Ricard Camarena

Vibrant Cuisine

01/15/2020 · By Rosa Alvares
ricard camarena openning
Valencian chef Ricard Camarena has two Michelin Stars and three Repsol Suns

Although the saying goes “A prophet is not without honour save in his own country”, chef Ricard Camarena fully contradicts this statement. His restaurant in Valencia has not only consolidated his second Michelin Star, but has raised him up to the top of international gastronomy.

To be recognised within the same year with the Premio Nacional de Gastronomía [National Gastronomy Award] and Mejor Jefe de Cocina [Best Head Chef], to be proclaimed Best International Chef by the prestigious Italian organisation Identità Golose, and to also ratify a second Michelin Star is a tall order. Nevertheless, although 2019 will be a year to remember, Ricard Camarena is content with being able to continue working in his city in the New Year: “I feel privileged to be able to do that”.

How does all this recognition make you feel when you’re a chef who just aspires to carry on cooking?

Awards bring you joy, and you appreciate them, but they’re fleeting, within a week the whirlwind of being the centre of the gastronomy world is over. After that, it’s something that you’ll remember, but it’s not part of your everyday life. You must focus on continuing to improve, on growing as a professional, on taking steps towards the direction you’ve chosen.

Where is someone like you going?

I don’t have specific goals, what I want is to feel alive, to know that I’m growing my own style while being consistent with the values we try to represent: that this local product that is part of our DNA continues to be the centre of attention, but for it to slowly progress beyond that, creating different contexts and points of view to the uses we give it. And for this to not only be self-evident in our gastronomy, but also in our facilities and our service, and especially, that these steps we take strengthen the team.

You’re one of those chefs that has made their career slowly, like a good long-distance runner. Is that how you feel?

I always feel like we’re starting, that we’re greasing the wheels to continue moving forwards. I don’t feel like we start and finish a race, more that we’re always at square one and that the only thing we do, year after year, is prepare ourselves to start a marathon. Although if someone asked me if I’m ready to start the great voyage, I’d always say no...

You’ve loved cooking since you were little because you’ve always liked eating. Nevertheless, before becoming a chef, you were a musician. Specifically, you played the trumpet.

I was an amateur musician, but I had to go all in to work in music. I must say that, professionally, my life was a bit chaotic, I didn’t know which way to go. But, in the end, I was offered the possibility of becoming a chef. Everything was down to circumstance, because I wasn’t at all sure; in fact, it was my wife who suggested it... And here we are!

“We like to get to know our guests beyond their culinary tastes and understand their personal situation to give them the best treatment”

Cooking, like music, is often a team effort.

My team is everything to me. Everyone is essential and plays a necessary and complementary role so that we can continue working. I might be the most visible person within the group, but I don’t feel more important than anyone else. It’s the group that counts, not each team member individually, which is why we always try to work in this direction: our strength lies in our unity. This is our challenge.

Your kitchen is the core of everything you do, but there’s something else: you’re good hosts. In fact, when a client makes a reservation, you research them online to get to know them better and offer an even more tailor-made service.

Yes, we like to get to know our guests beyond their culinary tastes and food intolerances. We want to understand their personal situation to give them the best treatment. From the moment you book a table until you sit down at Ricard Camarena Restaurant, there are many things that provide us with information: when you walk in, our maître d’, our host, talks to the client to get to know their profile. When they reach the dining room, I personally serve them some bites to understand what they might enjoy the most or the least. And from here, we can customise the menu a great deal.

Not everyone can enjoy the gastronomy of a two-Star Michelin restaurant like Ricard Camarena Restaurant. Luckily, you offer other more affordable options, such as Habitual, Canalla Bistró (in Valencia and Madrid) o Central Bar. Is haute cuisine being democratised?

I believe so, it’s essential that the way we view hospitality and gastronomic projects moves towards proposals that are acceptable for a wider audience. We’ve been doing it since 2007, when we launched our second brand. Our first venture was a failure, but it was necessary. Today we have five proposals up and running, with very different price ranges and that reach a much wider and more diverse audience, which makes our group grow stronger and allows us to move forward.

“It’s essential that the way we view hospitality moves towards proposals that are acceptable for a wider audience”

Since you’ve reached this magnificent moment in your career, what is talent for you?

For me, talent is the ability to understand everything that surrounds the gastronomic process, knowing how we can truly make the client happy, and how each factor that is part of this sort of equation brings value to the table, in which percentage and where we’re putting in too much effort when it isn’t necessary. Recognising where the value lies for the client and providing it appropriately, so that no effort is wasted.