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Ruscalleda: “I was educated to follow my husband; however, I have been fortunate that my husband followed me”

Top Catalan chef Carme Ruscalleda and her husband Toni Balam run the Sant Pau restaurant in Sant Pol de Mar –near Barcelona- awarded with three Michelin stars. They also own the Sant Pau in Tokyo and the Moments in Barcelona each awarded with one Michelin star. Ruscalleda was raised in a family of farmers and began cooking as a girl. Although she has succeeded in the world of gastronomy, cooking was not her dream as a teenager. In this exclusive interview with CNA Ruscalleda’s eyes shine when she explains how cooking has become her philosophy of life.

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31 May 2012 10:21 PM

by

Pau Bartrolí

Sant Pol de Mar (CNA).- Top Catalan chef Carme Ruscalleda and her husband Toni Balam run the Sant Pau restaurant in Sant Pol de Mar \u2013near Barcelona- awarded with three Michelin stars. They also own the Sant Pau in Tokyo and the Moments in Barcelona each awarded with one Michelin star. Ruscalleda was raised in a family of farmers and began cooking as a girl. Although she has succeeded in the world of gastronomy, cooking was not her dream as a teenager. In this exclusive interview with CNA Ruscalleda\u2019s eyes shine when she explains how cooking has become her philosophy of life.


What was your dream as a child?

I would have liked an artistic career but the religious school, I attended, warned my parents that a bohemian movement would drag me down the wrong road. I was a good student and wanted to study, but I was not allowed because I was a girl. I understand now that they were other times.

What did you do before the ban on studying?

I worked in my parents\u2019 grocery store but I always had a desire to create, communicate, to do things with my life and cookery allowed me to do so. Without realising it I began to innovate, to make sausages with pine nuts, with hazelnut, with cheese, pates with different colours...

Until you opened Sant Pau in 1988\u2026

We opened it with a potential public of thirty-five customers, which we still keep, and a team of eight people behind the scenes. When we opened the menu was designed as following the lines of a grocery (pates, cheeses, sausages ...) and we only worked with one fish, cod. The current team consists of thirty two people and the menu basically contains vegetables and seafood.

And then the Michelin stars began to arrive. Does the third mean more than the first?

They all mean the same. The first star rediscovers yourself, your town, your region, and Catalonia. The second has a more international projection, it is a step further. And the third is worldwide recognition and a very important distinction.

And it entails more exposure to the media. What has fame changed in your daily life?

Nothing has changed because if the stars arrived it was for the hard work behind it. We\u2019ve never worked thinking about the star, the star came as a reward for the work we\u2019ve done. We made a commitment to making quality, personal dishes since the beginning and we have kept it.

What does the Michelin Guide value when it hands out the stars?

A cuisine with character, personality and quality. But this cannot be served in any way, it needs an ironed tablecloth, good attention, a well-printed menu ... therefore, all the small details are important.

Why are more men rewarded?

For the same reason that there are more men in music, literature, painting, and governments around the world. Women have always been discriminated against but now they are educated like men. It is not surprising now that we have police women, airplane pilots or female chefs. Women are making small steps. We are showing we can do it.    

So, can we start to talk about equality?

Yes, of course. Ferran Adrià has a very good phrase. Somebody asked him \u2018Why are there so few women in top level cuisine?\u2019 And he answered \u2018There are as many as those who proposed to be there\u2019. A woman only has to set this goal.

People say that it is easy to reach but harder to keep. How do you keep up at the highest level?

Keeping it involves not losing the desire to do good work. I work many hours a day, but I\u2019m very happy. Whilst I still get enthusiastic about it, I will continue doing this job.

This dream made a leap in 2004 when you opened a restaurant in Tokyo. Why Tokyo?

Thanks to a Japanese proposal. One day a man came into the restaurant and told us that he wanted to bring our cuisine to Tokyo. Firstly, we said no because we saw it as too far. Two months later, the man tried again without success. After a month he returned for a third time, presented a model and invited us to visit his place. We accepted, and when somebody gives you all these facilities, it becomes a personal challenge. We looked for people who worked like us, who had the ability, talent and enthusiasm to go across the world, and we brought our local area to Japan.

Tokyo is the city that has more restaurants with Michelin stars. Is there more competition in creative cuisine?

There is competition everywhere, and competition is good. Because it keeps us motivated. Tokyo is arguably the city with the most exposure in the culinary world, and this means great competition.

The competition and economic crisis are two factors that have reduced sales in various sectors. Have your restaurants felt the slump?

The crisis is still everywhere, but we are avoiding it quite well.

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  • Carme Ruscalleda sitting at her restaurant's back yard (by C. Ruscalleda)

  • Carme Ruscalleda sitting at her restaurant's back yard (by C. Ruscalleda)