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Jorge Tonda On His Journey Towards Food and How It Lead Him to Relæ in Copenhagen

May 9, 2019

When you think about Copenhagen and food, the first thing that comes to mind is Noma, the brainchild of the René Redzepi. The four-time World’s Best Restaurant pioneered modern cuisine, inspiring  chefs from around the world to follow suit. Not far off, Christian Puglisi and Jonathan Lam—Noma acolytes themselves—opened Relæ. They were hot on the heels of Noma’s closing in February 2017, giving them the floor to revitalize the city’s culinary scene.

Relæ takes a true farm-to-table approach to fine dining. It was ranked 39th in the 2017 World’s Best Restaurants list, and in 2016, it was recognized as the world’s most sustainable restaurant. These accolades, plus Puglisi’s book “Relæ: A Book of Ideas,” sparked something in Jorge Tonda, moving him to apply for an internship.

Jorge Tonda had zero formal culinary experience. “My interest in cooking started very late as a hobby. I would flip through my mother’s recipe books at home to find dishes that I wanted to eat.” At the beginning, the idea of pursuing food as more than an outlet seemed worlds away.

Jorge was six years into a career in marketing when he realized he wanted to do something different. What, he didn’t know yet. One thing he was sure of, though: “I swore to myself that I would never pursue a job in sales and marketing again.” He had a plan, starting with a change of environment. He would fly to Barcelona, take a job as an English teacher, and somewhere along the way, hopefully find a more permanent career doing something he was actually interested in. Fate, however, had something different in mind.

Two days before his flight to Spain, he found himself at a job interview. It was another sales job, but it would require him to travel around the globe. That sounded like a fair bargain, so he took the offer. Three months in, he realized that no amount of globe-trotting could quench his yearning for passion. Yet here he was, miserable in the same job that he tried to escape, still unmotivated. One thing that kept him going, though he may not have realized it at the time, was food. In his mind, cooking was still just a hobby, not something to make a career out of. But, in hindsight, it was just the kind of “different” that he needed. 

He was cooped up in a tiny room in Singapore, watching the Francis Mallmann episode of the first season of Netflix’s Chef’s Table, when it hit him. The way the Argentine chef talked about the freedom that food gave him—Jorge wanted that too.

Fate stepped in once again, and Jorge landed in Copenhagen—the “Silicon Valley of Food,” as one of his friends put it. Being in the city was the final push he needed to get him into the culinary scene.

Anyone can intern at Relæ, so Jorge was ecstatic upon learning that he was chosen to have the opportunity to work in such an esteemed kitchen.

“It was pure mental preparation. All I could do was trust that everything that I learned in the last year and a half was good enough to allow me not to make a fool of myself.”

He was in Copenhagen for a little less than a month, working in Relæ four days in a week. “We’d start our days at 10PM, do prep work up until 5PM, with a 45 minute family meal in between.” As a stagiaire, he would do a lot of support work for different kitchen stations. At Relæ, it was broken down into Pass, Snacks, Hots, Garnish, Cold, Pastry, and Production. Stagiaires that stay long enough get to experience all stations.

As expected, working in Relæ demanded much discipline and creativity. Working under Christian Puglisi and Jonathan Lam drove Jorge to improve his attention to detail, uphold the highest standards, and embody the cooking philosophy of the chefs. His experience changed his perspective towards food. It shouldn’t just be tasty, it should be thought-provoking—making you “question the power of an individual ingredient.”

Moving forward, Jorge hopes to continue championing progressive, ingredient-focused food. “Things are designed for the people.” So why shouldn’t food be? He believes that, in food, aesthetic value shouldn’t compromise quality, thought, and ergonomics. Just like the dishes he helped make in Relæ.

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