October 3, 2018
Mari Carmen Vélez, an avant-garde culinary approach via tradition
In the region of Valencia, it is common for rice recipes to be written in the masculine gender. It is the patriarch in every family who takes charge when it comes to preparing rice dishes, and of passing on their culinary knowledge. But in the day-to-day life of seafaring families, it has always been the women who cooked while their husbands were out fishing. Mari Carmen Vélez has made sure that her cuisine is nourished by that tradition. A self-taught cook, and the co-owner of the restaurant La Sirena de Petrel, everything she learned about what the sea has to offers was because her family was in the fishmongering business.
Little by little, her culinary curiosity began to overshadow other tasks involved with the running of the restaurant, and eventually she took charge of everything that came out of the kitchen. But that same curiosity has taken her from traditional cuisine to an avant-garde one, yet without abandoning the origins and flavours of that home-style cooking so popular in Alicante. Although she lives inland, her cuisine is, thanks to her family, linked to the sea. The quality of the ingredients she uses is unquestionable, as is her obsession for absolute respect for the textures and primary flavours of each one. Another characteristic found in every one of her creations is harmony, allowing our palate to identify each of the components that make up her dishes.
In her search for new ideas – inspired by looking at the classic dishes of Valencian cuisine – Mari Carmen has revolutionized the world of stocks and suquets to give her rice dishes an avant-garde feel yet without losing the sensibility and flavours of this traditional rice-growing region. Two opposing styles converge in this cook when it comes to rice as, despite mastering creativity, she also masters popular and traditional rice recipes to perfection. Her restaurant, La Sirena, is ranked among the 100 Best in Spain for rice dishes. But perhaps where Mari Carmen Vélez has truly excelled is in the way she handles Mediterranean fish, whose textures and presentations surprise her diners every day. This is clear from the way she defines herself as ‘an avant-garde cook with roots in traditional wisdom that I convey to my cooking.’
By Enrique Bellver