Carme Ruscalleda, (Sant Pol de Mar, Barcelona, 1952) began her career in the family business, a small grocery shop to which Carme added take-away dishes. Over time, her interest in cooking led her to open a restaurant in her hometown, jointly with her husband Toni Balam: the Sant Pau, which has continued to be her headquarters since 1988. A self-taught chef, Ruscalleda was awarded her first Michelin star in 1991; the Sant Pau now boasts three. Her restaurant in Tokyo, which opened in 2004 and bears the same name, was granted another two stars. Given her unique interpretation of traditional Catalan cuisine and her use of seasonal ingredients, Carme Ruscalleda is currently the woman with most Michelin stars in the world.
How did you discover that you wanted to focus your career on gastronomy?
I discovered it through the personal and professional growth I experienced at my parents’ shop. It was a traditional supermarket, with a meat and pork products counter. Jointly with my husband Toni Balam, we turned it into a successful gourmet delicatessen that drew customers from all over the region.
Do you recall a specific moment when you realized that was going to be your path?
I know that cooking has always been a guiding force for me. It’s been a part of my life from my earliest childhood. I grew up in a family of farmers and shopkeepers; as a child, obviously, I was taught how to cook at home, and enjoyed it from the very start, responsibly and also with the freedom to do as I saw fit within the limited range of products available to us. Basically, they were all home-grown: vegetables, fruit, beans, grains, wine, milk, and poultry. When I was 16, I witnessed the family’s progress when they changed the rustic little shop into a supermarket, and I learned charcuterie techniques so that we could set up a section with fresh meat and prepared pork products made with the pigs we raised. My parents placed all their trust in me and I began running the new section, offering traditional sausages but also gradually introducing new pork products. That was where I started to develop the creative drive that I still have today.
When I was 23, I married Toni Balam, who is also from Sant Pol de Mar. After the wedding, Toni joined the family business and together we set out on a gourmet and gastronomic path that eventually led to the Sant Pau Restaurant.
What is the key to excellence for a chef?
If you share the view that gastronomy is excellence in food, I believe that you achieve it searching out the best products and using them respectfully, with carefully developed techniques and original ideas.
In addition to cooking, did you ever feel drawn to other areas?
I loved art from an early age. I like to draw, paint, and sculpt. I wanted to study fine arts, but I realize that my request wasn’t easy to understand for my parents, who were farmers and shopkeepers. However, life has rewarded me with a profession that also allows me to draw, paint, and sculpt. I make colored drawings in a somewhat naïve style which have also elicited a gastronomic dialogue with the guests at our restaurants in Sant Pol, Tokyo, and Barcelona.
Do you prefer working on your own, as part of a team, or in collaboration with other professionals?
I love teamwork. In fact, I’ve been part of a team during my entire life. I continue to work with members of my family and with a very well-trained team that shares our values. They all contribute their quality, professional skill, and ideas.
How would you define the influence of your passion and your character on your work?
I believe that the source of all the energy my profession requires is the will to explore and create new ways of approaching gastronomy. I’m a non-conformist by nature, and that drives me to seek new challenges. That’s why I feel so comfortable and happy in a profession that calls for hard work, ideas, affinities, collaboration, and the best quality.
What values do you share with bulthaup?
The reliability provided by a brand that aims to offer outstanding quality and service.
What culinary traditions do you believe have had an impact on your cuisine?
Mainly Catalan traditional cooking, but I’ve also been influenced by other culinary cultures, such as the Japanese, the Peruvian, and the French.
What benefits does a bulthaup kitchen offer you?
Confidence and precision when I cook; beauty and easy cleaning as well.
Do you remember what it felt like when you used your bulthaup kitchen for the first time?
I remember the wonderful performance of each and every one of the elements in the kitchen. I’m very pleased with having chosen the brand.
Photographer: Òscar Rodbag