November 7, 2018

An advocate of local produce and a believer in seasonality, the chef at Maca de Castro is committed to combining the land and the sea

At least two or three times a week, Maca de Castro, chef at the Michelin-starred Maca de Castro, drives to her vegetable garden – about ten minutes from the restaurant – to walk among what she has sown and grown, obeying the dictates of the seasons. This is her territory, a small section of a larger one, Mallorca, which is what inspires her. ‘It’s in that moment of silence when ideas emerge,’ says De Castro, who will take part in Madrid Fusion 2019 to talk about the duo of the land and the sea. ‘My cooking is guided by the land. It’s not static, because the seasons mark what should be done. We are from Mallorca where the sea is very much a protagonist, but so is the land. It makes you look at nature in a different, more interesting, way. The process, the way the produce grows, is important. The stems, the leaves, the seeds. Working with everything to make the dish shine.’ De Castro acknowledges that intuition manifests itself on these walks, and revelations occur. For example, last year, when the artichoke plants were two years old and should have been pulled up, she decided to create a dish of tagliarini using the stalks, which would otherwise have ended up on the compost heap. ‘We make use of those parts that have never been considered to be of value. Each moment has its best produce.’
The sea also is marked by the seasons, waiting for what the fishermen bring in. ‘Things are getting complicated when it comes to sardines and langoustines; these are the last years I’m going to work with them,’ she says, having just returned from a business trip to Korea and combats the jet-lag by going to the live-fish market. ‘I love working with eels and snails. There are coastal lagoons near here.’ De Castro is grateful to all those who ‘devote their lives to their produce and to the land’: for example, one of her growers, a man who has cultivated over a thousand varieties of fig – an essential fruit of this land – on his farm, with varieties that are both local and from around the world. ‘It’s amazing working with him and I learn so much.’
Another duo that she believes in – just like the land and the sea – is tradition and innovation, and she understands both very well. ‘At the end of the day, tradition helps you to understand the produce, it’s not enough just to know the recipes,’ she affirms. ‘Then, you make it modern so that you enjoy it when you eat it, and it’s not just something pretty on the plate. The flavour is more important than the setting. When you try a dish, it should blow your mind. It doesn’t mean just exclaiming “it’s delicious”, there’s got to be more to it. That’s what I look for when I cook.’
She has trained a lot, both with renowned chefs as well as with women who cook over ancient stoves: De Castro absorbs aspects from both worlds to give shape to her own creations. ‘A mother in the kitchen will teach you how to put soul into your dishes, and that’s something that goes beyond cooking; great chefs, on the other hand, teach you how to cope with day-to-day matters so that you improve, show you how to take care of your team. Cooking is a constant job and demands you be a good leader, able to juggle various aspects of business at the same time.’
At her restaurant in Port d’Alcudia, the kitchen can be seen from the dining area. Maca de Castro oversees the meal service and always works with one eye on the diners, carefully observing their reactions, and then listens to their comments. She likes it when diners get up and go over to tell her, in their opinion, what she has achieved. Beforehand, each new invention is tested out on her loyal team. ‘A dish doesn’t have to end up as it started, it can always be improved,’ she explains. ‘The dish is alive, the produce changes.’

– Doménico Chiappe –