Surely you know her: her name is Carme Ruscalleda, she is 65, and she is the world's most Michelin star cook. Three stars for her restaurant Sant Pau in Sant Pol de Mar (Barcelona), two for the restaurant Moments (Barcelona), with his son as the head chef and two more for his restaurant, San Pau in Tokyo (Japan).
She welcomes 'Quéhacer en' team at her charming restaurant in Sant Pol de Mar, an exquisite place on the seafront, which, incidentally, is the same as the one in Japan, but with the difference that the one in the Japanese city, instead of having the sea in front, it has a garden.
Ruscalleda is a happy, close, hard working and demanding woman with her work. She tells us that her beginnings at the kitchen were standing on a stool because she did not reach the counter and that the best ingredients to do a good job at the stoves are "constant work, originality, and taking care of the details."
She considers herself "in love" with her work and she says "she will be happy" at the forefront of the kitchen "while health, enthusiasm and desire" allow it.
QHE- How is a high-gastronomy restaurant managed?
"Mainly, falling in love with what you are doing, knowing that it is about taking care of the details, going through the freshness, betting on originality ... and this cannot be done alone, it's like coordinating an orchestra, a human team that feels the same respect and the same involvement to take it forward. "
QHE- Why did you choose this way? The charcuterie of your parents, has to do with it?
"Absolutely. I worked with my parents and my husband at a groceries that we converted into a delicatessen. Here we started out, making croquettes, fresh pasta, a few different vegetables and it was in that moment when we clashed with a glass roof because the person who buys ready food wants immediacy, he is buying time: he wants a tray, heat it and that’s it. And we, instead, went ahead to the details, a plate with a sauce aside, with a crunchy side ... but the client did not enjoy it.
For this reason, we started caressing the idea of placing a table in the store: we wanted to turn the store into a dining room- store. And during the process of preparing the works and the constructions permits to prepare the store, it came to our hands the possibility of buying the Hostal Sant Pau, which meant investing the same money that would cost the works in the store . Finally, we took the chance for the building: instead of setting the table in the store, we set the table in front of the store, and so our story began.
QHE- How do you professionally define yourself?
I am a cook who is in love with my work, who likes localism, investigates food, and every year is different. And that's why I'm happy, because I learn every day.
QHE- According to a neuroscience study conducted in Spain about food and emotions - promoted by Canal Cocina -, our "brain" gets excited when eating. Would this explain the fascination that lately has aroused the world of gastronomy?
Probably. I was telling you that I would define the cuisine of Sant Pau as a modern and Catalan cuisine, but now these qualifiers seem to fall short. I think it's a natural cuisine, because nature keeps motivating us; it is free, because you have the freedom to do what you want and it is exciting, because we chase excitement. "
QHE- How did you get the idea of opening a restaurant in Tokyo?
The idea was not ours: it is the proposal of a Japanese entrepreneur who has more than 40 establishments of different levels in that city: pizzerias, trattorias, Chinese and Japanese establishments... and one day he proposed us to bring Sant Pau cuisine toTokyo.
It was difficult to accept it , because it was not clear for us and because it was at the same time we had received the same proposal from Madrid and Barcelona and it did not work.
It was quite hard, but this man kept insisting and invited us to Tokyo to visit his establishments, to see the markets, how the world of hospitality works ... and after a week being abducted and impressed, he told us we could do the project as we would like.
If someone invites you to do a job with such freedom and tells you to do it as you like, this becames a personal challenge. And it was in that moment when, on the way home with the team, we decided to do it and look for the person with the greatest talent and enthusiasm to go to Tokyo.
QHE- How does the Japanese country perceive our cuisine?
Really good. The Japanese are a kind of customer who are very much informed when they visit an establishment. Additionally, they have a special weakness for Catalonia: they know a lot about our culture and they are greatly attracted by our history.
Then, when they see an exotic establishment in their city they get informed about the place and they know what they will eat. In addition, we are lucky as seasons are the same as in Catalonia -when it's winter here, it's also in Japan-, and so we can apply the Catalan concept of using seasonal products, apart from offering them dialogues and contrast on the plate. We look like them in the basic concept, the difference is that our cuisine is very much related to bread, wine and olive oil, which they like it a lot, because apart from being 'fun', It is also very healthy.
QHE- Among Sant Pau in Sant Pol de Mar, Sant Pau in Tokyo and the Moments restaurant, which shares with her son in the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona, Carme Ruscalleda has seven Michelin stars, being one of the most awarded chefs at Micheline Guide. Is it true that your training was "domestic"?
