“Things have to be organized in a way that I can find them without light. I’ve been saying this for years and it actually happened here! When we opened [Le 15 Café], the lights had gone out and we had one oven working, but we pulled it off,” he says, giving us an insight into the behind-the-scenes life of a chef. It’s the sort of discipline that is hard to sense in his easy-going mannerisms, but is palpable when I chat with him as the café fills up on a busy Saturday night. Everything unfolds with ease, like a fugue where everyone knows their part to play. His friend, Pooja Dhingra, who owns the place, is there too. “I met her 8 years ago at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and last year in July she called me and said that she had got this place in Colaba, and here I am,” he quips.
From Bogota, his hometown in Colombia, to Mumbai via Paris, had he envisioned such a journey? “At 15, I knew I wanted to be a chef. I started reading up and realized that it’s the French who have this crazy passion for food – I mean 400 types of cheese and anyone walking on the street could stop and tell you all about Chardonnay. Where else could you find that?” he reminisces of his decision to study and work in Paris.
But what about the organized chaos of Mumbai, does it unnerve him? “Oh I love it!” he’s quick to tell me. “I’ve been living my life in this crazy contradiction – between extreme passion and discipline, and passion is the engine for discipline. Like I know exactly where I want to be 15 years from now, but 2 months down the line…? I don’t know! And Mumbai is like that. There’s this beautiful Café, but not very far there’s also the chaos of Sassoon Docks- which I love. I mean that place is heaven and hell rolled into one!,” he says. The markets, fresh produce and people here inspire him. Interestinlgly, the Grant Road market was where Chef Pablo got the inspiration for Le 15 Café’s Beans & Seeds Salad.
In his few months here, he’s grasped plenty of Hindi too. “Just today, I wanted to go to Cuffe Parade and the taxi driver asked me for Rs. 150. ‘Kyun? Kyun 150 rupees, 20 rupees lo!’ I told him.” That’s got to be pretty handy for him, in the kitchen and for the travel itinerary that he’s drawing up. “My high school friend from Bogota is in Ahmedabad, so I have to go there. We were in Paris together for a year too and now here… who would have thought?”
Yes, from Colombia to Paris and now India… who would have thought?