the most basic things are given special care and dedication. I take a bit of the bread myself, as we sit together and talk about the team again. I wanted to ask
him if he ever had any tough decisions to make when someone very skilful becomes a source of conflict with other members of the team. “If you have a person with great skills but he’s a fucking asshole, it doesn’t matter that he is a master, you don’t want to work with a guy like that, or a girl like that. I just want to do things and be with people that make me smile. Of course, they have to be professional and most of them end up being good professionals...” Minutes later, we are told that a lumpfish has arrived: “I’ll do a Periscope,” he says. I follow him to the kitchen where the stagières are preparing the plums, like yesterday. One of them, a young cook with a black beard, is wearing blue latex gloves, knife in hand. René shares with the audience how fascinated he is with this new ingredient he just found, while the cook begins to open the fish. “You can see, it’s not very pretty, but, right now, its belly is full of roe. How long have you been here?” he asks the cook. “About a year.” “And how did you learn how to do this?” “By doing,” he replies. “There are things you cannot learn just by watching a video on the web, you have to do it,” says Redzepi (albeit streaming a video to the web as he says this). He keeps moving around the cook, pointing his phone at the lumpfish and answering questions from viewers that keep popping up on his screen. And by doing it, I realize that he is actually teaching us something, which is not how to fillet the fish but how to cultivate an endless curiosity and a desire to experiment. That’s how you learn. That’s how you grow. Months later, René is live on Periscope again. I take a look. He is trying to persuade his two daughters to taste fermented garlic and they keep running away from him. “Girls! Come here,” he says. “Remember our agreement, every day you must try ten new things.”
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“The connection and the relationship with the people that grow the food and our producers is so strong that they are actually innovating with us, pushing us to go for new ingredients.” “Male and female lumpfish with whole milk” Right: René making a Periscope session of the lumpfish being prepared
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Chef Thomas Frebel
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“Fermented wild plums and wild beach roses”
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José Avillez Belcanto, Lisbon, Portugal
’m walking through the streets of the Chiado neighbourhood, on my way to Belcanto.
I left the house thinking, “I’ve been around the world to finally come home.” I was born in Lisbon, this is my terroir, but I hadn’t yet spoken to the chef who has made such an important contribution to putting Portugal on the world map of contemporary haute cuisine.
There is no consensus regarding the origins of this city neighbourhood’s name. Officially, it stems from the poet António Ribeiro Chiado, a Franciscan friar who once lived there. However, some believe it has to do with the nickname of a well-known owner of a local tavern in the sixteenth century. I like both versions. The first because this is a country of poets, the second because, ironically, the neighbourhood, which was once Lisbon’s cultural heart and today counts as one of the capital’s most elegant and vibrant areas, is now associated with an even more famous “taverner”, the chef I am here to have lunch with. The heart of Lisbon is also the heart of the cuisine crafted by José Avillez, who not only lives in the area but has various successful restaurants here. I peer at the window displays at Bertrand: “the oldest bookshop in the world still in operation”, says a certificate posted on the door. One showcases various books written by our Nobel Laureate for Literature, José Saramago. Another, to the right, boasts the complete works of the architect Álvaro Siza, winner of the Pritzker Prize, who, among many other things, was responsible for the reconstruction of this neighbourhood after the terrible fire of 1988, which destroyed many buildings. On the shelf above, there is an English Penguin edition of selected poems by Fernando Pessoa, who was one of the most important poets of 20th-century Portuguese literature. Coincidentally, he was born just a stone’s throw from here, in 1888, exactly 100 years before that unfortunate
event. It is there, in that square of his birth, next to the city’s main opera house, São Carlos National Theatre, that we find Belcanto. It is another splendidly sunny day. At the end of the street, the River Tagus peeks through the buildings. I am always surprised by Lisbon’s charm. Head waiter Luís Reis sees me at the door and motions for me to come in. I walk through the still-empty dining room to join José at the “chef ’s table”, at the far end of the kitchen, overlooking the cooks’ work area. Until recently, this was the second dining room, before José decided to use the space to expand the cramped kitchen. There are fewer tables but a better quality of life, and possibly dreams of a third star. They bring me an aperitif that the chef himself presents: “Sabutini (elderberry Martini) and green olive with chocolate and cumin stone.” It was not his famous “inverted martini”, which I like so much, where the liquid is olive juice and the gin an exact replica of an olive, but it was every bit as good. I have known José for a few years now but there are questions that I have never asked him. Particularly the most obvious ones. “How did your interest in cooking start?” “I’ve always loved cooking. Ever since I was a kid, from the age of 9 or 10, I made cakes, tarts and biscuits with my sister, which we sold to friends and family. When I was 11 and 12, I was making meatballs, sausages with savoy cabbage, feijoada (traditional Portuguese bean stew). [...] I would wake up early and prepare everything. Only then would I go and watch cartoons.” I could not help but notice his priorities. Various studies have concluded that children’s ability to delay gratification is one of the main reasons for success and fulfilment in later life. One mentioned that those capable
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of such denial did not manage it simply through willpower but by being able to imagine another pleasure that they could enjoy. In Avillez’s case, eating his own food, apparently.
“Pig’s head, or head cheese [various soft parts of a pig’s head, with the exception of the brains, pressed into a type of terrine], chargrilled sardine, cod with chickpea, or rather, cod stones and chickpea stones, black and white.”
Despite these early inclinations, he chose to study corporate communication.
They seem to be three intelligent ways of developing some of our more traditional dishes. Although our eyes may not see it, our taste buds can detect the original flavours.
While in his final year, he met the gastronome Maria de Lourdes Modesto, described in an New York Times article as “Portugal’s Julia Child”, and their conversation changed his direction in life. “I decided that I wanted to be a cook [after all] and started a six-month internship at Fortaleza do Guincho.” The restaurant was led by Marc le Ouedec, alongside consultant chef Antoine Westermann (three Michelin stars). That year it won a Michelin star [which it has kept until now]. “What was it like working in that type of kitchen?” “You immediately feel like you know nothing! Because a home kitchen is very different to an international kitchen. I spent months plucking ducks and doing all the intern jobs in a totally French kitchen, where the chef was very aggressive. You had to spend twelve hours straight doing the same thing, very different to nowadays, where there is a humanisation of cuisine, of the profession. At first, it was very hard, but that soon passed and I remember perfectly that my heart started to race and being sure that this was what I wanted to do.” “Were those French foundations essential to your career?” I ask. “Yes, the foundations are from French cuisine, combined with my own genes and experience with Portuguese cuisine as a person, from childhood to adolescence, bit by bit, shaping my own identity. Having started at a very high level was key. Marc had spent three years in a three-Michelin-starred restaurant and came with a very demanding cuisine that used the finest produce. The kitchen’s cleanliness was exemplary... much of what I do today I learned there.” Various small dishes appear. “What are we looking at here?”
