Who is Really Teaching Who?: An Exclusive Peek into the Mentor-Protege Relationship Between Mugaritz’s Andoni Aduriz and VASK’s Chele GonzalezMay 13, 2015
Whenever Chef Chele Gonzalez of Gallery Vask is written about, it is almost a prerequisite to mention his background working in some of the world’s best kitchens. There were stages in El Bulli, Arzak, Noma, and El Celler de Can Roca, but when talking about his time at Mugaritz, the chef is at his most reflective, where his fondest culinary memories were formed. Chef Andoni Aduriz, who is one of the gastronomic world’s most ubiquitous and talented personalities, has become the most influential character to Gonzalez’s journey, with their relationship evolving to the deep friendship the creatives share today. On this rarest of occasions, we brought together Chef Andoni Aduriz and his former protege, Chef Chele Gonzalez, to talk candidly about lessons both in and out of the kitchen.
Pepper: Chele, what are the lessons you’ve learned from Andoni while working in Mugaritz?
Chele Gonzalez: People think that Andoni is the professor in the Mugaritz restaurant, and that he influenced Vask. There’s people waiting to work with him for 17 years, people who have only worked with him for 2 years. He also learned so much with these people, to the point that he’s not the teacher of them. He learns about so much from all these people around him. So who is really teaching who?
P: So at the end of the day everyone is learning from each other?
Andoni Aduriz: Yes, everyone is learning from each other. So the idea some people have that “Oh, I’m here teaching everyone”, it’s not like that. I’m learning so much about the people around me, so I don’t want to be the kind of guy that says I’m the teacher here, it’s not at all like that. No. I’m saying that we’re working together. I talk as you do with the same mouth, and I move my hands just as you do.
P: What was it like to learn and train under Ferran Adria, now that you Chef Andoni, are in his shoes, and are a culinary educator and a mentor?
AA: There’s always an intention of learning. You get to a point always in your life, when you get into a crisis, when you get into a place where your values are completely different. When I got into his kitchen, they have a lot of crisis, and stress, a situation turns into a problem, but I thought I had already known about this. The first week I was in El Bulli, I wanted to leave. I said: “These people are crazy.” So I said “Ok, just wait a little longer. And then I ended up staying for two years. If I could I would stay my whole life there.
P: What was the most valuable lesson you learned from El Bulli that you brought to Mugaritz?
AA: Freedom. Yeah, when he was studying things were like in boxes—it had to be like this thing. Then I went to this place that told me: why does it have to be like that? You can do things in another way. So, that’s what I learned in El Bulli—freedom of asking myself, questioning myself, critiquing myself. It’s not simple freedom and creativity, it’s challenging freedom and creativity. You have to think to yourself “Why? Why am I doing this thing?” Really think about it and answer your own questions.
P: And what about you Chele, what lesson did you learn from Andoni? What’s the biggest lesson you learned from working at Mugaritz that you brought to Vask?
CG: I think Mugaritz brought out what was inside me, he [Andoni] brought it out, you know? The first time I was in Mugaritz was when I was having a stage in Arzak. I remember a two-Michelin starred chef from Holland went there and said he had the best experience in his life. I got very excited. So I asked, I called and said I wanted to dine there. And I went there with other stage chefs from all over the world from Mexico, etc., and it was amazing, and I can’t even describe the words. And I finished dining, and I went to the kitchen and said I want to make a stage here, because I already connected with the food. So then when I started to make the stage, every single thing that happened there—it made me go to work happy. It was one of my happiest times in cooking. I enjoyed it, I enjoyed the people, the philosophy, but Mugaritz is a very strong entity, wherein every single person, the place, the reason behind the dishes, it all makes the place very special. I started to think of a lot of things in many different ways, and I think it brought out strong values inside me. It also gives me, as a chef and as a person, a lot of things to bring out. And since then I always have been looking, or you know, always been talking about Mugaritz because for me it’s a very special place. When I think Mugaritz, I think about something that makes me happy.
P: So for Andoni and Chele, how has your relationship developed throughout the years as former colleagues, now that you guys are very good friends?
CG: Many times, like yesterday, I told him, “give me the menu” and he says, “write something for me”. Because many times when I have done a dish, I think to myself: “I would like one day for Andoni to sit in the restaurant so that he can eat, you know, one of the dishes that I’m creating—for reverence, you know, and many other things.” So it will be a very amazing experience for me to show my dishes to someone I believe in, who I trust. Sometimes, when I think, when I start creating in my mind, I think about you [looks at Andoni], I think about Mugaritz.
P: And how about you, Andoni? Seeing your former protege, creating this restaurant and this experience?
AA: Our stay in life is so short. Sometimes we create something in our mind that we cannot lessen and we cannot keep on going. It stops your life. If life is comfortable, I have to make it uncomfortable. It’s a mantra in life, makes me be a better person and that makes me think. I can’t explain everything, it is something I know. You have to help your talent, and in Mugaritz we have so many talented people. People are so afraid of talent, because they are afraid they will take your place. When someone sees someone with very big talent, they will push it down so that they know they’re safe here. I think the other way around. If you find someone with talent, you know, help him bring out that talent. If they are better than you, much better. Chele has a lot of talent. I am so happy. I am so happy that he’s doing so well. I’ve also learned from him. He gives me energy, he transfers energy and passion to me. Chele wants to become bigger, and he’s gonna do it. So what I have to do is to help him. My obligation is to help him.