The Sybarite speaks to Carme Ruscalleda, the female chef with the most Michelin stars in the world.
Carme Ruscalleda is considered the great lady of the ‘Cuina Catalana Mundial’ (Catalan cuisine) with the most Michelin stars in the world. Three for San Pau in San Pol de Mar, two for San Pau in Tokyo and two more for Moments in Barcelona, a restaurant that she co-runs with her son Raül Balam. In total 7 Michelin stars alongside numerous awards. The Sybarite speaks with Carme Ruscalleda about her passion for cooking, how she’s facing the pandemic and the importance of believing in yourself.
Tell us a little bit about your background. Where did your love of cooking come from?
I’m from San Pol de Mar. It is a small agricultural and fishing town in the Maresme region where the tourism industry has left its mark.
In the 50’s, when I was a little girl, we received a different education than men did. Nobody asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. We were educated to have a family and to get married. But I really wanted to study and I wanted to study something artistic.
We had a little shop at home and my family wanted me to fully dedicate myself to that. We modernized the shop and set up a supermarket. I began to understand the ingredients and work with them in different techniques. At home we had pigs and my dad believed that our supermarket would be more successful if we sold our own meat. The pigs opened a new world and door in my mind, a door of creativity and freedom.
In the 65’s I married my lifelong boyfriend and we started working together at the supermarket. Fresh pasta, croquettes… we had so many different dishes and came up with the idea of doing takeaways. We realised that people needed our help. People who spent time buying our food, were buying time. Our dishes became more and more delicate and we decided to open our own Bistro. Breakfast, snacks and dinners during business hours. Everything was coming together. We bought the hostel near the Bistro, a great space overlooking the sea, it is absolutely stunning. This changed our life forever. It was our commitment to society.
Cooking and I have always gone by the hand. It is an act of nutrition and knowledge. With a huge amount of work, I have become an extremely happy person.
What did you feel when you received your first Michelin Star?
A brutal and great support. People started realising that something serious was flowing. It was a magnificent professional push.
Each award that I have received throughout my career has been and is a reaffirmation of my commitment. Michelin has not imposed pressure on me, and pressure I feel I felt from the kitchen since the very first minute I stepped into it. I am very thankful for my staff. We have taken small but firm and conscious steps through the entire process. Luck exists but there is a lot of work behind it.
‘Fall in love with your profession’ is my biggest advice to the youth. Believe in your possibilities. Work with the best product. Work every day with the same enthusiasm, rigor, self-criticism and self-demand and you will make it. They will notice you.
This is a typical question, but we need to ask, how are you? How has the pandemic affected both your professional and personal life?
It has affected us all. It has affected all industries. The key is to resist. The economic cut has affected all of us but for that reason we need to send positive thoughts to our minds. This will end. Your strength is your mind, it is within you to be strong. We must continue working, and we shouldn’t lose faith. Society has faced worse situations with less means and they have survived. Covid has had a terrible effect on the gastronomic industry and we have lost so many restaurants. We are losing too much but we have to come up with new ideas and initiatives. The most important thing is to believe in ourselves.
The Strella Damm commercial has been an absolute success. Congratulations! How has it been working with all the 42 chefs featured in the commercial? (‘Chefs ‘is Strella Damm’s new commercial where the best Spanish chefs come together to support the Spanish gastronomy)
It was such an amazing moment. We all know each other really well, we are all close friends. We were there for the same cause, it was without a doubt a gift, being able to meet up and enjoy the moment.
‘We will research, innovate and create’ is what you mentioned in the commercial. In which ways have you been innovative with Carme’s cuisine these past few months to ensure the restaurant stays close to the people?
Taking care of my team. When someone tells you that you can’t do something but you know that with work, you will definitely find a way. That happened to me when I was young, they told me that I couldn’t study art and I have turned my kitchen and cuisine into an artistic experience.
The key is your motivation. We have many projects in mind, we are going to launch a new menu called ‘Las Maravillas del Mundo’ (‘The Wonders of the World’) where we will tell you about the magnificent wonders of the world through our food. Motivate yourself to make your dreams, ideas and projects a reality.
Is your first and only love Catalan food or do you have a passion for other cuisines?
I am very lucky. I like everything, I eat everything. I have no allergies or intolerances. When I travel, I travel really motivated because I know that I am going to be eating and enjoying food. We have been working with chefs in Tokyo for 17 years now. I love Japanese food and its different techniques.
What is your favourite dish to cook?
I love literally everything. I eat everything from animal protein to plant based food. I love cooking with my family every Sunday. We all love cooking. We are really lucky because we have a huge garden and we love being outdoors and cooking delicious ‘Suquets’(Spanish stew), ‘Arroz caldoso’ (Rice and soup with seafood or meat) and ‘Canelones’ (Cannelloni).
Post-pandemic, what is the first restaurant/ place you are heading to?
I love those that I have near my house in the Maresme region. Once everything is over, I would love to go to the mountains, the Pyrenees. I wish there were no restrictions.. I’m sure that we will be able to make it really soon.
Traditionally, women were the ones who used to cook at home but nowadays most chefs are men. Why do you think this is happening?
30 years ago, restaurants didn’t want to hire women because they believed that they didn’t fit in with the staff, which was always seen as the men’s team. Today, women have the place that we occupy in the industry through our own effort and dedication. We have come up with new ideas. There will be as many women as we want. Nobody vetoes us. Years ago, the veto was that they didn’t want to hire women. Today, women can start their own business. You don’t need a man’s permission anymore. In my youth, I had to ask for permission to get my first credit card. They didn’t give it to me for being a woman. It is in our hands to decide our future and profession.
I have never encountered any challenge throughout my career for being a woman. But we need to educate our girls well so that they can show how talented we are. The key is inner strength.
How are you celebrating International Women’s Day?
I have a very busy day. I have already recorded different things for schools, women’s forums.. But I am ending this amazing and great day at 6pm at the Damm Space in Barcelona giving the final speech, a speech that I have entitled: ‘Woman Talent’.