After that internship, he met another influential gastronome: the winemaker and producer José Bento dos Santos. He worked for him for over a year and learned a great deal. “He gave me an incredibly broad vision, encouraged me to do the course at Alain Ducasse, train at Le Bristol [Eric Frechon, three Michelin stars], work at his estate [Quinta do Monte d’Oiro] and in Lisbon, where he has over 4,000 books and videos about cooking. I spent days researching and reading, reading, reading...” “He’s one of Portugal’s most knowledgeable gastronomes,” I say. “I grew a great deal that year due to his generosity and knowledge; learning how to eat, developing my palate, having access to truffles for the first time, to great wines, great caviar, great foie gras, very French-focused...” “But an essential way of educating your taste, isn’t it?” “Yes! It was very important.” In 2004, Avillez opened the restaurant 100 Maneiras with business partner and chef Ljubomir Stanisic, whom he met at Hotel Albatroz; this joint-venture lasted little more than a year. It is not something he talks about often. “I grew a lot, I learned a lot from him; I think he learned some things from me. It was my first experience of being a chef and restaurant owner, really tough times!” “Opening a restaurant is always trickier than it first appears, isn’t it?” I say. Another dish arrives and José changes the subject. “This is smoked horse mackerel with cod liver, flower and scallion pickles with crispy bread.” During the first mouthful, José asks: “Can you sense the smoky notes, the freshness, the acidity?”
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“I can, it’s great!” I reply. “And I also like the bitterness of the flowers,” says José. Like any Lisboner, I love sardines, but I think that horse mackerel deserves the same attention. “Horse mackerel is also very Portuguese, isn’t it? People talk a lot about sardines, but horse mackerel...” “Yes, and it’s less seasonal than the sardine. Sardines can be eaten for three months, maximum, depending on the year, but it’s generally like that.” I have noticed that there are more and more dishes on our menus exploring the subtlety of smoked flavours. I ask him, “Are we doing more smoked dishes than before?” “We’ve always done a lot but as a country of good, fresh fish, smoked food is associated with meat, charcuterie and sausages, the slaughter of the pig. For preservation purposes. There are smokehouses all over the country.” After his time with Bento dos Santos, José spent six months on a project in Brazil. On his return, he opened a dining room for dinners for twelve at Hotel Albatroz in Cascais. “I did everything. I just had my sister, who helped me, and a kitchen assistant whom we hired. I would go shopping, prepare everything, cook, serve the food. It also gave me an interesting perspective.” “In what way?” “The contact with customers, getting immediate feedback and learning from it, understanding people’s behaviour when they eat a dish.” “Why is that important?” “As cooks, we like listening to people, but, sometimes, arrogance means ignoring what is said and that stunts us. I think we grow by listening. It’s not enough just to taste a little food [of our dish] ...” “And think that everything is fine,” I say. “Often, cooks don’t even try the whole dish, you know. They make the sauce or something else, taste it and that’s that! However, the harmony, the combination, all of that, it’s very important and makes the difference.”
Some of the dishes he served during those dinners were individual but others were made to be shared. José says he also learned a lot from that. “How you plate a dish to be shared has to be different to how you plate a dish for one person. Because you get your sauce from that part, your pickle from that one, the pepper from another.” “There’s a choreography to it,” I say. “If you’re sharing, you stick in your fork and you don’t get that sauce, it completely changes the concept. It’s important to be aware of the whole.” “It’s about combinations but also proportions, isn’t it?” I say. “Yes, and harmony and balance have a lot to do with proportion. Textures and temperatures are also very important. For example, this technique that has cocoa butter on the outside, which you sampled in the pedras [cod and chickpea stones]. If it’s a liquid, the liquid disappears and you’re left with butter in your mouth. If it’s a purée inside...” “It’s thicker, with a different texture,” I venture. “Yes, and when you bite, you don’t feel the butter, only the taste of the purée.” One of the most emblematic Portuguese dishes arrives. “Now, these are clams à Bulhão Pato in ceviche,” José tells me. Raimundo Bulhão Pato was a nineteenth-century writer, nobleman, aficionado of hunting and gastronomic pleasures. He wrote some recipes but it is believed that this dish was not invented by him but by a cook who wished to pay tribute to him after having been praised in his writing. Today, it is a very popular and well-known dish throughout Portugal. However, looking at the dish, if José had not told me what it was, I would never have guessed. It looks completely different to what we are used to: clams in an olive oil, garlic, white wine and chopped coriander sauce. Here, they are hidden beneath dozens of small, green frozen spheres, immersed in a same-coloured liquid.
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Right: “Red giant shrimp in a crust of salt and beetroot”
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“Pork from Alentejo with migas, pig’s trotters and coriander” Right: Lisbon seen from the river Tagus
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“I have to try this!” I say. “The ceviche’s base, leche de tigre, is made from the stock of the clams à Bulhão Pato, but then you get the acidity of the lime, the ceviche’s other condiments. Here, there is also the combination of different temperatures. The clams are lightly cooked, so they open. And, finally, you have this mayonnaise to give you a little fat with the corn that has been freeze-dried, to give it crunchiness but without being very strong nor smothering the flavours”, explains José. “Are the frozen spheres from the stock? This is really good!” “Yes, from the leche de tigre. Diego [Muñoz] loved that dish,” the chef tells me. José teamed up with Diego Muñoz [who was executive chef of Astrid y Gastón in Lima when I went there] to open a Peruvian restaurant in Lisbon. It has opened the evening before our meeting. “Did it go well? I have to go,” I say. “Very well.” After a year at the Hotel Albatroz, José opened a takeaway and started doing catering.
“They arrive three times a week. These ones you’re looking at weigh between 100 and 150 grams, and come from the Peniche region. They’re exceptional!” I want to talk about El Bulli again. “Was it hard?” “Yes, very intense! We’re talking about a kitchen that makes 1,500 dishes a night. The logistics are incredibly complicated! It’s mad! I would say it was one of the most impressive experiences of my life, as a cook and as a person.” “What is the thing you most remember?” “I gradually realised that I wasn’t fascinated by techniques. It was the passion, the commitment, the intensity that fascinated me. And, at the same time, seeing that Ferran Adrià, who, for many years, was considered the best in the world, was still scared! And that gave me strength!” “Frightened that things would go wrong?” “Yes. He was still scared! He still wanted to prove himself. And, at the same time, it made me see him as more human...” In a way, that vulnerability gave him strength.
“What’s the most difficult thing about it?”
