George Mendes on High-fiving With Ferran Adrià, and Other Memories of Working at El Bulli

Mendes. Photo: Patrick McMullan

We know the press on El Bulli has been extensive, but at last night’s screening of El Bulli: Cooking in Progress at the Film Forum, George Mendes, who staged there for three weeks prior to opening Aldea, enlightened us just a bit more.

What’s your reaction to those who don’t “get” the film?
The documentary gives you realness. You can feel the daily grind, and watching Ferran [Adrià]’s expression when he’s tasting and reflecting takes you right inside. But I also like that you can see the intensity mixed with the fun. At the end of the day, he would high-five you. He would say, “Hey, it’s the best restaurant in the world, but guess what, it’s only food.”

It’s fun to see such rustic family meals within such a pristine kitchen.
Oh, they were so good. We had sardine dinners, great pasta Bolognese, rabbit … there were two guys whose sole job was to feed us. Ferran’s big philosophy was that if we can’t feed ourselves properly, how could we possibly feed our guests properly? We’d eat for twenty minutes and then have a ten-minute espresso.

Was it the kind of kitchen where everyone grabbed a beer and bonded after-hours?
All you want to do is go to sleep so that you can wake up and be back in that kitchen. It consumes you. There’s such a thick energy when you’re in there. You know that it’s the best restaurant in the world, so you go in there with a big elephant on your back every single day.

Did Ferran give you a warm welcome?
Ferran made me feel very, very, very welcome, as he does with everybody. What I loved so much was that there were no secrets; it’s not like, “No, you can’t taste that … or touch that.” He lets you take photographs and ask questions. He truly wants to inspire and motivate.

What do El Bulli and Aldea have in common?
Ferran gave me a certain free spirit and I practice it now at Aldea. When you have a classical French training frame of mind, everything is so strict, but Ferran taught me to break rules and have the confidence to give your diners that gift.

Did you ever get yelled at by him?
He was very clear and precise, but I never heard him scream. His presence alone, and the intensity of being in his kitchen — it’s enough. No one works well when you tell them they’re a piece of shit all day.

When was the last time you told someone that?
Probably this morning.

Related: NYT Calls El Bulli Movie ‘Docile,’ ‘Dry,’ and ‘Oppressively Dull’

George Mendes on High-fiving With Ferran Adrià, and Other Memories of