Absolutely. I have memories of being in the kitchen, standing on a stool because I couldn’t reach the counter. I am the daughter of a farmer and a trader, therefore, I had to help at home. When I was 12-13 years I took the responsibility of doing the family dinner and I liked it, but I never considered to do it professionally. It was really a personal and professional growth to feel courageous, to have the strength of the entrepreneurs and to say: "I want to do it my way."
QHE - What is the recipe for being a successful cook?
To have a grounding going with you, fondness for the territory and being a hard worker. It is very important to have an idea, but it is more important to carry it out; It is important to have an artist soul, but it is very important not to be lazy. They have to combine in this cocktail of inspiration, will, respect for the client who is the one who really pays the bill and the fact of being a good worker so that every day we can open with the same dignity.
QHE- Which has been the most exciting day of your professional career?
There are many. Getting excited when our granddaughter was born coinciding with an important event; the emotion of chaos on the first day; when the first, the second, the third Michelin star arrives. The thrill of receiving a person that you did not see for a long time. I remember many exciting days.
QHE- The phenomenon of foodtrucks - street selling trucks with gourmet dishes from all over the world, often managed by young chefs - increasingly has more followers at our country, who consider "the rigidity of the restaurant as an obstacle, not only for the client’s enjoy but for the chef himself, too ". What do you think about this gastronomy new concept? Do you think it is a profitable business model?
When someone is professionally trainned on this and decides to create his company, he has a great range of possibilities: to create a tapas bar, daily menus, a traditional space or join the foodtruck phenomenon. And it will work if he is a hard worker and adds close collaboration.
A “churreria” (Spanish sweet fritters) is still a foodtruck that makes custard-filled doughnut, fritters and french fries. The important thing for a person who creates her business is to believe in it.
QHE - What are your challenges in the short and long run?
In the short run, we have just presented a book on the market, which is called " The Magic of cuisine " It is a book designed for young people, so that they discover the value of cooking and they know what it is to fry, boil, roast, confit, etc.
And right now we have another in process that will explain the 30 years trajectory of the 'house'. And while health, enthusiasm and desire last, I will continue devoting myself to this and being happy with this work.
QUE - Which will be the trends in 2018 cuisine?
Surely new products and new techniques will be discovered. "I would like to keep working with natural products and not wasting food: it is a sin to throw away something good and it is the same sin to offer a bad one.
We need to take this awareness towards food: there is food for the whole globe, how can one of the main causes of mortality be hunger?
QHE- In your restaurants, music, poetry, art, painting, cinema are convined... In short, a sensory and entertaining experience, in parallel with cooking.
We seek inspiration outside to explain it and translate it into food. Since 2015, our menus have a title and a script, as a play. The first play, the first menu, was entitled "Natural colors and gastronomic palette", a menu containing foods with white, red, yellow, lilac, gray color ... from natural pigments of the food. It was a visual and positive game.
The following were the "Dancing Musics" and we offered sardanas (catalan folk dance), chachacha, rock or twist, among others. Finding inspirations outside helps to make new dishes
QHE - Did you get Joaquín Sabina to taste the cake that bears his name?
Not yet, even he has made a reservation more than once and always comes up with an impediment so he cannot come. I hope he can try it. He also wants to come, but he is a busy person who makes plans but he often has to call us to tell us that he can not come.
VERY PERSONAL, BY ANNABEL SAAVEDRA
• What was the first dish you cooked?
Probably, I boiled pulses.
• Are you superstitious?
I do not think so.
• Which dish in your menu would you be?
A plate with vegetables, which would have a touch of sea, a point of pork and also some spicy flavour.
• In your refrigerator you will never miss ...
Vegetables, fruit and yoghurt. And some boiled pulses that were left over the previous night.
• A film related to the gastronomic world that has captivated you?
There are some.. I never get tired of watching "Festette of Babette".
• Coyote or Roadrunner?
• Although the latest discoveries in neuroscience claim that we have more than 33 senses, if I had to live without one of the five classic senses, which could you do without?
• Sweet or salty?
• You are addicted to a kind of food ...
I am addicted to vegetables, more and more.
• Out of work, do you have any hobbies?
Yes, I love drawing, writing and going to the gym.
• A trip in which flavors excited you?
Peru; There are amazing products.
• Favourite celebration of the year?
Christmas. But I really like celebrations in general.
• Patatas bravas" (potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce) with or without spicy?
With a spicy point.
• If you were a topping pizza, what would you be?
Maybe ruca, which provides freshness and health.
• What is the most beautiful act you have done for love?
Specially for my grandchildren, fatten the gifts of 'Caga Tió' (catalan fest) -smiles-.
• What would you like to be when you grow up?
I do not know. I always say that I want to learn to play the piano.