In November 2019, Jhon Mendoza heard his name at the Michelin Guide gala held in Lisbon. As head chef, he had helped Taller Arzuaga restaurant achieve its first star in the Red Guide. The alumni of Gasma’s Master in Gastronomy and Culinary Management likes challenges. So much so that he did not hesitate to cross half the world to direct an ambitious new gastronomic project in Shanghai. We spoke with him to tell us how he is living this adventure and to find out how his passing through Gasma prepared him to take the leap into the world of haute cuisine.
Question: What brought you to Paradox?
It was something unexpected, since it came at a time when I was not looking for more work. One day opportunity knocked on my door to be part of this new project, to be the image of Paradox brand as executive chef and with a portion of the restaurant’s shares. Every chef’s dream.
Despite the fact that in Spain things were going very well for me both personally and professionally, it was an offer that I could not refuse. China attracted me not only for work, but also for the possibility of getting to know a new culture, another lifestyle, new products and a totally different gastronomy.
Was it difficult to make the decision?
The truth is that it was very difficult, since I had a life made in Spain – I really like it as a country! – and a good job. However, I have always thought that if in life you do not risk, you will always live with that question. So I accepted, decided to drop everything and start from scratch. And I did it with the challenge of making a place for myself in Chinese gastronomy. It is a big step and very difficult, since it is one of the largest countries in the world.
How would you define Paradox’s cuisine?
I would define it as a journey of flavors. Two concepts coexist at Paradox. On the one hand, an offer focused on Mediterranean cuisine with touches of Spanish, French and Italian cuisine. On the other hand, we also offer a tasting menu in which we take the diner on a trip around the world.
How do you bring your culinary philosopy to a country with such a different culture?
It has been one of the great challenges, since it is difficult to transfer a European concept or from any other country to China. Here, the culture and gastronomy are very different. Fortunately, the restaurant is located in Shanghai, one of the economic centers of the world. This means that foreign food is very well received. In addition, in the culture of the city it is very common to eat in restaurants.
How was the reception from the Shanghai public?
It has surprised us from the first moment. We thought it would be difficult for the first few months, as it was a new concept. However, it has been the opposite and both investors and the kitchen team have been pleasantly surprised. Still, we continue with our feet on the ground. We have only been open for two months and there is still a long way to go.
How did you experience the achievement of your first Michelin star as head chef?
I think it is the dream of every chef to be part of the Red Guide. Being mentioned at the gala is a dream that I could never imagine in my life. Luckily, all effort and hard work pays off.
All in all, it was a very strange year, since like many colleagues, I had to stop due to the pandemic. I did not get to enjoy the star much, as we had to close the restaurant as a result of sanitary measures. It was time to be home, waiting for the day when we could reopen. Still, I keep the good, and it was something very nice to be able to touch the sky of the stars. In addition, it has been a great opportunity, since it allowed me the possibility of showing myself to the world and reaching Shanghai.
Peru, Italy, Spain, China. Your experience shows that gastronomy is a world without borders. How has this tour marked your cuisine?
I never thought of traveling so many countries, but gastronomy shows that many things can be achieved with a lot of effort and, above all, without losing passion for what we do. I think I am still in the learning phase. For me, Shanghai is a new world and I still need to learn many things, adapt to the work methodology, the type of clients and, above all, the lifestyle.
You were one of the first students of the Master in Gastronomy and Culinary Management. How do you remember your time at Gasma?
My stay at Gasma changed my life. Taking the Master’s Degree gave me the opportunities that every cook dreams of having. The learning is optimal, the teaching level is excellent, the infrastructure is really a 10. And above all, there are your classmates, who become your family, since most of us come from abroad. This brings us closer together. I also remember Pablo Márquez, Gasma’s gastronomic advisor, who always helped us in our decisions. Even after finishing the Master, he has always been there to support us and give us advice.
From student to teacher, you have participated as a teacher in the last editions of the master you took. How do you value this experience?
The experience has been a 10! It is incredible how from year to year the campus evolves and always improves the level of teaching both in the masters and in the Bachelor’s Degree in Gastronomy. In my case, when I came back as a teacher it was very beautiful, as it brings back many memories. To think that you also stayed there as a student is a unique emotion.
Do you see yourself back in Spain or is Paradox a long-term project?
At the moment I am very focused on what I am doing and I try to do my job as well as possible. I would like to return to Spain and undertake in the future … or perhaps to Italy, where I have also lived. My future is not written and I just think that everything will come in due course.