“And the friends I made there were also important. I was there to learn but it was important to share [that experience] with people who were passionate about [cuisine as] I was.”
“The logistical side is particularly tough. When I did catering, I sometimes didn’t go to bed for 48 hours!” José recalls.
“We’re talking about a style of management in the kitchen that is very different to the one we mentioned earlier,” I suggest.
In 2007, he got the chance to train at El Bulli. He seized the opportunity with both hands.
“Yes, very different, much more open, with fewer pre-conceived ideas, more creative, where nobody calls anyone ‘chef ’... calling people by their names, but incredibly demanding.”
“Isn’t catering a real headache?” I ask. “Yes, a headache! I did catering for up to 2,000 people!”
“I spent a season there, July, August and September. I was there at the same time as Diego [Muñoz]. That’s where I first met him. That was completely life changing!” We are interrupted by the arrival of two crayfish that the waitress puts in front of me. They move their claws as a reminder that they are still very much alive. “I’ll be right back”, she says. “We put an aquarium in the kitchen, so we have live shellfish, from crayfish to slipper lobsters,” José tells me.
“Did you have to learn very different techniques to those you were used to or not?” “Of course! When I found out that I was going to El Bulli, I did a course on new textures in Paris, at [Bruno Goussault’s] CREA, a laboratory that contributed a lot to the development of sous vide cuisine, where I learned airs, foams, spherifications, the more technical part. But
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I was a bit disappointed with it. Technically-speaking, they were perfect but lacked flavour. I went to El Bulli feeling a little sceptical about those techniques but I got there and saw that that it was [really] cooking, it was not technique. They’re really cooks.”
but which proves irresistible. And the fish is cooked to perfection. “This is so well done! What temperature is it cooked at?” I ask.
Once again, we turn our attention to the crayfish, now cooked.
“When did you feel that you had made a dish that was completely yours? In what way do you feel it’s your creation?”
“Boiled crayfish, we just put a yuzu mayonnaise here, close to the brains,” says the waitress. “Great flavour! Our produce is great, isn’t it?” “We have excellent ingredients! Fish, shellfish, vegetables... although our tradition of eating vegetables is a little antiquated, it’s very much seen as an accompaniment and never... “It’s never the main focus, isn’t it?” “It’s never the main focus! It’s rare.” “In terms of meat, particularly pork, various breeds, perhaps the star, the Alentejano; the lamb, the kid...” Ten days after José returned from El Bulli, he got a call from someone he knew, who told him that an investor wanted to discuss a project with him. He realised it was to do with Tavares [one of Lisbon’s most iconic and historic restaurants]. Many of his closest friends told him not to get involved. “Why?” I wanted to know. “Because they said that Tavares is a black hole for chefs. It’s this, it’s that.” But he accepted the proposal. Within 18 months, the restaurant earned a Michelin star. “It was tough... we managed to go from an empty restaurant to being full at lunch and dinner.” “I remember going when you were there and eating ‘Mergulho no mar’ (Dip in the sea). It was sea bass with algae and mussels and a wonderful broth!” “Yes, it was then!” The dish that follows is a different kind of dip. Another sea bass, but with smoked avocado, pistachio oil, lime zest and dashi. A combination I had never seen before
“54º C. This coastal plant here is called sea blite and substitutes the salt.”
“The first menu for Tavares. Later we improved it technically, but the concept is all there. ‘Mergulho no mar’ (Dip in the sea), ‘Horta da galinha dos ovos de ouro’ (The garden of the goose that laid the golden eggs), ‘Cordeiro em duas cozeduras’ (Twice cooked lamb) were also emblematic dishes...” “It can’t be easy to discover our direction, our voice, it takes time...” “I suppose with one dish it is [easier]; with a set of dishes it’s more difficult. I thought that we were doing great cuisine, even aesthetically speaking, and now sometimes we look at photos from that time and laugh.” Next is yet another new interpretation of a very Portuguese dish, our cozido à portuguesa [traditional stew]. Food critics considered the previous version as one of José Avillez’s most accomplished dishes. It was a “clean stew”, in which the meats and vegetables were cooked separately and the stock was clear but full of flavour. For this menu, which is called “Evolution”, José has taken another bold step and focused everything on one ingredient: cabbage. “It’s cabbage, slowly baked in the stew’s stock, which then goes to the Josper [charcoal oven] with [pork] jowl. This is how we move from cozido à portuguesa, a dish with everything, to something minimalist, with a smoky touch, which doesn’t come from the cured sausages, but by the Josper.” “I really like this!” I say. “Me too,” he says. Tavares was his “first stage”, as he likes to call it, but, later, he had to look for another stage.
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1. “Cod and chickpea stones” 2. “Pig’s head” 3. The symbol of Belcanto 4. “Chargrilled sardine”
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“After three years, due to differences with the owners, I left... we all left. Including [Leonel] Pedro and Olívia [Moreno], who are kitchen assistants here, who were with me there.” Others who left with him were chef Atsushi [Murata] and, of course, David de Jesus, his right-hand man in the kitchen, head chef at Belcanto and Avillez’s general in all the group’s kitchens. An essential piece of the jigsaw. “He has a real passion for cooking, a dedicated cook, with great responsibility,” José tells me. “We have grown together over the last ten years and complement one another well. There are many things that he started doing for me, things that I don’t have to do any more, others that he still does better than me and always will do, others that I do better than him, and always will do... I think that we also need courage to surround ourselves with good people. We can’t do anything alone and if we’re afraid that someone is better than us, we’ll never do anything worthwhile.” The waitress presents another dish: “Egg yolk, cabidela [blood] sauce, Jerusalem artichoke, dried eggs and smoked eel.” “This is great! It’s creamy, and what’s this crispiness?” “Bread! Thin slices of bread... toasted,” José replies. “Because, if you think about it, often you want to do crispiness with dried skin or something else, but we have a bread-based cuisine! It makes sense to maintain that relationship and get the crispiness of the bread.” After Tavares, they searched for a new place and found Belcanto, another restaurant with a history. “This place has some history, doesn’t it?” “Yes. It was a restaurant frequented by local businessmen. This was before 25 April, before the Carnation Revolution; it was a club. Ladies would have lunch and then leave. At 3 or 4 in the afternoon, the choristers from the São Carlos theatre would turn up...” Opened in 1955, Belcanto was a top Lisbon restaurant. Taking a restaurant with such history and trying to modernise it always brings resistance.
