The Valencian chef, with two Michelin stars and a green third, calls for the democratization of sustainable food
Sustainability, proximity and environmentalism. These are concepts that relentlessly resonate in the new scenario that has been taking shape as the pandemic progressed. But haute cuisine has been steeping these values for a long time and trying to transfer these consumption patterns to society. His next challenge is to democratize this model, eliminating the economic barriers that prevent many people from accessing food produced on their land and more respectful of the environment.
This is how one of the benchmarks of sustainable cuisine understands it, the Valencian chef Ricard camarena, which this year also received a green star with two Michelin stars, the new award given by the guide to those restaurants committed to sustainability. “It is a distinctive that recognizes the work of many years around the garden and its great role in our kitchen. The sustainability, whether environmental, economic or human, of the projects is a priority that we carry in our DNA”, he explains in conversation with ‘assets’.
Born in Barx (València) in 1974, he has just opened his fifth store, all of them located in his homeland. In fact, the latter has been baptized as ‘Bar X’ in homage to the town where it was born. Camarena is one of those late-calling cases. Although she has “always” liked to put on an apron, she did not start studying to dedicate herself professionally to the kitchen until she was 24 years old. “I was aimless and was not sure what I wanted to do,” he recalls.
But as soon as he enrolled in the old School of Hospitality and Tourism of Valencia “there was no going back”. At the end of his training, he returned to his village to get down to grilling. “I opened a bar at the municipal swimming pool. That’s where I started to explore what I really wanted to do.”
Camarena ran that space, in which he “consolidated” his style, for three years and in 2004 he took the “great leap”. He opened Arrop in Gandia and it was the springboard of his career. A year later it was considered one of the national references and in 2006 its location was awarded as a “revelation restaurant” by Madrid Fusión.
Already consolidated as a figure in Spanish cuisine, His first Michelin star came with Ricard Camarena Restaurant in 2012. A proposal that still survives today along with four other spaces that were opening over time: Canalla Bistró, Central Bar (located in the Mercat Central de València), Habitual and the recently uncorked Bar X.
“We are stronger if we centralize the operation in a single city. Disseminating it weakens us”
Despite its success, Camarena has never crossed the borders of Valencia. “We are stronger if we centralize the operation in a single city. Disseminating it weakens us because we would not control the supplier system and human resources as much,” he explains.
And it is that the local product is the axis around which all its culinary proposal revolves. The “pantry” offered by the Valencian garden “is a strength” and “marks a lot” its letters, and having these suppliers close “makes work much easier,” he adds. “In addition, we try to keep the positive impact of what I do here,” he says.
Regarding the prevailing green trend today, the chef emphasizes that the kitchen “has been defending this model for many years. The consumer trend is set by us and then it goes global. Almost all the things that have been happening regarding food have been promoted from the kitchen. We have been the loudspeaker of a pattern that the consumer has accepted and is now demanding. “So that sustainable production is not elitist, Camarena is marked as the” next challenge “for governments to support it:” It makes no sense that it is more expensive to produce in ecological than in intensive, it is the height of absurdity “, he concludes.
“My facet as an entrepreneur is a necessary evil”
He has five establishments in operation and around 130 workers under his charge, but Camarena assures that he is a “temporary” businessman. “It is a facet from which I flee more and more. It is necessary to not depend on others and to be able to do what I like and what I want, but in no case do I let it become something more important than being a cook. It is just a A necessary evil, the part that allows me to continue offering my proposals. It is the toll that must be paid in order to be free, “he reflects.