Antoinette Bruno: Why did you
start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Sergi Arola: 18 years ago, when I was 12, I began
cooking at home with my grandfather. I wanted to become a musician
and work in a restaurant to pay for my guitar. It had simple food.
I cleaned dishes, chopped, did everything, pretty much.
AB: Did you attend culinary school?
Why or why not? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring
chefs to day?
SA: Yes, I went to culinary school in Barcelona
in 1988. I was not a good student though. I thought that if I
went to school I would be a better chef, and that would give me
more time for music. I think my compromise with music is important.
I write my own lyrics and my own songs. I really like music; it
is as important as my cuisine. Music was my first love and can
be my last.
AB: Can you talk about your
SA: In the early ‘90s, I worked at L’Aram
in Barcelona for 3 years. The restaurant had crazy creativity,
influences from Jacques Maximin, Pierre Gagnaire, and Raymond
Blanc. In 1991 I met Pierre Gagnaire and he changed my vision
of food. Usually when you are creative, you don’t make money.
After meeting Pierre, I felt it was the right direction.
AB: How has your cooking style
evolved over the years?
SA: In early 1995, one of Ferrán’s
assistants asked me to come work for Ferrán. When I arrived
it was incredible. This was the kind of food I wanted to make
for the rest of my life. Ferrán showed me two things: to
be critical with the different aspects of my new dishes, and to
learn how to reflect and respect the different aspects of your
business. I’ve learned a lot after 8 years.
AB: Which chefs do you consider
to be your peers?
SA: For me, the most important chef is Juan Mari
Arzak. He is 65 years old. Ferrán is 43 – he has
a couple years to catch up. Ferrán is a genius, but Arzak
has 30 years doing the right thing.
AB: What is your most indispensable
kitchen tool and why?
SA: A Thermomix is my most important tool. It
can chop and give heat at the same time.
AB: What are some of the most
important and lasting trends in the restaurant industry?
SA: The most important breakthrough recently
has been working with nitrogen. In terms of lasting trends, the
majority of things you see will be lasting. These trends are very
serious, they are not fashion. I do believe that the cooking techniques
today in Spain will replace the “traditional” techniques
to become “classics,” as has happened in the past.
Spain is ahead of the pack, but will it stay there? China is going
to catch up – there are lots of new things coming from there.
However, the government of Spain understands the importance of
gastronomy to Spain’s GDP and tourism, so they will invest
in Spain’s food culture.
AB: Is there a signature technique
that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
SA: I don’t believe in garnish, and I don’t
believe in more than 3 ingredients on the plate at the same time.
I don’t invent techniques; Ferrán and Pierre, they
are the geniuses. One thing I did do though was that I was the
first to believe in the relationship between gastronomy and hotels.
AB: What is your favorite question to ask during
an interview for a potential new line cook?
SA: Are you ready to sacrifice? That is all I
want to know. I don’t believe in CVs (Curriculi Vitae).
AB: What tips would you offer
young chefs just getting started?
SA: Learn to respect the guest – you can
never think you are more important than the guest. Behind Ferran,
there is a long road to travel. You must learn the job, and you
must learn respect.
Experimentation is also very important. Twenty five years ago,
Ferrán was struggling. I didn’t go to work for him
for money. Young chefs must work hard to understand what the guest
wants. When the guest is in your restaurant, try to educate them
about new things in your cuisine. Also, without the support of
corporations, don’t try to do bizarre things – try
to do it with the guest one at a time. Otherwise you won’t
What places do you like for culinary travel?
Thailand and India – they are very different
from Spanish taste, and they offer a lot of different things for
me to learn.
AB: Where do you see yourself
in 5 years? In 10 years?
SA: I’m very young, 36 years old, and I
have a lot to learn. For the next 15 years, I have to be the same
and keep up my performance. This is not the place for sprinters
– only long runners. Or maybe I’ll be playing at CBGB,
the home of underground rock n’ roll in New York.