“Closing a restaurant that still had loyal customers and opening something completely new isn’t easy,” Avillez recalls. “The first two months here were mad. Mad!” “There’s always the risk of alienating the customers that used to come here,” I say. “I wrote sixty-six letters to old customers to say that I was taking over the restaurant and that I would like them to visit us. And I received various replies, including one from [the former Portuguese President] Mário Soares. Some came, others didn’t. To smooth the transition, we opened with some dishes from the old Belcanto, for example, the stroganoff and the “Ovos à professor” (Professor’s eggs), which were Belcanto classics that we kept on the menu.” The “Ovos à professor”, scrambled eggs with chopped raw cured ham, chorizo sausage and diced bread, were created by the doctor João Cid dos Santos, a regular customer who used to have supper here after leaving work at the nearby Ordem Terceira Hospital. He would go to the restaurant kitchen and cook it himself. “At the beginning, when we opened, we had our new dishes on the menu. I would tell them about ‘The garden of the goose that laid the golden eggs’, but people only asked for ‘Ovos à professor’, or the stroganoff. Even the ones that knew me better would come here, order some starters, I’d say try the suckling pig that we have here, and they’d say ‘OK but after we want “Ovos à professor”’. There were days that we’d have a pan like this [enormous] and we were making fifteen scrambled eggs for the ‘Ovos à professor’ at the same time... desperate!” he laments. “Gradually, we managed to convince people, and slowly they started to order some of the other dishes.” In less than a year, Belcanto won its first Michelin star, and its second two years later. Another dish comes to the table. It’s definitely not “Ovos à professor”. “We’re obviously in the Alentejo region here. Migas [traditional Portuguese combination of garlic, olive oil
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and bread] with green asparagus with pig’s trotters and coriander. Eat up! If you’re alentejano, you’ll be transported there.” “I’m not from the Alentejo but my mother’s family has roots there and I love the region. Hmm! This is excellent!”
remarkable example of someone who was really passionate about vegetables, wasn’t she?” “She certainly was. I’m trying to do the same work with her daughter.” “Does she have the know-how?” I ask.
“It comes with a broad bean cream.”
“Yes! As well as the passion. Her daughter really loves it.”
“The sauce is wonderful!”
That’s good to know, I thought.
“Sauces are also very important in cooking. Ideally, a sauce doesn’t disguise but rather enhances flavour,” says José.
“Tell me something. The names of the dishes: how important do you think they are?”
“You don’t feel the heaviness and density of the migas, right?” “They’re wrapped in the gelatine of the trotters and you only sense the produce, not the heaviness,” says Avillez. “Then you’ve got the crispiness of the asparagus, which is cooked to give it texture, and the paprika.” I’ve noticed the china. It is beautiful. “Who designed the crockery?” “It’s a range that I and [designer and ceramicist] Cátia Pessoa created. It’s called “Alimenta-me” (Feed me).” She also did the porcelain butterflies that cover one of the dining room walls. Perhaps a reminder that everything is fleeting. Fortunately, we always have our memory. I wanted to know where he goes from here. “I think that the future of our work here will focus even more on the connections with the seasons, which implies greater creativity, logistics and flexibility. Today we have three menus. I’m going to take one off to reduce the team’s workload and develop other things: make everyone develop, more contacts with the suppliers, find new ingredients, find a stronger connection with the land...” I recall the remarkable work of one of his vegetable suppliers, who recently passed away and whom we both knew. Many of Avillez’s emblematic dishes were [and still are] made with vegetables from her farm. She cultivated countless vegetables with incomparable flavour, of every colour, shape and size, and did so with such love that I used to tell her that her work was not that of a farmer but rather a goldsmith. “Maria José was a
“I think that they’re only important when the concept makes you relate to something. We have an example: a snack that was called ‘Palhaço rico, palhaço pobre’ (Rich clown, poor clown). It’s something that reminds us of our childhood.” “What was it?” “It was a tendon of veal that, after being cooked, dried and fried, ended up like popcorn, served with caviar. And you had, on one hand, the [concept of] amusebouche [literally amuse the mouth], and the clown that amuses. The rich and the poor. The rich caviar and the poor popcorn. And in this case, I think that the name is really important. But there are others where it’s just the name of the ingredient.” Pastry chef Américo dos Santos presents a dessert that is clearly the product of lateral thinking [to use Edward de Bono’s expression]: “Cuttlefish, chocolate and cuttlefish ink.” It is a play on the name “choco” [Portuguese for cuttlefish] and chocolate, an unexpected dialogue between sweet and savoury, as if two distant relatives that had never seen one another were brought together. “Very original,” I say. “Also, because it’s a dessert from the sea, which seems to be something that doesn’t really exist!” “I think it’s very balanced, because the cuttlefish isn’t overpowering,” adds José. “And the temperature differences!” I say. “Temperature and texture.”
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1. “Clams à Bulhão Pato in ceviche” 2. Chef Atsushi [Murata] 3. São Carlos National Theatre 4. One of the cooks preparing the next service
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5. Head chef David Jesus 6. “Sea bass with smoked avocado, pistachio oil, lime zest and dashi” 7. Pastry chef Américo dos Santos 8. “Cuttlefish, chocolate and cuttlefish ink” We, Chefs 569
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“It’s the point and counterpoint, isn’t it? Counterpoint is very important.” “This is proof that you can always recombine the familiar in an original way, but the search for new ingredients never stops, does it? It’s always stimulating. What was the last new ingredient you tried? Even if it wasn’t Portuguese.” “I tried lots of new things when I was at Noma in Mexico [the pop-up that René Redzepi did in Tulum], but I couldn’t tell you the names. But now, when I was at Disfrutar [the restaurant in Barcelona run by three ex-chefs from El Bulli: Mateu Casañas, Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch], where I went with Diego [Muñoz]. We ate salmon head and, between the spine and head, there’s a type of gelatine, like the one in chicken, which they boil in a salmon stock with some roe and, suddenly, you’re eating something basic, but with a completely new ingredient. So, there’s also something new in those things.” “In the ingredients that we can find hidden within something we already know!” I say. The last dessert gives us another clue. “Here we have strawberries, green strawberry sorbet, a green strawberry pickle, yuzu, lychee and rosewater,” says Américo. “For example, green strawberry is a strawberry that is not yet ripe,” says José. “It’s an ingredient that we’ve always been familiar with, but we’re eating it in a completely different way.” It is new because the ripening period is different than normal. I recalled the opposite, the French expression
“faisander”, when game is hung and left to decompose (sometimes for various days) before being prepared, so it is more tender and more intensely flavoured. “You once told me that the times you felt most alive were when you were creating. What else energises you?” “I think it also comes from the team, seeing people grow with us. This makes us a family! And people’s feedback, being able to make a difference! This is a journey, isn’t it? Shorter for some, longer for others. Being able to leave more than we take in this life. It’s very much that! In the kitchen, I give! We really do! We give so much! To the point where we sometimes feel consumed. But when you feel that you’re giving people pleasure, all of that comes back to you.” Making my way home, I think about Pessoa again. “Para ser grande, sê inteiro: nada Teu exagera ou exclui. Sê todo em cada coisa. Põe quanto és No mínimo que fazes. Assim em cada lago a lua toda Brilha, porque alta vive.” To be great, be whole: nothing Of yourself exaggerate or exclude. Be all in all things. Put what you are Into the least you do. So, in every lake the whole moon Shines and, soaring, lives.1
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“Smoked horse mackerel with cod liver, flower and scallion pickles” We, Chefs 575
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Notebook â€“ Belcanto, Lisbon, 2016
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Right: A genuine smile to guests. Waiter at Noma
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Serendipity If there is one question chefs don’t need to be asked again, it is “where does your inspiration come from?” As demonstrated by the tale of The Three Princes of Serendip, the answer lies less in the “where from” (places / things / events / people) and is more to do with the fact that the chefs themselves were receptive to such inspiration in the first place and welcomed the unexpected. English author Horace Walpole coined the word “serendipity” in a letter to a friend in 1754. In it he talks about the Princes: “as their highnesses travelled they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of...?”1 Serendipity, “a very expressive word”, as he says, is about more than just getting lucky. One needs both the knowledge to turn observations into something useful and an open mind to notice them in the first place. Regardless of how long the journey has been, do continue to “travel with your ears and eyes open,” as Massimo Bottura says. And allow yourself to get lost, occasionally. I recall a smiling Aitor Arregi telling me, after finding myself in the wrong place on my way to his restaurant, Elkano, in the Basque Country: “Sometimes when we get lost, we end up finding many things.”
