Carme Ruscalleda, the world’s most star-spangled female chef

Michelin Guide recently announced two stars for her Sant Pau restaurant in Tokyo

Rosa Rivas
Chef Carme Ruscalleda.
Chef Carme Ruscalleda.

Carme Ruscalleda, one of the few female chefs to achieve global recognition, has just become the woman with the most Michelin stars in the world.

The distinction came late last month after the prestigious Michelin Guide announced two stars for Ruscalleda's Sant Pau restaurant in Tokyo. The new status, which was made public in Japan, is effective in 2014.

Ruscalleda now holds seven Michelin stars: three for her original restaurant, Sant Pau de Sant Pol de Mar, two for the Barcelona-based Moments (where her son Raúl Balam is maître d'), and two for the Tokyo establishment, which will be 10 years old next April.

With this achievement, the Catalan chef has surpassed her French female counterpart, the six-starred Anne Sophie Pic. In Spain, Ruscalleda now joins male chefs like the Basque Martín Berasategui, who also has seven stars shared out among his various establishments.

"We are very happy because there is a lot of very solid work behind this," said Ruscalleda, after returning from Japan. "I gave the entire team encouragement because I saw they were really excited and satisfied with their work. I said: 'If we don't get another star, no big deal. We'll just carry on. But I have a feeling it's going to happen.' And so it did. We celebrated here and there," she said in a telephone conversation.

Perhaps one of the happiest team members is Jérôme Quilbeuf, who is in charge of the kitchen at Sant Pol de Mar and held the same job in Tokyo for four years before that. In 2011, when the earthquake and the tsunami affected all aspects of life in Japan, including restaurant attendance, Quilbeuf returned to Tokyo to support the team there, which is entirely made up of Japanese nationals.

Besides Quilbeuf, there is another man who was instrumental in returning the lost glory to Sant Pau (which had lost its second star after gaining it in 2009). This man is the Japanese chef Yosuke Okazaki. "The team is magnificent, it is very tight-knit and very optimistic about its work," said Carme Ruscalleda, happy to have gotten the lost star back.

Mediterranean cuisine adapted to Japan continues to be the main line of work at the Tokyo restaurant, although there is more of a Japanese accent these days. "It was just a natural influence, a matter of doing local cuisine, and the ingredients we have at hand are magnificent," added the owner. This evolution is captured by a new hors-d'oeuvre available this month: mushroom marinated in miso.

Located in the downtown area of Nihonbashi, Sant Pau is an esthetic recreation of the cozy original in Sant Pol de Mar, with the difference that diners in Tokyo look out on a garden while those in Catalonia look out on the sea.

Tokyo has 14 three-star restaurants in the 2014 Michelin Guide (one less than in the 2013 edition). These include an establishment owned by the French chef Joël Robuchon.

Spain has eight three-star restaurants, Britain has four, New York seven, Germany 11, and Paris 10.

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