It was December 1990, And I was 21 years old, working in a restaurant outside Barcelona for my best friend, Ferran Adrià. Now he’s known as the best chef in the world, but back then we were just kids, and he was trying to build up a new restaurant called El Bulli. One night he asked me to meet him at a restaurant in Barcelona at 7 o’clock to have a talk. I showed up and he wasn’t there. These were the days before mobile phones, so after about half an hour, I left to go find a pay phone to call him. When I got back, there he was, irate. This is a man who likes to be on time, and he thought I disrespected him. He yelled at me for a long time and accused me of lying to him, then told me he didn’t want me there anymore.
So there I am in the middle of Spain, it’s raining, and I’m out of a job at a place I thought I would spend my entire career. The soundtrack of my life started playing. It was like those movies where there’s a shooting and someone’s little brother is shot in slow motion. I was just standing there in the rain, cars driving by. Within a week, I moved to New York to try something different. I had never thought about trying to be a chef in America, but I thought now was the right time, and I didn’t have any other choices. That was 20 years ago, and moving to the United States really was destined for me. America gave me the opportunity to open successful restaurants, start a TV show, and write books. I can even fill an auditorium when I give a speech, which in America is rare for a chef.
Maybe the mistake was leaving to find a pay phone. Or maybe it was his mistake for not believing me. It’s still my favorite. There are those occasional moments in life where something happens that feels like the end of your life and career. But it started something entirely new for me. It pushed me onto a different path that was even bigger.
Seven years later, I went back to El Bulli to see Ferran. I walked in and we just gave each other one of those Spanish hugs when you put your hand behind the other guy’s neck. Now we’re best friends. We consult each other on recipes and menus. We even go on vacation together with our families. He’s coming to America soon, traveling for a new book he wrote. He actually called me 15 minutes ago to talk about his trip, but I was talking on the phone, so I didn’t answer. Please don’t tell him I said that.
Interview by Daniel Stone