Interview with Chef Andres Grundy of Clio – Boston, MA

November 3

Katherine Martinelli: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Andres Grundy: I would say my grandmother. I always used to watch her cook. My dad was a cook, too, and he would come home and try all these recipes on us. When I was younger I would watch a lot of public access TV. Almost by chance when I was in high school there was an inner city program called The White Tablecloth program. They hook up inner city youth with fine dining restaurants. That's how I started working at Daniel when I was so young.

KM: Do you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs with or without a culinary background?
AG: I went to culinary school only because my family made me. I went to New York Restaurant School. I think it shows a level of dedication, but honestly if I could do it again I wouldn’t go. I would just continue working for free for a few years. It’s so much more valuable to get experience at a higher level than to get paid.

KM: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
AG: I would say it's really a lifestyle and to try to incorporate it into as many parts of your day as you can. I wake up early with the baby and my wife and I head to the market. I cook for the baby; everything is about food. I come home and I read cookbooks.

KM: Who is the coolest chef you have worked with?
AG: Probably Ken [Oringer]. He's gutsy and he's not afraid to put anything on a plate and comes out tasting good. Sergi [Arola] was very intense always pushing to make thing better. Nils Noren is incredibly creative but down to earth, and very well rounded as a manager.

KM: What goes into creating a dish?
AG: We first start with a very basic flavor combination. I've been doing the menu at Clio for two and a half years. I try to start with a flavor combination, and then I incorporate techniques, textures, and nuances to bring out the natural flavors.

KM: What are your favorite flavor combinations?
AG: It varies so much. It can be something as simple as chocolate, olive oil, and bread. One dish I have now combines habanero, pumpernickel, and jaggery.

KM: At StarChefs we publish a technique features for chefs to learn new things. Is there a culinary technique you use in an unusual or different way?
AG: There is a cool technique I've started using. It dumbfounded me how simple it was. I've been using tapioca maltodextrin to make chips and crisps. It makes them incredibly crispy. We make a juice out of whatever the main ingredient is, like carrot juice, for example. We cook it, strain it, hydrate the tapioca, and it makes a paste. It gets brushed on thinly sliced carrots and we put them in the dehydrator for a day or two. There’s no need to add salt or sugar.

KM: What ingredient do you feel is underappreciated?
AG: Maybe sorrel. I really like bitters and sours. I feel they’re the best way to accent natural sweets and salts because contrast is the best way to accent flavors. But people are afraid of bitters because if you don't use them right, the food ends up bitter.

KM: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
AG: Obviously it has to be fun but organized. If I'm going to pay top dollar I want to see something innovative. I'm cheap; you're going to have to yank the dollar out of my hands. I don't mind spending money but I want to see something new. I don't want to pay a lot for gnocchi with truffles. I always try for the "What’s that?" factor, not just the “wow” factor. I always try to include one thing in such a way that people will wonder what it is. So then people can say “I loved it and I got to try a new ingredient.”

KM What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to do in your job?
AG: Not very many things. I have always been one of those guys who feels he never really worked a day in my life because it’s what i love to do. Recently it’s been the long hours because of I feel that I’m missing spending time with my little boy.

KM: If you had one thing that you could do again, what would it be?
AG: I would take out another credit card loan. Most of my staging in Europe was all on credit card loans and that was the only way I could do it, on five or six credit cards. I would have done more in Europe. I think halfway through the first time I went to Europe I almost had to stop because I was running out of money so quickly. That's when I took out the credit card loans.

KM: What trends do you see emerging?
AG: There’s a lot of more home-style cooking with rustic cheaper places. It’s almost like a natural reaction to so much expensive fine dining. Boston has always been more of a big plate, home food kind of place. For a little while they were going more towards creative cooking, but now they're going back to salamis and crab cakes—casual kinds of food.

KM: What chef would you like to cook for you?
AG: I've always liked and admired Pierre Gagnaire. If there was any chef I would want to cook for or eat their food, one of the guys I always looked up to is Fernand Point of La Pyramide in France. I would have eaten anything he made me.

KM: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
AG: My wife and I teach at the Boston Culinary Center. I taught modern gastronomy at home and my wife did a class on organic cooking for babies. People come after work so they can have a drink and have some fun. We take stages as long as they're willing to come for a full day. I have no problem showing anyone anything, but they have to work with it. We just started the Natura water filtration and carbonation program for the restaurant.

KM: What’s the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
AG: Probably dispelling the myth of being only a molecular restaurant. Most of my dishes are classical to the point where you need to look up what it means. I just try to give it a new a spin so you can bring the dish into 2009.

KM: What are you doing to survive in this economy? Are there any practices that are working for you?
AG: It's been all about ordering. Before it was almost daily driven and now it’s more about impact for flavor. Now we're using everything from top to bottom more effectively. We're repeating ingredients in dishes in different forms, for example using the bodies of the radishes raw and the tops cooked.

KM: If you weren't a chef what do you think you’d be doing?
AG: I would probably be a movie director. Before we had the baby, my wife and I would go to the movies every day we had off. Sometimes we even went to two in a day. Or maybe I’d be a boxing trainer.

KM: What is your proudest accomplishment in your career to date?
AG: I think I've had a lot of good ones, but I haven't had something I'm in awe of, yet. We did a dinner at Clio for Ferran Adrià. Some of those courses were my creation and it was a crazy feeling to feed someone like Ferran who has changed our industry for ever. There have been a lot of nice dinners. When I open my own restaurant—that will be my greatest accomplishment.

KM: What does success mean for you? What’s next for you? Where will we find you in five years?
AG: Success is happiness. Happiness is balance and I am working on it. It’s a difficult question at the moment because I'm from New York and New York is home. Even my wife, who isn't from New York, feels that it’s home. Hopefully, I’ll have my own restaurant, but I don't know where yet.