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Queen of Hearts

Carme Ruscalleda


The life and career of Carme Ruscalleda have been indelibly marked by the Catalonian town of Sant Pol de Mar, in the Maresme farming district on the Mediterranean shore. The events that have been turning-points in her life have always taken place in this small town, which has determined the spirit of her cuisine and the working philosophy she applies at her Sant Pau restaurant and refuge.

Carme Ruscalleda is one of only four women in the world to hold the highest distinction in the Michelin guide. Her first comment on receiving news of the award was, "But I've still not reached the top", a clear indication of her perfectionism and perseverance. These characteristics enabled her to develop a career that started out in a traditional food store and today has her running one of Europe's best restaurants.

This chef's culinary heritage stems clearly from her family, a fact of which she is very proud and which she considers one of the jewels in her crown. She speaks with nostalgia about the breakfasts, tea-time treats and typical Catalonian dishes she received as a child. One of her most successful books, Cocinar para ser feliz (Cooking to be happy) is dedicated to Ramon and Nùria, her parents, whom she thanks for their "respectful, festive culinary legacy".

Cooking and family continued to go together when Carme and her husband Toni Balam took over the small food store previously run by her parents. Together they gradually converted it into a real delicatessen, selling products they made themselves such as top-quality pork products and jars of foie, as well as fruit and vegetables from nearby farms and local cheeses and wines.

From Catalonia to Japan

In this setting, with its freshly-made, quality food products, Ruscalleda put her creativity into practice, constantly finding new products with which to surprise her regular customers. But she soon felt the need for more space, a place where she could give free rein to the constant flow of gastronomic ideas in her head. And the opportunity came, in the late 1980s, when she was offered an old farmhouse with gardens and views over the Mediterranean sea, in the town she had never wanted to leave, her beloved Sant Pol de Mar.

So in 1988 she opened up Sant Pau, her business, her home, her family and her life. Toni embarked with her on this culinary adventure which, almost two decades later, was to receive three Michelin stars. This recognition came for cuisine specializing in combinations of vegetables and fruits with fish or shellfish, capturing maximum freshness and all the taste of the local Catalonian produce. Ruscalleda defines her style as "home cooking, because I learnt from my parents and from my surroundings, then added my own ideas and the teachings of the great European chefs".

Carme Ruscalleds certainly stands out on the European gastronomic scene, but her star now shines also in the Far East. In one of those serendipitous moments that life occasionally brings, she received a curious offer from a Japanese customer at her Sant Pol restaurant to open up an exact replica, with the same type of cuisine, in Tokyo. She mulled over the idea at length, but finally took the plunge. In 2004, the doors opened in the Japanese capital, with very clear requirements on her part regarding the origin and quality of the raw materials used, and under the management of three young chefs trained by her.

Ruscalleda creates, takes risks and wins. She has total faith in the possibilities offered by her cuisine and in the goodness of the foods she selects, most of them from local suppliers. And what she produces is signature cuisine which, she insists, "has little to do with the fact that I am a woman or have feminine sensitivity. Cooking is not a question of seeing which sex is the strongest, but of seeing which chef produces the best quality".

She is happy to have stayed on in the town where she was born, where she learnt to enjoy gastronomy. She has always advocated the importance of the family, and the heritage she gained from her family, with its taste memories, is now being passed onto her children, Raül and Nùria, who work alongside their parents in the restaurant. So the process continues, and the treasure is in safe hands.

In autumn 2009 the Carme Ruscalleda team took charge of the luxury restaurant in a new hotel, the Mandarin Oriental, in the central Paseo de Gracia in Barcelona, to be headed by Raúl, the chef's son, with the advisory services of his mother.

Carme is very fond of creating curious combinations between wines and food, moving beyond traditional matching. In collaboration with the Campo Viejo winery (DOCa Rioja) she produced a series of gourmet products using wine from this label. Towards the end of 2009, the first set of products bearing the signature of this well-respected Catalan chef was launched, consisting of a spicy syrup (made with wine, eggplant, strawberries, peaches, Jamaican black pepper and nutmeg), sweet and sour fruit (a wine and dried fruit reduction) and Piquillo pepper preserve, a combination of wine with Piquillo red peppers, black pepper and brown cane sugar.

In June 2018 Carme and her husband announced the closing of their epic restaurant on October 27, 2018, and the opening of new gastronomic adventures with the following words: “We’re not retiring! We are going to reinvent our professional commitments and broaden the trajectory, content and future of our “Cocina Estudio” department. We are excited to tell you about this professional decision from a perspective of the past thirty years – a story of success and extraordinary experiences running Sant Pau in Sant Pol de Mar.”

  • Felicidad (Planeta Gastro, 2018)
  • 100 Placeres para Compartir (Styria, 2010)
  • CR20. Los 20 años de Sant Pau (Mont-Ferrant, 2009)
  • Cuina amb casa con Carmen Ruscalleda (Editorial Grup 62, 2006)
  • Un any amb Carmen Ruscalleda (Editorial Grup 62, 2004)
  • Cocina para ser feliz (Círculo de Lectores, 2003)
  • Carme Ruscalleda, del plat a la vida (Mont Ferran, 2000)
  • Deu Anys de Cuina an Sant Pau (Restaurant Sant Pau, 1998)
  • 2007 Gold Medal for Merit in Fine Arts, Spanish Ministry of Culture
  • 2007 Don Quijote International Gastronomy Award
  • 2006 Best Chef Eva International Award
  • 2004 National Gastronomy Award 2004 (Best Restaurant), Real Academia Española Gastronomía
  • 2004 Best Chef of the Year (with Juan Mari Arzak), Gourmetour Guide
  • 2002 Golden Chef, Intxaurrondo Gastronomy Week
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