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Maca de Castro: "Discovering the emotion of a diner, that incredible gesture, is my highest point. The rest I see as forced".

maca-castro-vivanco-nando-estevaMaca de Castro. Photography: Nando Esteva

I drink to health, which is the most important thing!
Maca de Castro, in sips
By Lali Ortega Cerón


Since she was a little girl she had a "fine beak" for eating, an intelligent habit in which we can say she progresses well... and even excels! So it is easy to fly back to Maca de Castro's childhood in Mallorca, her native island, and imagine her while her hands elegantly orchestrate the cutlery, while her curious palate is thrilled by those very Mediterranean flavours, the same ones that with the passage of time bring those wonderful years, those of childhood, irremediably closer in one fell swoop. This is what good gastronomy has , the one that respects the land, the one that is felt: the ability to rescue our memories. It is the magic by which a dish brings back, as more than one excited customer has confessed, the touch of the hands of parents who are no longer here, but who are still young and smiling during a spring stroll through the almond trees, when their fruit is still green. A walk that, thanks to Maca de Castro, transforms half a century in an instant.

The light of Alcudia, where the restaurant of this international promise of Spanish cuisine is located, incapable of distracting himself from the kitchen despite the reflection of his Michelin star and his three Repsol suns, has been camouflaged on this rainy day in April. The month has lived up to the proverb and so has the 10th, the date of this interview. His day on the island has followed its usual course. "I got up, went to the office and also had my training class, which I don't miss two or three times a week". And of course, Maca went to his vegetable garden, the one that reminds him of the importance of sustainability, once he had rescued the scissors and the wellies that he always keeps in his van. No luck this time: everything was too muddy.

But if nature teaches us anything, it is that after the storm comes the calm. A calm that characterises this lover of the authenticity of her island's products, of fried eggs with potatoes, made with good olive oil, which burst in the mouth after spreading them on bread. That is Maca de Castro. A creative and patient woman who knows how to listen. A chef with her feet on the ground who transforms herself and finds another dimension in the kitchen, among her team who, as she herself acknowledges, "are giving her life".

On 3 May Maca de Castro will offer an exclusive menu at Vivanco as part of the collaboration "Stars among vineyards".

Macarena means happy, joyful...

I didn't know that! I've had years when I've been a bit more serious. I was younger and carried a lot of weight, but I'm getting calmer and happier. I'm getting older! The experience and the security that the years give you make me enjoy what I do.

Maca, just a little bump on the fruit or porcelain... You must have had a few of those. How do you manage these "macas"?

But where did you get all that from! (laughs) Over time I've learned that every cloud has a silver lining. At first it seems like the world is going to fall apart... but you keep working, you see that overcoming those bumps in the road makes you stronger. It's more rewarding. I wake up very happy in the morning and when difficult things come, you have to keep going. My team and my family, who are very important, give me support. There are few things that are really annoying. As long as something really bad doesn't happen to a loved one, everything else is fine. You can cope with anything. You have to be strong.

With all the recognition you have received, can we say that you were born with a star?

No, no, no. I was very lucky because of the family I was born into and the way I was brought up. But I was not born with a star. I am a person who needs more every day. I am ambitious in the good sense of the word, because I don't stand still. Every day I want more, but I want to enjoy and grow in all areas.

What is the most unexpected reaction you have experienced in your restaurant?

The emotion. The tears that came to their eyes. The moment when a diner tastes the contents is very special for me. We have a dish with tender almonds that we change a little every year. The older people, when they taste the flavour, get excited. Picking the fruit when the almond tree is green is very typical of the islands. They tell me that it reminds them of the time when they used to walk through the fields hand in hand with their mother. It happens to us every year. And that emotion, whew! That gesture is so incredible. That's my high point. I see the rest as forced. Because what are they going to tell me, that they don't enjoy eating... The other way they don't tell me anything... but they tell me everything!

Did you smell this triumph?

