Nelly Grossi – Chef de partie at the 3 Michelin star AZURMENDI RESTAURANT in Larrabetzu in Spain
Nelly Grossi is chef de partie at the 3 Michelin star AZURMENDI RESTAURANT in Larrabetzu in Spain. Learn more about getting into one of the best restaurants in the country. An exciting story.
You currently work as Chef de partie at the 3 Michelin star AZURMENDI RESTAURANT in Larrabetzu in Spain. Why did you decide on cooking professionally?
When I was a child, I always liked eating more than cooking haha, but I was interested in the kitchen, watching tv-shows and read about cooking in general. When I was around 12 or 13 years-old, during the summer holiday, I worked in a restaurant in my town to see how it really was in a professional kitchen. I worked there 2 weeks every summer from age 12/13 till 15.
Which culinary school did you attend?
At 15 years-old I had to figure out what I wanted to do for my future because I was graduating from school. The only thing I was interested in and thinking about was cooking, so I started to apply for apprenticeships in restaurants and hotels in the region.
I had a job in a Restaurant during School (cooking for teenagers). My chef was teaching me all the basics and then she let me try out my own ideas. Within three years I had finished culinary school and received my diploma.
What will you never forget about your first year as a chef?
My first year as a chef (18 years-old) I was working at Hotel Olden in Gstaad (Switzerland). It wasn’t easy because I was alone, far from home and everything was very new. I was excited to start working and a bit scared, because I didn’t know how it would be.
However, day by day l learned new things and made new friends. The first thing you learn in the kitchen is discipline and then you watch, trying to understand as much as you can and ask questions.
What is the best part of being a chef?
One of the nicer things about being a chef is the possibility to travel, doing what you like, see different cultures, cities and working with people from all around the world.
In Switzerland you worked in different interesting stations, including the 13 points Gault Millau restaurant “ La Cucina” in Luzern.
Yes, I work in a restaurant in Luzern call “la Cucina”, an Italian restaurant with an open kitchen (first time for me in an open kitchen). It’s totally different working in a open kitchen compared to a standard “back of the house” kitchen. I really enjoy it because guests come to the pass, watching you cook, perhaps ask some questions or say thank you before leaving. I didn’t really feel pressure working because we had a really good team and amazing support.
What does Swiss cuisine means for you; how would you describe it best?
Switzerland is a nation known around the world for many famous things, chocolate, watches , cheese fondue, and banking. It’s difficult to describe Swiss food because we have so many different influences including Italy, Germany and France.
Early in your chef career you left Switzerland and moved to Abu Dhabi, Macau-China, Dubai and Spain today. What is your fascination to work as a chef internationally?
The great thing about traveling is learning about new cultures and their lifestyle. Discovering types of food that you never heard of before. Wherever you go you see different vegetables or spices and then you try new food (Chinese, Arab, Libanese, Indian, Thai, Japanese,..) and from all these countries you find something that you’re going to take with you. Perhaps the flavor of a special sauce, herbs or spices, you’re going to add to your style of cooking.
What is the most difficult aspect to being a chef abroad?
A hard part to being a chef abroad, especially in the beginning, is that you reach a new place knowing no one, being thrown into a new language and leaving friends and family at home. You start over every time you change jobs. You start from zero and then you create good friendships (like a family) and then you have to leave again: every time the same.
It’s not easy to say goodbye and start over one more time.
How would you describe your own culinary style today?
My style of cooking is a fusion of all the cuisines where I have experience with( Italian, French,) and then I add an asian taste because I love it 🙂
As Chef de partie at the 3 Michelin star AZURMENDI RESTAURANT in Larrabetzu in Spain today, what is the culinary direction/ set up there?
Currently I’m in a 3 Michelin star restaurant as a chef de partie, it’s the first time for me working in a restaurant at this level and in a new country. I’m in a Basque region (North of Spain) with a new language that I had to learn. Lucky for me Spanish is very similar to Italian so I learned pretty fast.
Hand on heard, working under 3 Michelin starts, how much pressure brings it into your work?
The pressure is high, working hard to keep a high standard. It is also the first time cooking Basque and Spanish cuisine, but the nice thing is that I have something new to learn every moment. Chef Eneko Axta in is restaurant, serves food that reminds him of his childhood and improves on it, adding new ideas and modernizing the dishes.
What are the current trends / developments you see in the Spanish culinary world?
Spanish cuisine in general is growing in recent years and will be interesting to see the directions it will take.
What are some of the lesser known spices and vegetables you use? Can you share a signature dish with us?
I like to use ginger, coriander, lemongrass, lime and curry. I don’t really have a signature dish yet. I have different dishes that I like but not a favorite, when I do you will be the first to know 😉
What does work mean for you?
I chose this a job, it’s hard, we have crazy hours, standing long hours, pressure and stress but I like cooking and I stand by my decision I took when I was 12.
What do you do if you want to treat yourself to something special to eat?
I love and always will love eating asian food, I love chicken Katsu with curry sauce.
Did your career as a chef change you as a person and if so, how?
Being a chef changes the way you look at things. It helps to open your mind about other cultures and allows you to travel.
What do people often misunderstand about the job of a chef?
People always think since we work in a kitchen we must be eating all the time and other super nice things, WRONG. ahha
When we are in the kitchen, we are trying new things and running around all day long, we have lunch (like people at home with pasta, or rice, fish or meat). Trying means a small spoon of something and that’s it.
Any place in the world you would like to work as chef one day?
I’m happy to say that I love to see the growing number of female chefs in the world with the pleasure to work in the kitchen and made this passion a job. Even if it is hard, if you want something, anything is possible. I would love to work one day in USA, lets see what the future brings.
Thank you very much Nelly.
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