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You It turns out that there is no secret ingredient that will make our recipe special and memorable. Uniqueness does not come from the outside, it comes from us. After we have scratched the surface. After we have used all our “low hanging fruit” ideas. If we keep digging, we will find something unique about ourselves, about how we have experienced life and how we see the world. The secret ingredient is you. How you observe, ingest, digest, interpret and express the essence, not of others but of you. The only thing impossible to replicate.
Right: “Bread is gold” at Osteria Francescana, Modena
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Mise en place
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1 W. Buell, Ryan; Kim, Tami; Tsay, Chia-Jung (2014, November). “Cooks Make Tastier Food When They Can See Their Customers”. Harvard Business Review, available on the web at https://hbr.org/2014/11/ cooks-make-tastier-food-whenthey-can-see-their-customers
1 Umami Information Center, Umami Tasting, Talking about Umami, available on the web at http://www.umamiinfo.com
2 FDL (2014, November 21). “David Chang – Designing flavor through failure”, in finedininglovers.com, available on the web at https://hbr. org/2014/11/cooks-maketastier-food-when-theycan-see-their-customers
3 Le Coutre, Johannes (2014, May 14). “Sensing what we eat, the physiology of pleasure”. Alimentarium Magazine, available on the web at https://www.alimentarium. org/en/magazine/science/ sensing-what-we-eat
3 Warwick, Joe (2007, November 17). “Saucepans at dawn: Alain Ducasse meets Heston Blumenthal”. The Independent, available on the web at on the web at http:// www.independent.co.uk/ life-style/food-and-drink/ features/saucepans-at-dawnalain-ducasse-meets-hestonblumenthal-399526.html 4 Inc (2015, August 8). How Chef David Chang Turned His Passion Into a Food Empire, available on the web at https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=SnCWGA54kqw Passion 1 50 Best talks 2017 at Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne, Australia 2 Gordinier, Jeff (2017, March 13). “The Passion of Daniel Humm, the Greatest Chef in America”. Esquire, available on the web at http://www.esquire. com/food-drink/a52965/ chef-daniel-humm-profile/
2 Stuckey, Barb (2012). Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. New York: Atria Paperback
4 Pope, Steven (2015, January 15). “The 12 Top Chefs in the world you will want to dine with right now”, available on the web at https://destinationluxury. com/the-12-top-chefs-inthe-world-you-will-want-todine-with-right-now-2/ 5 Tanaka, Jennifer (2008, June 5). “Burned: The Story of Grant Achatz’s Cancer Recovery”. Chicago Tribune, available on the web at http://www. chicagomag.com/ChicagoMagazine/June-2008/Burned/ 6 Wikipedia – The free encyclopedia, available on the web at https://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/Tomato 7 Fusmian, Cal (2010, December 16). “Ferran Adrià: What I’ve learned”. Esquire, available on the web at http://www.esquire. com/entertainment/interviews/ a9109/ferran-adria-quotes-0111/ 8 Spence, Charles; Youssef, Jozef. “Olfactory dining: designing for the dominant sense”. Flavour Journal – BioMed Central, available on the web at https:// flavourjournal.biomedcentral.
