A Q&A with Aldea’s George Mendes

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With a background that includes a degree from The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and the experience of working for a Who's Who of chefs like David Bouley, Alain Passard, Sandro Gamba, Alain Ducasse, Roger Vergé, Martin Berasategui and others, George Mendes is set to return to his Iberian and especially Portuguese roots with his about to open new restaurant Aldea, located at 31 W.17th St. (212) 675-7223.

I first got to know George at the premiere Starchefs International Chefs Congress, for which he ran the prep kitchen. His job then was to make sure that it ran smoothly for all the celebrity chefs who used it to prepare for their demonstrations.

Following is a Q&A that I recently had the opportunity to do with Chef Mendes.

You are getting near to opening your new restaurant Aldea. How does it feel?  
Its been a roller coaster ride, just ready to get back into the kitchen.

The process of opening a restaurant in NYC seems to be particularly arduous.
How long has this been in the works?.  After initial planning , we embarked on the project in September of 2006. We had everything lined up including the location.  But
right when we were a few days from signing the lease, it fell through
due to last minute decisions by the landlord.  The next 18 months were
a little frustrating…….. a lesson in patience.

What kinds of obstacles have you had to overcome to open the restaurant?  Well the initial search was the first obstacle, but once we signed the lease a new set started.  The design process (pre-construction)
itself was grueling and very tedious,especially the mechanical,
electrical, and plumbing stages.  Its a brand new building and we are
the first tenants. Everything from
drains
to water lines to electrical roughing and HVAC…… all being
choreographed with the interior design. The permits needed .. Then the
construction itself, just when you think its smooth sailing, a new
obstacle ( well a challenge) would appear.  I never thought it would
take so long,  this place is not that big, but …oh well.

Everyone is talking about the economy. Has that had an effect on your plans?  My
plan (business/concept) has never changed since day 1. Aldea has always
been a casual restaurant at a comfortable price point.  I want it to be
fun, but serious food, I push myself and my team to meet high
standards, like the places where I have trained.  The economy is on my
mind, but we still need to go out and nourish ourselves, entertain, and
be happy.

Tell me about the food. What should your diners expect?. The
menu itself will have 'petiscos" (snacks) as well as apps , entrees,
and a tasting menu.  It will revolve around the seasons of course with
alot of ingredients coming from neighboring greenmarket.  There will be
charcuterie, fish and shellfish, various meats as well as rice dishes.

How "creative" do you intend to be versus traditional?  My
food tends to always have a reference point where I build from.
 Sometimes it is very simple– showing off 1 to 2 sole ingredients
other times it can be a little more
complex.  Taste come first. As cooks we constantly create , in
different degrees,  but I strongly believe there is nothing if you
don't know your craft, the basics.

Are there any unusual ingredients that you are particularly looking forward
to working with?  Not
necessarily unusual, but I would say underrated like salt cod that we
cure ourselves, various Iberian sausages, and the less-popular cuts of
meat like pig's ears, lamb belly and pork shoulder.  

Techniques?  We will take full advantage of
modern cooking techniques to better the end result and make us better
cooks, but there is always a need for the classics.

Any particularly fun toys in the kitchen?  Gotta say the stove itself, and the superbag, tweezers, Masamoto knives.

Who designed the restaurant and what is the design concept? The restaurant was designed by Stephanie Goto.   It takes the elements of sea and land and transmits them through various woods
and color schemes.  The idea was to interpret my heritage, my
upbringing from a small village or " Aldeia"  which inspired the name.
 It has a modern look but warming- rustic notes as well

You have your Certificate of Occupancy and have started serving "Friends and Family." When is Aldea opening to the public?   Next week…………

Coming soon: Dinner at Aldea


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One Response to A Q&A with Aldea’s George Mendes

  1. Daniel says:

    Good luck George welcome to the club. It will be a different story t0 have your own place. You are a great chef so we are already excited to try it out.

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