Art at curate was created to host some of the world’s best chefs for several weeks a year. And this season, they welcomed Spanish phenom, Ramón Freixa. Growing up around good food – his grandparents are bakers and confectioners, his father, a Michelin-starred chef himself, and his mother, a maître – Freixa will be the first to correct you if you tell him, “Your food is like art!” He responds with a hearty, “Food is food. If you eat one plate and you want more, then I know I did well!”
We managed to catch him for a quick interview before his inaugural night at Art at Curate, serving among several dignified guests, including Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay himself.
What about the culinary art first attracted you?
I grew up in my family’s bakery, smelling flour and various ingredients. During my high school years, I started preparing my first desserts with my grandparents, and spent my time around sugar, creams and hot ovens. Nonetheless, when I was a teenager, I wanted to be a rock star. But I was not cut out to sing.
What kind of boss are you in the kitchen?
I am a chef of sensations, feelings and thoughts. That’s my understanding of cuisine but also similar to my way of working in the kitchen. If you want to make guests feel happy dining in your restaurant, you have to cook in the same way.
What guides your palate when creating new menus?
My cuisine is based on three elements: product, technique and feeling. Excellence in detail is my raison d’être, the very core of my being.
Who is the best chef you’ve ever met?
There are a lot of great chefs and I’m lucky to have met many of them and that they’ve become good friends. But if there is a chef that is really special for me, that would be my father.
What is your philosophy on pairing food and wine?
In a successful wine pairing, the food and wine enhance each other by creating a series of complements and contrasts. Both the food and wine bring to the table their own set of aromas, flavours and textures, to create an experience that neither the food nor wine does on its own.
Name a few of your best food memories, and if you’ve tried to recreate them here.
As in the novel In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust and the Episode of the Madeleine early memories come to my mind through senses, which in turn becomes a dish in many different ways. I grew up with the aroma of flour and playing games with the customers, pretending to be a shop assistant and baker at my grandparents’ bakery in a small village near Barcelona.The taste of freshly baked bread and the first desserts made with chocolate are an essential part of my food memories and you can find them recreated in the dessert I am presenting at Art at Curate called ‘chocolate, bread, olive oil and salt’.
If you had to cook for the prime minister of Singapore, and you only had 45 minutes, what would you prepare and why?
I would try to showcase the best of Spanish cuisine. But perhaps I would prepare something as simple and exquisite as ‘bread, tomato and Iberico ham’, so we would have enough time to chat about Spain’s culinary heritage.
What do you cook for yourself?
When I‘m not working in my restaurant, I like to go out to know other places, so I don’t cook for myself very much. If you open my fridge at home, you’ll find Spanish Iberico ham, tomatoes, some vegetables, chocolates and bottles of champagne.
What is your favourite food?
Chocolate, egg and tomato. These three basic ingredients have marked my life. Chocolate, because I need a daily dose; egg, because it is the basis of my style of cooking and has greatly influenced my youth; and tomato, because it forms the foundation of my cuisine as a Catalan and Spanish culinary ambassador.
What is the most luxurious food in your restaurant? Or the highlights of a Ramón Freixa experience?
My cuisine is seasonal and I refresh my menu often so as to always feature the best produce in the market. For instance, green pea in spring, tomato in summer, mushroom in autumn or truffle in winter.
What cutting-edge techniques are you particularly proud of?
Sous-vide cuisine. Cooking in a temperature-controlled steam environment for longer-than-normal cooking times at an accurately regulated temperature much lower than normally used for cooking. The intent is to ensure that the inside is properly cooked without overcooking the outside and retaining moisture.
What’s the greatest lesson a mentor has passed on to you?
The most valuable lesson I have learnt is from my parents. It is to stay faithful to your own way of understanding cuisine and creating your own gastronomic style, adding three essential ingredients: work, work and work. As painter Pablo Picasso said, inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.