No. They've always been saying "very good, very good, very good"... but I didn't believe it. I still don't believe it. For example, last week we did a menu test. Everyone told me it was fine, but "fine" doesn't help me, I need to know what I'm doing. Today I get the third "sol", which makes me very happy, but tomorrow I will continue. Acknowledgements are a value of the team. Thanks to them I am growing. The most important thing is that we are calm and enjoy what we do.

What did you have to eat with potatoes?

Let's see! Before, yes or yes, I had to do everything. For many years, I've eaten up a lot of things that have cost me a lot of money. Now, thank God, I can choose what to do, I'm at the point where I can say yes or no. At the beginning it wasn't easy. At the beginning it was not easy. I had a lot of work and I had to eat a lot of shit. That's why I was more serious. Now I'm more focused and I enjoy it more.

You've admitted that you've even taken a plane to eat and come back. What's the most curious thing you've tried?

In Korea, live octopus. In Japan, jellyfish. In Mexico, insects that look like popcorn. In Thailand, grasshoppers...

You are destined to be one of the world's greatest chefs. You listen to it and...

I don't pay much attention to it, to be honest. These things don't really fill me up: at the moment they do, but I don't pay attention to them and they don't put pressure on me. I always think that I'm just starting out. I don't even know when I get a Michelin star. As for the rest, I think that every year I get better. I don't give up. We try to do things better and we move forward. Our customers tell us that.

You travel around the world and when you return to Mallorca...

I like to go out when I am on an island. I need it because winter is hard for me. But I know that at some point in my life I'm going to anchor myself and do here what I do now outside. When I arrive, I start working, I go to the restaurant, to my things. I isolate myself and I don't have that social life. The truth is that I do it without wanting to. For example, I've never been to Formentera. I go to Ibiza for a day or two, and always for work. When I grow up and stay, I'm going to discover what's here. On the island I shut myself away with my farmers, with the people who work with me, with the product and little else.

You have trained with chefs such as Juan Mari and Elena Arzak, Andoni Luis Aduriz, Willy Dufresne in New York and Jean Coussau in France.

The one I have in mind, and the one I feel most identified with, is Hilario (Restaurante Zuberoa). It's a family restaurant, with a team that's been together for many years. And, although we are chefs, we don't see ourselves as rock stars. It's what we do and we have to keep our feet on the ground. I also have in mind Julián Serrano, who has the Picasso restaurant in Las Vegas. They gave me the star in November and, in December, I went to his house to do my internship, which is what I always did. And he told me: "Maca, don't let it go to your head, because it's not that big a deal. What you have to do is work and make the business profitable so that you can have peace of mind. In Spain we are very romantic and sometimes we don't see that it's a business". Now we have five and we are calm enough to run them. You are learning.

Red, white or rosé...

I didn't start to like wine until I was 20, I love sherry, amontillado! A good manzanilla to start with...

Bizcocho amontillado de aceite de oliva with peas and goat cheese, one of Maca de Castro's dishes that can be tasted on 3 May at Vivanco

Here are your father's Andalusian roots!

Absolutely. He always had the bottles at home. The sponge cake with sweet peas contains it. It is the dessert we will be serving at dinner on 3 May at the Restaurant Vivanco.

And your mother from Salamanca!

(laughs) But they met here on the island and look... it all worked out very well.

What do you feel when you cook?

I isolate myself from everything. I put myself in my own world. Sometimes I don't even listen... I don't even know what I'm thinking. It's a zen moment for me when I like not to be disturbed.

What is the most interesting lesson you have learned from it?

Gastronomically, I am faithful to what comes from the moment, to open my eyes, to be very attentive to nature. On the human side, I have learned that we are all one and the same. I put myself on the same level as the whole team.

Where do you cultivate so much imagination?

Of not stopping, of travelling a lot and getting to know many cultures, new and interesting places. This year I have been to Korea. I have also been to Israel, which has a Mediterranean cuisine and a mix of cultures that has surprised me a lot. I always want to listen to older people, not only when it comes to eating, but also in the primary sector of agriculture. They inspire me a lot on the plate. The beauty of what we do is that you learn every day.

