Interview with chef Lucia Freitas: “This is a daily battle against all your fears”.
Lucía Freitas, a chef with a vision that have led her to the long-awaited recognition of a Michelin Star.
Her path to haute cuisine, inspiration, conciliation and above her latest project “Amas da Terra”, to preserve the work and tradition of many women, who make gastronomy possible.
On my way to the Mercado de Abastos (Farmers Market) Santiago de Compostela, Spain, to meet with Lucía Freitas.
Lucía’s cuisine wouldn’t be understood without the market. In these women, she finds trust, like seeking advice from a good friend, because in their hands lies the task of finding the best ingredients, which will later be cooked in her restaurants. Everyone knows her, and she feels at home among them.
“I hope this market doesn’t disappear,” she tells me worriedly, if there is no generational change, the market will cease to exist.
After studying in Bilbao and working in the best restaurants such as Celler Can Roca, Mugaritz, Tàpies, El Bohío, and spending years away from her loved ones, she decides to return to her homeland. Upon realizing the scarcity of opportunities, she decides to open the restaurant “A Tafona.”
At “A Tafona“, where she has been for 15 years, Lucia couldn’t afford to do haute cuisine in the beginning due to a lack of resources. Just one month after becoming a mother, her partnership with her business partner ended, and Lucia only had two employees to create the kind of cuisine she desired.One day, some Americans of Galician emigrants, dined at her place and an opportunity arose to advise on the opening of a Galician restaurant in New York – Tomiño – strengthened Lucia and encouraged her to pursue her dream. She renovated A Tafona, eliminated the daily menu, and focused on the gastronomic aspect, which ultimately led her to win a Michelin star.
When you hear about fine dining and a Michelin Star chef, they often mention that it’s their mothers and grandmothers who teach them to cook and inspire them.
Where are women in fine dining?
– It seems unbelievable, doesn’t it? Women have always upheld the world of gastronomy. They have been and continue to be the majority in the culinary world. But at the highest echelons of Michelin Star cuisine, we are indeed a significant minority.
To reach that level, you need dedication, an ego, and a strong drive to move forward. Perhaps that’s what’s lacking in women, and it’s also closely tied to the lack of opportunities.
“I hope that sharing my story will help people not lose their dreams.”
What would you say are the primary barriers? How do you think they could be addressed?
– The first glass ceiling we need to shatter is the one we impose on ourselves. Fears, insecurities. This is coming from someone who was always very insecure, and who took years to love herself as a person and a chef.
In a poorly structured profession like elite cuisine, until now they demanded you give your literal life, working 16 hours. That also pushed many women away because they were not allowed to take the lead.
And also education, what cooking was like 10 years ago, the learning methods of before would be unthinkable today.
The change in mindset is about feeling like something is yours, having your team, and knowing that you are nobody without your team. When you work in a restaurant with so many people and so many people are eager to be there, it’s a very competitive world.
In my restaurant team, there are many women, and this is a very supportive environment to work and grow, to be a colleague, and to find your place. To make them realize that if I could open a restaurant, they can too.
How can we help with conciliation?
– For example here, after 2:15 p.m. you can no longer have a long menu. And you can enter at 2:45 p.m. at the last minute, although people no longer enter at that time, it is about setting rules, closing time and knowing how to explain it to people. It is true that I have a starred restaurant and it is much easier to transmit.
“I can taste dishes just by thinking about them, I associate flavors with colors and aromas”
Was there a lack of role models?
– Indeed, I have an example that doesn’t relate to the hospitality industry; for example, in football, as a child, I would never have even thought that I could play football. Nowadays, they have role models, and nothing is telling them, You can’t do it. “I hope that sharing my story will help people not lose their dreams.”
Tell me about your project, ‘Amas da Terra’?
– It’s the catalyst for all of my experiences. Women from rural areas, housewives, women from the sea, artisans, net-makers, and potters, are all connected to gastronomy. They have all contributed their bit to make gastronomy possible.
“Is about feeling like something is yours, having your team, and knowing that you are nobody without your team”.
How is it developing?
– The project has many aspects. I presented it at San Sebastian Gastronomica a year ago, and in January, it will be officially launched. But even before its official launch, I had already received two awards that have had international significance.
In ‘Amas da Terra,’ I aim to create a collaborative network so that, in a few years when I’m not here, they can continue. My first project was to take 25 women to San Sebastian Gastronómika, to pay tribute to them and create a dish with their ingredients.
For me, there’s nothing more beautiful than being able to help these women who have had tough lives and don’t value themselves. We want to make mini-documentaries, and now we are gaining the support of three universities to ensure that the knowledge acquired over the years is not lost.
Where does the name ‘Amas da Terra’ come from?
– ‘Amas’ because they are the mothers of the world.
And as for the Japanese women, before COVID, I went to visit them, and they were doing WIG, Women in Gastronomy. I had the fortune of meeting Mary Watanabe, my Japanese mother. She came to dine with me about 10 years ago and fell in love with my cuisine. At that time, I was just starting, offering a daily menu, no tasting menu. I prepared some dishes for her, and I told her that it was my dream to go to Japan, even though I didn’t have any vacations and couldn’t leave the restaurant. About a year and a half later, she called and said she would take me to Japan, and I became the first woman to give a presentation at the Hakodate Japanese Congress, which is primarily attended by men. There were so many men that, on the day they took the official photo, they didn’t wait for me.
I would like to foster cultural exchanges because we have a lot to learn from them, but they also have much to learn from us. For me, it was an enriching experience.
In 10 days, I’m going back to Japan to host a charity dinner to support other women. In Japan, when women become mothers, they often stop working. I have taught women with incredible talent, and I would love to have them on my team, but they are no longer active. I understand it because I’ve had the support of my family. Without that dedication and the countless hours I’ve had to put into this, I wouldn’t be here today. I even slept here; I had a sofa in that corner. Without that commitment, I wouldn’t be here today.
The first glass ceiling we need to shatter is the one we impose on ourselves.
Now you’re opening your third restaurant. What is your cuisine like, and what inspires you?
– It will be like ‘Lume 2,’ an à la carte kitchen with a focus on wood-fired cooking. I’ll be using a wood-burning grill, and I’m working with a beef producer to find cuts that can be slow-cooked in a wood-fired oven.
We’ll also be working with aged fish, using large cuts. In addition, we’ll have a traditional wood-burning oven, similar to those found in homes, and we’ll be serving Galician bread, which resembles pizzas, along with produce from the garden. It’s very similar to the ‘bolo de nata’ from the Ferrol region, but instead of sweet, it’ll be my savory version. I aim to innovate with products from the market, my garden, and the land, creating a fusion like the Japan Burger, which features beef and was ranked the third-best in Spain. This way, I also aim to support local producers.
I’m a very creative person with a lot of ideas, sometimes I’m unable to sleep because I can taste dishes just by thinking about them, I associate flavors with colors and aromas; my son has inherited this too. He can taste food and tell you all the ingredients. I have a poor memory of some things, but I remember aromas. An aroma can transport me back to when I was seven years old, to a specific place, a house, the scent of aluminum and the aroma of a birthday candle. I know it sounds surreal, but these are experiences I’ve lived.