com/articles/10.1186/ s13411-015-0042-0 9 Stafford, Tom (2012, March 13). “Why can smells unlock forgotten memories”. BBC Future, available on the web at http://www.bbc.com/future/ story/20120312-why-cansmells-unlock-memories 10 Angier, Natalie (2008, August 5). “The nose, an emotional time machine”. The New York Times, available on the web at http://www. nytimes.com/2008/08/05/ science/05angier.html?mcubz=1 Memory 1 Adrià, Ferran; Soler, Juli; Adrià, Albert (2008). A Day at elBulli: An Insight into the Ideas, Methods and Creativity of Ferran Adrià. London: Phaidon Press Limited Taste again 1 Twilley, Nicola (2015, November 2). “Accounting for taste”. The New Yorker, available on the web at https://www.newyorker. com/magazine/2015/11/02/ accounting-for-taste 2 Spence, C.; Harrar, V.; Piqueras-Fizman, B. (2012). “Assessing the impact of the tableware and other contextual variables on multisensory flavour perception”, available on the web at https://flavourjournal. biomedcentral.com/ articles/10.1186/2044-7248-1-7 3 Greenwood, Veronique (2016, January 26). “Why some cultures love the tastes you hate”. BBC Future, available on the web at http://www.bbc. com/future/story/20160125why-some-cultures-lovethe-tastes-you-hate
Growing 1 Warwick, Joe (2007, November 11). “Saucepans at dawn: Alain Ducasse meets Heston Blumenthal”. The Independent, available on the web at http://www.independent. co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/ features/saucepans-at-dawnalain-ducasse-meets-hestonblumenthal-399526.html 2 Segarra, Toni (2014, September 10). “Albert Adrià: What really motivates a creative person is fear”, available on the web at https://ferranadria. fundaciontelefonica.com/ expo/en/blog/2014/09/10/ albert-adria-really-motivatescreative-person-fear/ 3 Opazo, M. Pilar (2016). Appetite for Innovation: Creativity and Change at elBulli (p. 111). New York: Columbia University Press, available on the web at https://cup. columbia.edu/book/appetitefor-innovation/9780231176781 Repetition 1 Harvard Business Review Staff (2014, May). “Life’s Work: An interview with Alain Ducasse”. Harvard Business Review, available on the web at https:// hbr.org/2014/05/alain-ducasse Mentor 1 Durack, Terry (2006, June 10). “Alain Ducasse: the greatest chef in the world?”. The Independent, available on the web at http:// www.independent.co.uk/lifestyle/food-and-drink/features/ alain-ducasse-the-greatestchef-in-the-world-481722.html 2 Jacob, Emma (2011, April 14). “20 Questions to Joël Robuchon”. Financial Times, available on
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the web at https://www.ft.com/ content/7cb25a64-66bf-11e08d88-00144feab49a?mhq5j=e6 3 50 Best talks 2017 at Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne, Australia 4 Bruni, Frank (2010, July 6). “Nordic Chef Explores Backyard”. The New York Times, available on the web at http:// www.nytimes.com/2010/07/07/ dining/07chef.html?mcubz=1 5 Henderson, Fergus (2014, April 27). “Fergus Henderson: Feet, glands, shanks, tripe. That’s what I like to eat”. The Guardian, available on the web at https://www.theguardian. com/lifeandstyle/2014/apr/27/ fergus-henderson-naturewrites-our-menu-st-john Authorship 1 Yale University Library (2007, April 17). “Middle eastern and Islamic cuisine: The tradition continues...”, available on the web at https:// www.library.yale.edu/neareast/ exhibitions/cuisine.html 2 Apicius – Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome, A Bibliography, Critical Review and Translation of the Ancient Book known as Apicius de re Coquinaria by Joseph Dommers Vehling, available on the web at https://kitchenproject.com/ history/apicius/Apicius.pdf 3 50 Best talks 2017 at Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne, Australia Terroir 1 J. Feder, Barnaby (2006, July 6). “Theodore Levitt, 81, Who Coined the Term ‘Globalization’, Is Dead”. The New York Times, available on the web at http://
www.nytimes.com/2006/07/06/ business/06levitt.html?mcubz=1 2 Warwick, Joe (2007, November 17). “Saucepans at dawn: Alain Ducasse meets Heston Blumenthal”. The Independent, available on the web at http://www.independent. co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/ features/saucepans-at-dawnalain-ducasse-meets-hestonblumenthal-399526.html Now 1 Palling, Bruce (2011, March 1). “Noma’s René Redzepi and the Link Between Nature and the Plate”. Wall Street Journal, available on the web at https://www.wsj.com/ articles/SB1000142405274870 4615504576172072527908838 2 Palling, Bruce (2011, March 1). “Noma’s René Redzepi and the Link Between Nature and the Plate”. Wall Street Journal, available on the web at https://www.wsj.com/ articles/SB1000142405274870 4615504576172072527908838 3 Harvard Business Review Staff (2014, May). “Life’s Work: An interview with Alain Ducasse”. Harvard Business Review, available on the web at https:// hbr.org/2014/05/alain-ducasse Context 1 Botton, Alain de (1999, August 21). “A good idea from ... Epicurus”. The Independent, available on the web at http:// www.independent.co.uk/artsentertainment/a-good-ideafrom-epicurus-1114368.html
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1 Phaidon Press (2001, June 10). René Redzepi makes the signature Noma dish: Vintage carrot and camomile, available on the web at https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=FjN546QGSMA
Play 1 Phaidon Press video (2010). René Redzepi’s signature dish: The hen and the egg, available on the web at http:// de.phaidon.com/agenda/food/ video/2010/december/16/ the-hen-and-the-egg-reneredzepis-signature-dish/ Waste 1 Smil, Vaclav (2016, January 16). “The global waste dilemma: where does our food go?”. Financial Times, available on the web at https://www.ft.com/ content/09d28fda-98e4-11e59228-87e603d47bdc?mhq5j=e6
2 Wansink, Brian; Just, David; Payne, Collin; Klinger, Matthew (2012). “Attractive names sustain increased vegetable intake in schools”. Preventative Medicine (Vol. 55, pp. 330-332) Storytelling 1 Zegoodfood Videos (2016). La Purée de Ratte de Joël Robuchon, available on the web at https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=W94kAaGBF5E Family
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1 Rothstein, Edward (2009, November 4). “Claude LéviStrauss, 100, Dies: Altered Western Views of the ‘Primitive’ ”. The New York Times, available on the web at http:// www.nytimes.com/2009/11/04/ world/europe/04levistrauss. html?mcubz=1
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2 Goulding, Matt (2012, October 10). “Confronting a masterpiece”. Roads and Kingdoms, available on the web at http:// roadsandkingdoms.com/2012/ confronting-a-masterpiece/ Reinvention 1 Fusmian, Cal (2010, December 16). “Ferran Adrià: What I’ve learned”. Esquire, available on the web at http://www.esquire. com/entertainment/interviews/ a9109/ferran-adria-quotes-0111/
2 Harvard Business Review Staff (2014, May). “Life’s work: An interview with Alain Ducasse”. Harvard Business Review, available on the web at https:// hbr.org/2014/05/alain-ducasse
