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Eat to the Beat: George Mendes

George Mendes, a contestant on this season’s Top Chef Masters, is the chef and owner of the critically acclaimed Aldea in New York. Here he serves up his thoughts on snacks, grub, and rock & roll.


What do chefs and rock stars have in common?
We’re both constantly creating, but we’re also craftsman. Musicians learn how to play the fundamentals and chefs are the same way: we learn how to use salt, how to grill, sauté, or roast etc. And then we grow and develop our own signature style.

First times: what’s the first record you bought? First meal you cooked?
Billy Joel was the first one, when I was about ten years old. I think it was Glass Houses. My first meal was a chicken breast roulade stuffed with spinach and raisins, and served with Madeira sauce when I was 15 or 16. It was definitely ambitious, but I was pretty proud of the results!


Let’s talk seduction: what’s your go-to soundtrack for getting it on, and what’s your go-to meal for getting a lady in the mood?
Back in high school is was Al B. Sure and New Edition, but now I like Ryan Bingham or Ray Lamontagne. For food it would be a lot of seafood: fresh oysters, sea urchin, caviar.

On the road: what’s your ultimate road food and what are the best driving songs?
When I’m driving it’s usually Kit-Kats, salt and vinegar potato chips and Gatorade. For music, I like electronica: Paul Van Dyk, Deep Dish, Thievery Corporation. I was big into clubbing back in the late nineties - I’m too old for that shit now.

Food and music pairings - can you pair a dish with:

Michael Jackson
For food I think of white, like a white asparagus and egg dish, with the yellow yolk and white around it. And black truffles, so you have that luxury and that simplicity, that mystery and darkness at the same time.

Johnny Cash
I’d have to be straightforward and do a black dish: calamari cooked on a plancha with squid ink sauce, black truffles, and a few dots of black olive puree. And then citrus to contrast all the salty flavors.

Jay-Z
I’d keep it really simple: a really good steak and simple fish presentations. But I think Jay-Z is more about the liquids, so I would emphasize cocktails, and I know what a big tequila fan he is. I think I would really focus on pairing some food with drinks.


If you could invite all of your favorite artists to a dinner party, who would you invite?
I would definitely invite Johnny Cash. Michael Jackson, absolutely. Then my favorite bands, the Strokes and Interpol. I’d definitely put Prince in the mix. And I would have to include Radiohead too.

What would you cook?
I’d ask them what they like to eat, then create a menu that morning, working my own personal chef style with my Portuguese background.

What kind of music is good for cooking?
The staff here at Aldea will say that I’m an Interpol and Strokes addict. I could play that shit every day and not get sick of it.


What about for eating?
The playlist here is all over the map, it really is. There’s Led Zeppelin, then all of a sudden Jay-Z kicks in, and then it’s Johnny Cash, Ryan Bingham. And then it’s The Strokes, then it’s Thievery Corporation.

Who is the one artist out there now that you want to see live?
I think the Rolling Stones might have another tour left in them. That’s at the top of the list.

And what’s the one restaurant you haven’t eaten at yet that you’re most looking forward to?
Well, Ferran Adria’s El Bulli closes down in one month, and if I could go back one last time, I’d be there in a heartbeat.

What is your rock & roll fantasy?
I would love to go back in time and see Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden.


And your food fantasy?
I’d like to be on a ship in the 15th century, during the Portuguese age of exploration and eat with the seafarers and the fishermen, and people like Vasco Da Gama. They were barbarians who were pretty mean, but I’ve got to be honest with you, man, I’d love being out on the water, eating with these barbaric people, going from island to island, beating people up and taking their spices and bringing them back to Europe!