In another fascinating episode of the Gentleman’s Journal podcast, world-renowned chef Nuno Mendes revealed how he forged a path into food, created some of the finest restaurants open today, and the one food he absolutely can’t stand to eat.
But, amidst the stories of cooking, partying and working on a rural Portuguese farm, he imparted some particularly memorable nuggets of wisdom — for business, life and beyond. Here are our favourite five…
Find the silver lining in every opportunity
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When he was 21, Mendes’ father agreed to let him pursue cookery as a career if he returned to work on the family farm for a year. At the time, Mendes was living in Miami Beach, and returning to rural Portugal didn’t seem appealing. But, in hindsight, it was the best thing that could have possibly happened.
“When I look back at it, it was incredible. It was probably one of the most valuable experiences that I had in my career. It improved my understanding of cooking, and of the circle of life, and agriculture. At the time, I was in the wrong place, but it gave me such a grounding and great understanding, that when I moved to California after that, I felt ready for that challenge.”
Your personal touch makes all the difference
Mendes makes no bones about kitchen work being some of the most physically and mentally demanding work out there. Up to 14 hours spent in a boiling basement kitchen can take its tole on anyone. But, the chef says, even if you’re battling through your job, it is of paramount importance to keep showing the world what makes you stand out in your particular field.
“Kitchen work is hard, you know? It’s brutal. It’s physically demanding. There’s the pressure of service, the pressure of front-of-house, there’s animosity. It’s changing, but it was not pleasant. It was hard. You need a lot of patience and a lot of perseverance. A lot of will, and physical stamina. You must fight your corner but still, at the time, remember to show a little of what you have.”
For a business to work, no detail is too small
Chiltern Firehouse, one of Mendes’ more lauded ventures, was a challenge to get right. This, the chef tells Gentleman’s Journal, is because it’s not just about the food. From staff to decor, there are many things involved in creating a restaurant, or any business for that matter. And you must respect and give time to every detail — no matter how small — to succeed.
“I’m very involved. We always wanted the food at the Firehouse to be incredibly tasty. But, for me, the Firehouse is the Firehouse. There are many layers: the food, the service, the drinks, the space. And you must get them all right.”
Don’t be afraid to have fun
Mendes lives a busy life. Meetings, decisions and — clearly — cooking take up much of the chef’s time. But, when discussing Chiltern Firehouse (which he designed to be ‘one of the best nights out in London’), Mendes revealed that his main inspiration for creating vibrant, exciting spaces was to give people the chance to let their hair down and have a great time.
“I didn’t want it to be serious. Dining is fun, and socialising. I have kids now — as do a lot of my friends — and our attention span is quite short. We work a lot and we wake up very early. We lead hectic lives. So, when we go out, we want to party. You know? You don’t want to be too serious.”
It pays to be nice to your peers
Despite every industry seeing talented individuals jostle for position and supremacy, Mendes believes that it pays to be nice, and told us that he strives to be seen as a decent person by everyone — patrons and peers alike. Why? Because, business aside, he respects and supports only those who he sees as good people.
“I like — and this might sound very controversial — I like people, not chefs. There are some incredibly talented chefs out there, but I don’t think they’re particularly nice people. And their food falls flat for me. I wouldn’t support their businesses because I don’t think they’re particularly nice people. I try to be a nice person. I feel like you can be incredibly talented as a person, but if you’re a prick you get no respect.”
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