“Today survive the ones who don’t give up, work hard and fight for offering an honest work”
After visiting some of the top restaurants in the city, The Bubble Dancer got curious: is gastronomy still a men’s world? Why do we know more male than female chefs? Is it difficult to be a woman top chef? To answer these and other questions we ask Carme Ruscalleda @Xef_Ruscalleda, the most awarded female chef in the world with a total of seven Michelin stars.
By Blanca López-Bonet
Is the professional kitchen still a men’s place?
I think nowadays we’re living such a wonderful time: women are entering more into the professional kitchen (still a men’s place) while men are getting into the domestic one (mainly a women’s place).
But if we think of female chefs and the presence of women in top positions, could we say that the elite of the gastronomic business is still unequal in terms of gender?
Sometimes women think twice before entering into this job because of other responsibilities, even though being a chef doesn’t depend on gender but on qualities. To succeed you have to be a hard-working person, competent and talented and try to get out the best you can offer.
Did you think twice before starting Sant Pau? How did you get into the gastronomic world?
Since I was a kid I had to help in the kitchen at home and I took the work as a training game. Later, I started working with my parents in a grocery store that over some years my husband, Toni Balam, and I turned it into a gourmet place. I think that change was the germ of our first restaurant, Sant Pau.
You opened Sant Pau in 1988 and since 2006 it is one of the few three Michelin Stars restaurants in the world. Toronto is living a food revolution and every month we see new restaurants opening, although not everyone surviving. What is the secret to remain and to success?
Today remains who doesn’t give up, who works hard and fights to offer an honest work and a good “price-quality” service.
You define “cooking as art, communication and culture”. What cultural message do you try to transmit to your dinner guests?
Our food is clearly local; we like to show our dinner guests our land, our tradition but in a free, universal and artistic way.
Let’s focus in this universal concept that you just mentioned. Last October at “San Sebastian Gastronomika” you pointed out the importance of a Local Universal Food. Toronto is lately embracing this movement too, promoting the local and seasonal food. Don’t you think this philosophy limits chef’s creativity?
I think the best inspiration is all the nature the chef has around. In my case, I found it in El Maresme (the area were Sant Pau is located). I love the products this zone offers to my kitchen. Every season has very special products and I don’t want to forget them. Nowadays, for example, we are in hunting season but also we are in the season of truffles, critics, apples, pears, spinach, artichokes…
I love artichokes! It is a healthy vegetable that offers a lot of possibilities in the kitchen. At Sant Pau we are currently offering artichokes with prawns in both creamy and crispy textures.
So is the artichoke the main character in Sant Pau cuisine these days?
We also are cooking a lot Calçot, a sweet and large onion typical from Catalunya and available just during these months. It is traditionally cooked outside in a campfire, served with a traditional sauce and eaten with the hands. In our restaurant we are offering calçots in three different ways: steamed, in tempura and iced
That’s how you turn universal the local food?
Yes! We bet to promote our tradition and the local products but at the same time we experiment with new techniques. It is important to research and try new things in order to create your own and unique speech. That’s how we try to define our menu in Sant Pau.
Do you have Canadian visits in Sant Pau? How do they react with dishes such as calçots?
Canadians are a very gourmet and well-informed dinner guests. They always come to Sant Pau knowing what to expect, and we love it.
Have you ever tried the Maple Syrup?
Of course! Once I received a bottle from a dinner guest. In fact, we have included it several times in our menu, either in main courses, inside our “Cheese game” or in our desserts.
Could you reveal to The Bubble Dancer any new dishes we will find the next months at Sant Pau?
I’m going to advance you three dishes we are working on in our “Kitchen-Study”:
- Little broad beans, citric chocolate and little shells
- Lamb feet with fresh sheep cheese spiced
- A tribute to La Rioja (area of Spain) made with our Catalan local products.
Carme Ruscalleda opened in 1988 her first restaurant, Sant Pau, located in Sant Pol de Mar, her hometown on the Catalan coast, and since 2006 it has won three Michelin stars. She also runs an outpost of Sant Pau restaurant in Tokyo, awarded with two Michelin stars. Since 2009 she manages Moments restaurant in Barcelona awarded with two Michelin stars and where her son, Raül Balam is the head chef.