"I REMEMBER WORKING IN BAR BOULUD IN NYC AND WE HAD A DESSERT AND IT WAS CALLED A COUP PAMPLEMOUSSE AND I JUST REMEMBER HEARING THAT WORD AND I THOUGHT IT WAS SO FUNNY"
As archaic as it sounds, Juan does not have Instagram or Twitter.
1. What was your first job in hospitality
I opened the Red Lobster in Times Square in NYC, I started as a food runner and quickly became a server.
2. What is your favourite cuisine to eat – preferably not the one you work with?
I think that’s a tough question. It’s not necessarily a type of cuisine I like, but I think I prefer meals that are more comfort food oriented. Food that takes a lot of time to prepare, there is a lot of thought that goes into it but allows you to have a good time and you don’t have to analyse too much.
3. Which dish do you most associate with childhood?
Braised oxtail, coconut rice and patacones or tostones – depending on where you are from. It’s a dish my Mom always makes for me when I am home.
4. What’s the soundtrack to your first love?
I’ll tell you when it happens.
5. What do you crave after a long shift?
Usually a Manhattan.
6. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day – what do you have?
I usually have eggs with avocado and tomato on toast.
7. What is your favourite word?
The word that always comes to mind is ‘pamplemousse’ which is grapefruit in French. I remember working in Bar Boulud in NYC and we had a dessert and it was called a Coup Pamplemousse and I just remember hearing that word and I thought it was so funny. I studied French but I somehow never encountered the word for grapefruit and I just thought it was a really funny word to say. I kind of chuckled whenever I was at a table and said it.
8. If you could go on a culinary extravaganza-eating holiday – in which city would you choose to do so?
There are a few places I would really want to go to but I would want to travel through France. Especially combine it with a wine trip through Burgundy and Rhone.
9. All at the same time or coursed out?
Depends who I am with, why I'm out, where I'm eating. I think all at the same time is a lot of fun, but there is so much causal dining going on and that is kind of the trend. But I really do appreciate a really good coursed out meal with a tasting menu. I think they are harder to come by now. I think it is something special and it doesn’t even necessarily have to be fine dining, when you have a tasting menu somewhere and each dish is just so special. I guess it’s just what lends itself to the occasion.
10. What is the one area of working in a restaurant you wish you knew more of?
Beverage or the bar basically. I’ve never been a bartender, I know about spirits but I am not as well versed as I would like to be. That is something I would definitely like to learn more about. Especially now there is so much emphasis on cocktails, and while I appreciate them, I am not a huge cocktail drinker. I like my classics, but I'm more into wine. I think especially after working in Oblix where the bar was very much a focus and my bar team was really really great I am now interested to learn more.
11. What is the best cure for a hangover?
Sleep it off and have another drink.
12. You’re allowed one shift drink – what is it?
Michters Rye Manhattan
13. What is the one thing which guests do that drives you mad?
I think that the biggest thing has to be, and this is more so since I have been living in the UK, is not saying something when they are not happy. I think it is something I miss from NYC and American culture. If you’re not happy you’re going to say something and give the restaurant, the management and the chef the opportunity to fix it on the night, because we honestly want to. We want everyone to leave satisfied with what we are trying to do. By not saying something at the time, it robs us of the opportunity to fix it and more so to show you we can fix it. I mostly work in high volume and obviously you strive for consistency but you are not going to be perfect every time. But having the opportunity to fix it, and showing the way you do fix it distinguishes a good restaurant from an average one. If you check in, and you do all the things, and you go and have a conversation and they tell you everything is great and they don’t actually tell you the truth, it kind of robs you of an opportunity to make things right. That’s frustrating and I find that happens more in the UK, people aren’t as vocal on the spot. You get the email or the phone call afterwards but I wish it was more kind of in the moment.
14. Do you have any rituals during a shift?
I probably do and I don’t notice, I just got pointed out from one of my managers that I am OCD in certain things which I wasn’t aware. But I think at the beginning of service, briefing for me is kind of a ritual in terms of gearing up the staff. I usually do briefing and then go talk to the chef and I just kind of go around and talk to my team and kind of make certain they are in the right mind set, try and have a laugh. Especially because sometimes briefings you have to try and make as upbeat as possible, but it is also a time to go over a lot of points where things didn’t go well. I also always try and be at the door when the first guests come in. I think that is really important.
15. What’s the last film you saw?
Fifty Shades of Grey
16. Best thing that has ever happened to you in a restaurant?
Ok I have two. In terms of work, the first year Bar Boulud NY opened and we put on the James Beard party, it was just an amazing experience. You spend all this time going out to eat and learning about chefs and working in the industry, and to have them all collectively coming through your restaurant and then meeting them and interacting with them and partying with them was great. I think at that time, I was just really starting out in the industry and it is something you can never forget. All this stuff is happening and I remember one moment, I was having a good time but you needed to keep going and I remember going through the restaurant and taking down a linen basked and my Director of Operations saw that, and he looked a me and said ‘well done Juan!’ - Because I was socialising, interacting, and serving but still keeping up with the details. It was at that time of the night when everyone would expect you to slack off.
My other one in terms of being a guest at a restaurant would be my going away meal at Eleven Madison Park before moving to London. I was with some of my best friends, we had an amazing meal and everyone brought a bottle of wine. I don’t like attention, I don’t like compliments and I don’t like people talking about me, and the rule was when you open your bottle of wine you had to tell your favourite story about me. We went around all night, it was very emotional. But that was probably one of my most memorable dining experiences. Incredible restaurant, but that night was made better by the people. At the end I wound up dancing in the middle of the dining room. Its one of my favourite dining rooms, I think it is so New York and so classic. One of those places you would dine in and dance in, like Scent of a Woman.
17. What’s your tagline/motto?
Make it happen.
18. Photography while eating – yay or nay?
I used to do it, I kind of stopped. I used to do it for everything and now I kind of only do it for when something really speaks to me. I think it’s become too much of a distraction.
19. Rank the following in order of priority; wine, food, sex
Sex, food, wine.
20. What would be your last meal – drinks included.
My childhood meal – braised oxtail, coconut rice, patacones. With a cup of overly sugared iced tea we used to make when I was a kid.
21. What makes you happy?
22. How do you relax?
I like to go to the cinema.
23. What is the background on your phone?
It’s regular. Nothing interesting. Just the normal Apple background.
24. Favourite Instagram accounts to follow
I’m not on Instagram.
25. What is the best thing about working in hospitality?
Making relationships with guests and your team.
26. Which restaurant are you ashamed to NOT have eaten at?
27. Who is the person you most respect in the industry?
My mentor from CIA, Raimundo Gaby
28. What is your go to party trick?
Playing flip cup.
29. Finish this sentence; I eat everything except ...