4 Green, Mark (2013). “Heston Blumenthal: Chefs of the Decade, Observer Food Monthly Awards 2013”. The Guardian, available on the web at https:// www.theguardian.com/ lifeandstyle/video/2013/oct/19/ ofm-awards-heston-blumenthal Mise en place 1 Fortissimo Films, Gelb, David. (2011). Jiro Dreams of Sushi, available on the web at http://
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www.pbs.org/independentlens/ films/jiro-dreams-of-sushi/ Resilience 1 Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s dictionary.com, available on the web at http://learnersdictionary. com/definition/resilience 2 Lewis, Paul (2009, September 10). “Fat Duck food poisoning caused by shellfish contaminated with sewage, report suggests”. The Guardian, available on the web at https://www.theguardian. com/uk/2009/sep/10/fat-duckfood-poisoning-sewage 3 Hickman, Martin (2009, February 28). “What is the snail porridge? Diner’s mystery illness forces Fat Duck to close”. The Independent, available on the web at http://www.independent. co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/ news/was-it-the-snail-porridgediners-mystery-illness-forcesfat-duck-to-close-1634228.html 4 Evening Standard (2009, September 10). “Shellfish polluted with raw sewage poisoned hundreds at Fat Duck”, available on the web at https:// www.standard.co.uk/news/ shellfish-polluted-with-rawsewage-poisoned-hundredsat-fat-duck-6736840.html 5 Paterniti, Michael (2014, October). “Mugaritz: The Most Adventurous Restaurant in the World”, GQ.com, available on the web at https://www. gq.com/long-form/mugaritz 6 Kahn, Howie (2014, November 4). “Noma’s René Redzepi Never Stops Experimenting”. Wall Street Journal, available on the web at https://www. wsj.com/articles/nomasrene-redzepi-never-stopsexperimenting-1415237540
7 DiGiacomo, Frank (2000, June 6). “Can Genius Chef Alain Ducasse Recoup After His Grand Bouffe?”. Observer, available on the web at http:// observer.com/2000/11/cangenius-chef-alain-ducasserecoup-after-his-grand-bouffe/ 8 Pettit, Donald (2012, January 5). “The tyranny of the rocket equation”. NASA, available on the web at https://www. nasa.gov/mission_pages/ station/expeditions/ expedition30/tryanny.html 9 “Meet the chefs”, World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017, Grand Hyatt, Melbourne, Australia Energy 1 Loehr, J.; Schwartz, Tony (2001, January). “The making of a Corporate Athlete”. Harvard Business Review, available on the web at https:// hbr.org/2001/01/the-makingof-a-corporate-athlete 2 Redzepi, René (2013). A Work in Progress (Journal). London: Phaidon Press Limited 3 50 Best talks 2017 at Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne, Australia 4 Gordinier, Jeff (2015, September 14). “René Redzepi Plans to Close Noma and Reopen It as an Urban Farm”. The New York Times, available on the web at https://www. nytimes.com/2015/09/16/ dining/noma-rene-redzepiurban-farm.html?mcubz=1 Feedback 1 50 Best talks 2017 at Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne, Australia
2 Roda Viva show (TV Cultura), (2014, January 20). Interview to Ferran Adrià, available on the web at https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=seQJWQhuGSk 3 Nieto, Maite (2013, November 23). “Hay cocina después de elBulli”. El País, available on the web at https://elpais. com/elpais/2013/11/22/ eps/1385125999_051414.html 4 FDL (2014, November 21). “David Chang – Designing flavor through failure”, in finedininglovers.com, available on the web at https:// www.finedininglovers. com/blog/points-of-view/ david-chang-designingflavor-through-failure/ 5 Warwick, Joe (2007, November 11). “Saucepans at dawn: Alain Ducasse meets Heston Blumenthal”. The Independent, available on the web at http://www.independent. co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/ features/saucepans-at-dawnalain-ducasse-meets-hestonblumenthal-399526.html 6 Smith, Oliver (2016, October 11). “Mapped: Every Michelinstarred restaurant on Earth”. The Telegraph, available on the web at http://www.telegraph. co.uk/travel/maps-and-graphics/ map-michelin-star-restaurantscountries-with-the-most/
californiasunday.com/nomaaustralia-rene-redzepi Overlap 1 Segarra, Toni (2014, September 10). “Albert Adrià: ‘What really motivates a creative person is fear’ ”, available on the web at https://ferranadria. fundaciontelefonica.com/ expo/en/blog/2014/09/10/ albert-adria-really-motivatescreative-person-fear/ 2 Keller, Jessica (2016, July). “Virgilio Martínez: Perspectives from a power chef ”. Americans Express Essentials, available on the web at https://www. amexessentials.com/interviewwith-virgilio-martinez/ 3 Gordinier, Jeff (2016, October 17). “Massimo Bottura, the Chef Behind the World’s Best Restaurant”. The New York Times Style Magazine, available on the web at https://www.nytimes. com/2016/10/17/t-magazine/ massimo-bottura-chef-osteriafrancescana.html?mcubz=1 Serendipity 1 Ian, Leslie (2012, January/ February). “In Search of Serendipity”. The Economist Magazine, available on the web at https://www.1843magazine. com/content/ideas/ianleslie/search-serendipity
Fresh 1 Fortissimo Films, Gelb, David (2011). Jiro Dreams of Sushi, available on the web at http:// www.pbs.org/independentlens/ films/jiro-dreams-of-sushi/ 2 Ho, Tienlon (2016, February 2). “The Noma Way”. California Sunday Magazine, available on the web at https://story.
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1 Abend, Lisa (2015, February 15). “We need 140 live shrimp now!: The inside story of Noma Japan”. The Guardian, available on the web at https://www.theguardian. com/lifeandstyle/2015/ feb/15/noma-japan-theinside-story-rene-redzepi
1 Vázquez Montalbán, M. (2001). “Contra los gourmets” (1st ed). Literatura Random House
1 DeMicheal, Don (1969, December 13). “Jazz’s Picasso puts it in black and white”. Rolling Stone Magazine, available on the web at https://beatpatrol. wordpress.com/2008/09/23/ don-demicheal-miles-davis-therolling-stone-interview-1969/
1 Translation by Jull Costa, Margaret; Rorrison, Colin; Fletcher, Ana; Correll, Richard (2012, December 3). “In Memory of Translator Colin Rorrison (1983-2012)”. Modern Poetry in Translation and contributors, available on the web at http:// www.mptmagazine.com/article/ in-memory-of-translatorcolin-rorrison-19832012-34/
2. Redzepi, René (2013). A Work in Progress: Notes on Food, Cooking and Creativity. London: Phaidon Press Limited Joan Roca 1 (2014, February 16). “La gastronomía española atrae a 7.4 millones de turistas en 2013”. Expansión.com, available on the web at http://www.expansion. com/2014/02/16/empresas/ transporte/1392578805.html 2 Pérez-Barco, M. José (2017, January 23). “El turismo gastronómico, mucho más que sentarse a la mesa”. ABC Economía, available on the web at http://www.abc.es/economia/ abci-turismo-gastronomicomucho-mas-sentarsemesa-201701230220_noticia.html 3 Abend, Lisa (2015, November). “Denmark’s Restaurants benefit from ‘Noma effect’ ”. Newsweek, available on the web at http:// www.newsweek.com/2015/12/11/ denmarks-restaurants-benefitnoma-effect-399042.html