You have even created the Council of the Wise, where you meet with the farmers, who provide you with their knowledge of the products. It shows that you are a humble person who knows how to listen.

That is what they say. I am very consistent with what I do and with the family project. Together with my brother, we think on a day-to-day basis.

I really liked a sentence in which you said that awards help you to grow... And that, after a talk by Carme Ruscalleda, you decided that cooking could be more creative, human and team-based.

Yes, we've been going to restaurants since we were little. But after seeing Carme and getting into this world... I think that in the end cooking is very human and connected to nature. It fills me up a lot. My team is the engine. Maybe I'm the match that tries to keep me going, but they are my hands, my eyes, sometimes my voice and, when I'm down, they are the ones who cheer me up. In the summer we are almost 60 people in the group. Some join and some leave, but several have been with me for more than 10 years. It's more than just a team. They take it as their project and for me they are a great support in the house and in everything we do. It's a big family because for a long time they have been giving me their life.

You convey the truth of each product in your proposals. What is your greatest authenticity?

Working honestly is the best thing I have. I am faithful to my land and I try to let the product take centre stage. And although it looks naked on the plate, when you eat it, it is very special because I pick it in the morning and you eat it at night. Opening my eyes and learning from nature every day, stopping to think about why, being very serious about what nature gives us... is a personal rule in the kitchen.

Quail stuffed with eel, one of Maca de Castro's bets for Estrellas ente Viñedos in Vivanco


Research + Development + Tradition: What have you learned from your studies on Mallorca?

Many things. That the land is self-sufficient and sustainable. All that variety that we have on the island drives my line of work. It is enriching. From the farmers, from the people who want to come back... I get attached to them and I learn a lot. I am anti-big surfaces, anti too colossal projects. That is my most Mallorcan side.

Speaking of development... does so much mobile distract us from good food, conversation and the basic rules of politeness?

Absolutely. What happens is that everything goes so fast that in the end you're not where you need to be. There is no time to stop. I like to see the moment when the produce arrives. I'm very lucky that I go to the orchard. My world stops there. I am much more interested in self-sustainability than in social networks: my degree of importance of things is more primary. If we realise, knowing how to feed ourselves and gastronomy moves the world economically. It is very strong. A colleague from Huelva has written a book to teach cooking in schools. It is serious that a child doesn't know how to tell the difference between a pepper and a leek. It should be another subject in school.

You were the first woman to obtain a Michelin star in Mallorca.

We have to look at the now. In those moments of Nouvelle Cuisine, Carme Ruscalleda opened up something else in my head. Now there are more teams where a woman is in charge, I think we believe in it and we want to. It is being noticed all over the world, also in gastronomy. We don't have to think about what happened, but rather see that we are believing in it and doing things as we always do. We are very little ants.

It is necessary to add...

When we get together there is no competitiveness. On the contrary, we are very close friends and we support each other a lot. There is no rivalry. Adding up is the most important thing. It's a two-way thing.

On the 3rd of May you will star in the second day of Estrellas entre Viñedos at the Restaurant Vivanco. What are you going to tempt us with, together with Patricia Cuenca, its Head Chef?

The menu consists of Snacks & Appetizers. Asparagus with artichokes. Fresh asparagus with roe and almonds. Quail with eel. Tempranillo ice cream with apple. Sponge cake with sweet peas and Petit Fours. Let's have a look at Vivanco!

The oenologist Rafael Vivanco, when talking about his wines, which will be present to pair at this meeting, emphasises that he listens to the land of Rioja. And you are very attentive to everything that is going on in Mallorca. I think you will understand each other very well!

Yes, yes. Absolutely. It's as easy as that. Seeing and understanding nature says a lot.

What are we toasting to?

To health, which is the most important thing. And to a good year.

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