The reasons that prevent you from having a Michelin star if your name is Begoña Rodrigo, you were on TV and you do not shut up

Desserts

On November 21, the new Michelin stars were awarded in Spain. The Valencian restaurant La Salita, commanded by Begoña Rodrigo, was in some pools (although not in those of the main critics). He was not elected. Why? Nobody knows, but we have some clues.

The restaurant has had ups and downs, which Rodrigo herself recognizes, but today it offers a high-class cuisine, original and with speech, where the best product of the Valencian garden shines. A kitchen more in the way of the second star than the first that, however, has hardly received national attention until a few months ago when, for the first time in the almost fourteen years that the restaurant has been open, one of the critics best known of the country went there to eat. "Nobody had ever come and, obviously, nobody can write if they don't come," says Rodrigo.

This does not mean that Rodrigo is not known. In fact, it is, and a lot, all because it was the winner of Top Chef, one of the first cooking contests that aired on prime time. A program that was both his salvation and his condemnation.

The tiara 'is one of the most popular dishes in La Salita. It is a mixture of salted tuna, cod and mojama, almond powder, tomato tartare and basil oil. All on a base of intense green pesto sauce and a pickled egg yolk. A visually very attractive dish that is almost worth eating.

The curse of being a woman and being on TV

"A friend from the EFE agency called me and I was half deceived, that's the truth," Rodrigo explains to Direct to the Palate. “In two weeks we were recording. I didn't have time to think about it. I didn't know what this was about either. For me the experience was brutal, and it helped me to see other kitchens, I had not left here, but I had no idea that it was going to have the repercussion it had. "

Suddenly Rodrigo began to be well known, something that a priori seemed good for business but ended up being a kind of curse. “He brought a lot of people, but they weren't interested in anything we did,” explains Rodrigo. "The satisfaction they got from here depended on whether I was there or not, the only thing that mattered to them was that I was here and they could take a picture with me."

This television popularity, added to a cuisine that had not yet been defined, the endemic machismo of this country and Rodrigo's ability to mess with who he should not have caused the elitist gastronomic world to put the cross on him.

Squid noodles, with cauliflower, parsley and citrus couscous

“People have talked a lot about me without knowing me. Now things can be said, we can have an opinion, before it was a bad guy. It is the reading that was done. I know that the television program was good for me to earn money, have more clients and become popular, but in terms of gastronomy it obviously detracted from me, because I stopped caring who had to care ”.

"A guy told me that because he was wearing a cap he was no longer a professional"

Although Rodrigo admits that in his kitchen he has not had to suffer machismo, since he has always been the boss, he does not doubt that his time on television would not have affected him in that way. “A guy told me that because he was wearing a cap, he was no longer a professional. Damn, the one who doesn't have tattoos wears a crest and everything is fine, but since I'm an aunt I wear a cap and I'm not a professional ”.

The cook has never allowed herself to be intimidated, something she learned by force, suffering from an abusive father for years. “Above all, I learned to survive without dying in the attempt, explains Rodrigo. “I had never talked about these things, but there are many young girls who write to me and have me as a reference, and they have to know that it was never that easy, nor is it that beautiful, and I think it is very important that people know this Because I am not ashamed of any, he has to be ashamed, who was the one who did it. Since I told it, I took a weight off my shoulders, I should have counted it 20 years ago ”.

Grilled sea bass with vegetable stew, seaweed and spinach. Terrific.

Finding your way through effort

During his fourteen years of travel, Rodrigo has made an enormous effort to put himself on the map, trying to find his own way.

The establishment began offering a super global cuisine: noodels, saams, baths… Everything that Rodrigo, who traveled a lot, was thinking about. “From there we started to make a much more local meal, but we went through a very baroque kitchen, very dodgy”, Begoña acknowledges. “It was between the other and what we do now, using a lot of El Bullí technique, a lot of these things. She had no definite taste, but the moment she did it she was proud of what she did, and it was totally consistent with what she thought she wanted to do. Now I look back and say "Joe Begoñita, nice dishes" but the clientele always thought we were doing something honest. "

Red mullet at a low temperature, with liver sauce, enoki mushroom, snow peas and celery root.

For some time now, Rodrigo began to focus on making local cuisine, betting heavily on products from the Valencian garden and Mediterranean cuisine, but with a lot of personality.

