Moncho Neira left his home in Galicia, headed for Barcelona, soon after turning 18. Although the suitcase he brought with him was physically empty, he was full of dreams yet to come true. Little by little, thanks to his effort, dedication, and perseverance, over time he was able to make a name for himself on the food scene in the Catalan capital. His is a story of overcoming, of leadership and determination, very similar to that of Jean Leon. They knew each other; they were friends and had many things in common.
What kind of relationship did you have with Jean Leon?
I was a great friend of Jean Leon for many years.
Do you remember how you met?
The truth is I’ve been wracking my brain but I can’t remember. I wouldn’t know what to tell you right now. It’s one of those longstanding relationships that becomes a lifelong friendship, where you don’t remember the first time your paths crossed.
What did you think the first day you met him?
The first thing that came to mind was that he was a very friendly and approachable person. But what made the biggest impression on me was that he was very Americanized.
Would you be able to capture him in just one word?
Yes, Jean Leon was very brave.
What kind of personal relationship did you have with him?
He was my friend. He was someone who had an influence on me and supported me when I opened my first Moncho’s Barcelona restaurant in the USA. He always pushed me to get out of my comfort zone – which was the restaurant Botafumeiro – to explore new horizons. Jean Leon has been a very important person in my life.
Did you tell him about your plans for the future?
We shared great moments. We both had an entrepreneurial streak and we were always sharing ideas or discoveries form our journeys.
Did you do business together?
We were going to open a restaurant together in Thailand, but Jean Leon was suffering from health issues at the time and that stopped us. We always supported each other. You’ll always see Jean Leon on my restaurant menus. It’s a way to always have him here and to honor him.
What do you think of the legacy he left behind?
He was a visionary, he had a real nose for business, and he was fantastic with his advice. I’m amazed by the determination that he put into making his dream a reality; how clear it was for him. He’s left his name forever.
How would you define his lifestyle?
He was a man who knew how to enjoy life.
Was he an epicure?
Very much so! That’s why I liked to have him at my table, among other things, because he was a great gourmet.
Did he tell you any deep, dark secrets?
Yes, many. But as a good friend I keep them to myself.
Did he visit you often at your restaurant?
Yes, when he was in Barcelona we used to have lunch together every day at one restaurant or another. Something I also remember is opening one of my restaurants, “El Tinglado,” just for him, on June 23rd (Midsummer’s Eve), and the next day we opened the doors to the public.
What did he like most about Botafumeiro?
The ambiance and that you always felt at home.
Why do you think he achieved everything he set out to?
Because he was a visionary. He was one of those people that can imagine something and keep going until it becomes a reality.
Was he as much of a perfectionist as you are?
Yes, I guess it was one of those things we had in common that made us such great friends.