The day that Santi Amigó, the owner of the Cal Xim restaurant in Sant Pau d’Ordal, met Jean Leon, he realized he was in the presence of someone special. They got along. They were both passionate about the restaurant business and wine. They spoke the same language. He still has a 1977 vintage Vinya La Scala Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva signed by Jean Leon. He made him a promise that he never got to keep…
When did you meet Jean Leon?
I don’t remember the exact year. It must’ve been the late Seventies. We’d only recently opened the restaurant. What I do remember perfectly is the first time I saw him. He was wearing a white silk scarf and very shiny shoes.
He stood out, in other words…
Absolutely! There were a lot of people at the restaurant that day. He came in with his nephew, and I noticed him right away. I waited on their table myself. I remember he left me a 5000 peseta tip!
5000? But, how much was the meal?
Less than half that! I was sure he’d made a mistake. I didn’t accept the tip, but he was so insistent, he eventually stuck the money in my pocket.
An excellent introduction…
Yes, and that story aside, we got along immediately. He was someone who’d talk to you if he noticed that you could keep up (intellectually speaking).
Did you serve him a Jean Leon wine that day?
Yes. He asked for a white wine, and I brought him a bottle of Vinya Gigi Chardonnay.
Perhaps that was the reason for the tip…
Perhaps (he smiles). I didn’t know he owned the winery, but I’d seen him around.
Did he come here often?
Whenever he was in the Penedès, he’d come and eat at Cal Xim. In Barcelona, he’d go to Via Veneto and Botafumeiro. He knew where to eat.
What was he like in person?
He was dry and intelligent. Very professional in his interactions. Our relationship was always very pleasant.
Would you call it a friendship?
No, our relationship was that of maître d’ and customer. We spoke the same language. We were alike in some ways, especially in our love for the restaurant business. At the time, he had already opened the La Scala restaurant in Los Angeles, and he was always saying he’d hire me. We were very similar. We liked the same things: eating, drinking, women…
What did he like most about Cal Xim?
He loved the rabbit, and he always wanted us to serve all of the dishes at the same time. He liked seeing a table full of food.
What about wine? Did he drink his own?
Yes, he usually did. There weren’t that many options back then.
One day he gave you a signed bottle of his Vinya La Scala Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva. Tell us about that…
Yes, it was a 1977 vintage. He signed it in 1996. By then Jean Leon was ill. I didn’t know, but I could sense it. He told me that if he came back the following year, and we drank the bottle together, he’d pay me 150,000 pesetas.
He didn’t come back…
No. He knew he didn’t have much time left. I kept the bottle, as well as several other Jean Leon vintages. I’m very attached to those wines, and I’ll never open them.
How would you describe him in one word?
He was a rascally guy. There are people who walk into the restaurant, and something about them just draws your eye, grabs your attention. People who own the room.
What do you think of his legacy?
He left us some truly great wines. Especially the Cabernet and the Chardonnay. And the Torres family has done an excellent job of maintaining his legacy.