"The Spanish press has not written anything about us, but we have appeared in the Irish Times, in the Dutch press ..."

Perhaps his most prominent work is research on the forgotten roots and tubers of the area. "If you look at Kiko Moya or Quique Dacosta, they were all pulling for the issue of salting, salt tunnels and such," explains Rodrigo. “It seems very interesting to me, but if I did it, it would be one more and I was never going to reach their level because I don't have the prices they have and I can't access the products they have. It was starting at a disadvantage ”. It was then that he thought of doing something similar with vegetables.

Begoña Rodrigo, during the interview.

Its cuisine, currently, has vegetables as protagonists and, even, a completely vegetarian menu is offered. Rodrigo's idea is to offer a balanced meal, which is not heavy at all. This has made it a huge success among foreign audiences, who demand a cuisine rich in vegetables much more than Spanish.

"The Spanish press has not written anything about us, but we have appeared in the Irish Times, in the Dutch press ...", explains the cook. “We have a mouth-to-ear tourist clientele that blows it away. We have 70% guiri in July and August. They do not conceive that you have to advise that you are vegetarian. They understand that on a menu there is a vegetarian option. Things change and the sooner you arrive, the better ”.

The impressive table of tubers and roots composed, from right to left, by salsify with pickled yolk and truffle, chervil root with caviar, parsley root with beet and kalamata, sweet potato with salmon, daikon turnip root with seaweed and plankton, and carrot with nori and bud. A dish of many categories.

Why is it necessary to have a star

Six years after his time on television, in 2013, few remember Rodrigo as Top Chef's aunt. All except the inspectors of the Michelin Guide, who perhaps also do not forgive their criticism when talking about the sacrosanct institution of gastronomy. Some criticism that the cook threatens to avoid, but she can't hold back when you ask her why she hasn't been given the star yet:

“I think it has to do with the character, with me. I have complained sometime on the networks, but I have said what I think. It seems to me that he is a private guide, that he has the economic interests that he has, that they sell wheels, and that the locals who are in certain places are not so interesting and for whatever reason they are not interested ”.

Bajoqueta, ceps and zucchini with cream cheese made from raw cow's milk. A kind of vegetable carbonara that was simply incredible. One of the best I've had in a long time. Seriously.

This does not mean that he does not want the star. He loves her, a lot. "It is very important to get it, especially for people who have been here for a long time, they deserve it," he says. “If I have to swallow my tongue and eat everything I have said so that they give me the star, then I do it, because they don't give it to me, they give it to the whole team. It's something I've sinned in for a long time. I have said what I wanted, because it has not mattered so much, but it is very hard when November arrives and they do not give you the star, come and open the restaurant and explain to the boys that they have not given you the star, without also know why they have not given it to you. Raising morale so that he wants to continue creating is very complicated ”.

A Michelin star, Rodrigo explains, also gives you some scope to simply live better. The cook is already working on a new business: a small hotel set up in an orchard, with a small restaurant. His idea is to be able to combine the activity by closing La Salita more days, something for which a star could use.

Desserts also stand out. This is a pumpkin pie with parmesan and orange. Riconudo.

"What I would love to do is close on Saturday and Sunday, that's my dream, that's why I also want to be given a star," Rodrigo concludes. “Women should point out what has been done wrong for so many years in hospitality. There are many things that are done or by inertia. Don't you want to reconcile? There is one thing that we do from the beginning almost, and that is that a cook does not clean my kitchen. There are two people to clean the kitchen, my cooks cook, they have just finished their work and go home. Why do they have to clean the kitchen? They say that it is a matter of discipline, but no, it is an issue that must be corrected, such as the issue of schedules, and it can be done, you have to put a motivation, put something worthwhile, and that is what they should women do, because we would create a business model in which everyone would want to come and work with us instead of working with them. You have to find how to attract people to come to you, and that is a fundamental change in hospitality ”.

What to order: There are three tasting menus. We took the Rodrigo menu, which has a price of 67.95 euros, without wine, and we found it to be excellent and not heavy.

Practical data
Where: Carrer de Sèneca, 12 (Valencia)
Average price: Around 80/90 euros, with wine.
Reservations: 963 81 75 16 and on its website.
Hours: Closed on Sundays

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