Interview with Chef Jordi Vallès of Mosaico and Salero Restaurants – Miami, FL

November , 2004

Amy Tarr: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Jordi Vallès: I used to help my mom when I was a boy. She’d give me an easy task, one at least I could learn. In Europe, kids start to understand and learn about food by walking down the street, seeing what’s cooking from the aromas. We always keep the training we learn from our moms.

AT: You attended Escola D’Hostaleria in Barcelona. Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs today?
JV: Before school I’d recommend working in a kitchen for a few years, so you have a base. Wait a little bit before going to school, so you know you’ll want to do it for the rest of your life.

AT: Can you talk about your brilliant mentors?
JV: Pedro Subijana is the real teacher for me. I spent one year at Akelarre with 30 people in the kitchen, everyday learning things. One day he came to me and said, “Codfish, morels, and cheese.” He told me to prepare something for the following ay with these ingredients. I didn’t sleep all night! Pedro Subijana is an amazing teacher. Juan Mark Arzak, he cooks in the name of The Basque Country. He’s the godfather, the face of Spain since the ‘60s. He’s the ambassador. About Ferrán, he gave me a great chance. He gave me a stage, and then he asked me to be Chef de Cuisine at on the fish station.

AT: Which chefs do you consider to be your peers?
JV: People I can spend time talking about food with. I like Wylie Dufresne a lot. Michelle Bernstein, Edgar Leal, Marc Ehrler, Jeffrey Vigilia at The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne (we worked together for three years).

AT: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like? Why?
JV: Rabbit. It’s difficult to get rabbit in Miami, so it’s not so common. I also love to use hake fish cheeks- “kokotxas” (pronounced co-co-chas). I have a special vendor from Spain who provides me with fresh sardines, sea cucumber, goby fish, etc.

AT: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
JV: Aside from my staff, the thermomix blender – it’s made by Volwark. It can mix and heat at the same time. So, for example, for Hollandaise sauce, you program the weight, temperature, and level of blend. It’s an amazing tool.

AT: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
JV: There’s a soup I created in Barcelona – a chilled green apple soup with gratin of lobster. It’s made with nougat of pine nuts and peanuts, and I grind the nougat over the lobster, then place it in the salamander to caramelize. It’s influenced by a dish in Akelarre, but the nougat is influenced by El Bulli.

AT: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
JV: What will you offer to our cuisine with your experience? It’s a way to see if a person will be involved, whether they are passionate or not.

AT: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
JV: Read, read, and read. Even in the restroom sitting. Never enough.

AT: What are your favorite cookbooks?
JV: Ferrán Adrià’s first cookbook - not El Bulli, Escoffier’s Ma Cuisine, Pierre Gagniere’s Reflections of Culinary Artistry, all of the books by Michel Bras.

AT: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
JV: London, NY, Vegas, Paris. A lot of good restaurants are outside of the major cities in the country, beside Spain.

AT: What are your favorite restaurants in Miami
JV: Matsuri- it’s a small Japanese restaurant in Miami.

AT: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
JV: That’s actually a question I like to ask potential chefs, too! But in five years I see myself in Asia and writing a lot. In ten years probably opening up my own place, but I don’t know where. It will be in a place where I can get good produce and ingredients. And my restaurant will be a tiny one where the food cost is 80%!