2 Melito, Leandro (2016, March). “Chico Science 50 anos”. EBR Empresa Brasil de Comunicação Gastón Acurio 1 Chang, Julio V. (2014, July 27). “Puedes tener más poder de convicción como cocinero que como político”. El País 2 Roncagliolo, Santiago (2014, April 8). “Por favor gobiérnanos”. El País 3 Panamericana Television (2014, February 25). Mario Vargas Llosa apoyó possible postulación de Gastón Acurio 4 Vargas Llosa, Mario (2009, March 22). “El sueño del Chef ”. El País Albert Adrià 1 “Synthesis of elBulli cuisine”, available on the web at elbulli.com Bertrand Grébaut 1 Gaudry, Francois-Régis (2013, November 6). “Géneration New French Bistrot!”. L’Express 2 Ouvrard, Marie (2014, November). “Bertrand Grébaut – Chef du Septime”. Encore
2 Bruni, Frank (2009, August 11). “A Daring Rise to the Top”. New York Times 3 Sytsma, Alan (2014, April 9). “Hardcore Coddling: How Eleven Madison Park Modernized Elite, Old-School Service”. Grubbstreet, available on the web at http://www. grubstreet.com/2014/04/ eleven-madison-park-fohstaff-detailed-look.html Arzak 1 Hermoso, Borja (2010, March 28). “Morirá com el delantal puesto”. El País
Initial images Page 4 Osteria Francescana, Modena Page 5 Central, Lima Page 10 El Celler de Can Roca, Girona Page 11 Mugaritz, San Sebastián Page 12 Eleven Madison Park, New York
2 Uribe, Kirmen (2011, January 2). “Recuerdo futuro del Chillida-Leku”. El País Victor Arguinzoniz 1 Wrangham, Richard (2010). Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human (Main edition). London: Profile Books 2 Miller, Kenneth (2013, December). “Archaeologists Find Earliest Evidence of Humans Cooking With Fire”. Discover Magazine
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The front of the house team taking a break outside Osteria Francescana, Modena
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Acknowledgements At many points on this long journey I have met extraordinary people who inspired and encouraged me to bring this book into being. I am particularly grateful to all the chefs who, from the very beginning and with an open mind, agreed to collaborate on this project. Their curiosity and readiness to exchange ideas with an outsider – to the restaurant industry – was remarkable. Their candidness and generosity was invaluable and I am greatly indebted to them. Once again, thank you Gastón Acurio, Albert Adrià, Andoni Aduriz, Victor Arguinzoniz, Elena Arzak, Juan Mari Arzak, Alex Atala, José Avillez, Pascal Barbot, Massimo Bottura, André Chiang, Quique Dacosta, Bertrand Grébaut, Daniel Humm, Virgilio Martínez, Nuno Mendes, Paul Pairet, René Redzepi, Helena Rizzo, Joan Roca and David Thompson. I was also privileged to meet many people who, alongside chefs, share responsibility for transforming these restaurants into beacons of creative exploration combined with outstanding standards of service. They are an integral part of their success. I want to thank and acknowledge in particular Lara Gilmore, Giuseppe Palmieri, Davide Di Fabio and Takahido Kondo (Taka) at Osteria Francescana; Will Guidara at Eleven Madison Park, Josep Roca, Jordi Roca, Nacho Baucells and Hernán Luchetti at El Celler de Can Roca; Pia León at Central, Théo Pourriat at Septime; Andrea Arias Talero, Didier Fertilati and José Antonio Navarrete at Quique Dacosta; James Spreadbury, Thomas Frebel, Lars Williams and Arve Krognes at Noma; Susana Nieto and Elisabeth Iglesias at Mugaritz; Greg Robinson and Monica Luo at Ultraviolet; Fran Agudo, Xavi Alba and Claudia Ferreres at Tickets; Christophe Rouat at Astrance; Geovane Carneiro and Andrea Campos at D.O.M.; Erika Schuler at Astrid y Gastón and Fabiana Caffaro at Mani. I was fortunate to cross paths with many other chefs and restaurateurs whose words and thoughts, in one way or another, provided important material for the book. I would like to thank, among others, Ferran Adrià, Yannick Alléno, Gaggan Anand, Aitor Arregi, Dan Barber, Alain Ducasse, Dan Hunter, James Knappett, Dieter Koschina, Diego Muñoz, Matt Orlando and Alain Passard. I extend these acknowledgements to Philippe Gollino together with all the chef instructors at Alain Ducasse Centre de
Formation where the initial thoughts about this book began to take shape. There were many valuable contributions in the evolution of this project. The book was greatly enriched by discussions with my sister Marta Wengorovius, whose patience, encouragement and intelligent judgment were a great help in refining my ideas and pushing me to progress whenever I faced a creative block. A warm thank you to Pedro Bidarra, my business partner, with whom I have discussed many of the ideas present in the book over the years and who helped me hone my thoughts. I owe a special thanks to Bernardo Rodo for his enthusiasm and observations in the early stages of the project and to Miguel Pires, Duarte Calvão and Paulo Amado for their insightful views about this industry and for sharing their network of contacts whenever I asked. Catarina Laires was also very helpful in facilitating access to the chefs. André Macedo encouraged me to write about gastronomy at Diário de Notícias, which was an opportunity to rehearse my thoughts. Charlie Brotherstone at Ed Victor showed great commitment to the project. I am thankful for the constructive feedback he gave on the manuscript. I am immensely grateful to my publisher Manuel Rosa at Documenta who embraced the project with enthusiasm from the outset. Enormous appreciation goes to Agnieszka Gratza, who read the draft and made many helpful, rigorous and critical copy-editing suggestions and corrections. Thanks for Ana Cunha’s indispensable and inspired response to my endless suggestions for the design of the book. I am grateful to Samuel Matzig for revising all the photographs and improving those in need of corrections, and to Daniel Boyce and Francisco Peres for their diligent translation work. Special thanks to Ricardo Assis at Negrito Produção Editorial and Helena Roldão at Sistema Solar for the careful final preparation, graphic design, correction, page make-up and verification of the texts and other components. To all the friends who took an interest I wish to say that they too were instrumental in bringing this book to life. Lastly, and most importantly, I want to thank for their unconditional support my wife and daughters with whom I share not only the best meals but the very best of my life.
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A tattoo of “Oído chef” (I’ve listened, chef), the Spanish equivalent of “Yes, chef”, at Mugaritz, San Sebastián
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© João Wengorovius, 2017 Publisher Manuel Rosa Proofreading Helena Roldão Desktop publishing Negrito Produção Editorial Prepress, printing and binding Gráfica Maiadouro sa Rua Padre Luís Campos, 586 e 686 4471-909 Maia, Portugal
Sistema Solar crl | Documenta Rua Passos Manuel, 67 b 1150-258 Lisboa, Portugal October 2017 isbn 978-989-8834-90-4 Legal deposit: 433201/17
Albert Adrià, Alex Atala, Andoni Aduriz, André Chiang, Bertrand Grébaut, Daniel Humm, David Thompson, Elena Arzak, Gastón Acurio, Helena Riz...
Published on Dec 13, 2017
Albert Adrià, Alex Atala, Andoni Aduriz, André Chiang, Bertrand Grébaut, Daniel Humm, David Thompson, Elena Arzak, Gastón Acurio, Helena Riz...