Chef Marc Segarra: “I cook what I feel and what I really like”

15/03/2018

After two years at the helm of our restaurants, we talked to young chef Marc Segarra to discover first hand the style he chooses for his dishes and to find out more about the man who is behind the menus of Refectorio and Vinoteca.

Marc was born in Reus (Tarragona) on May 5, 1987 but he has been traveling from restaurant to restaurant throughout Spain since he turned 20. He learnt his trade in illustrious houses run by renowned chefs like Santi Santamaría, Andoni Luis Aduriz, Rodrigo de la Calle or Paco Morales. Like others born under the Taurus sign, Marc admits his stubbornness, which helps him to “keep working” on challenging dishes.

How did you get into cooking?

My mum is a good cook; when I was a kid, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with her, particularly Saturdays and Sundays when I didn’t have to go to school. I was her kitchen hand —I chopped things, helped her to make paella… My grandmother always reminds me that I was able to make my own Spanish omelette for dinner when I was only seven or eight years old.

How does one manage to get into the world of haute cuisine?

I didn’t really spend my learning years on Michelin-starred venues —they were rather of the rough-and-ready kind. At the age of 16 I was cooking burgers back-to-back at a burger joint and I worked at a rice restaurant serving 200 meals a day, but you end up enjoying your job after a while.

How did you handle the transition?

After finishing my studies, I worked as a kitchen hand for banquets at Termes Montbió Hotel in Montbió del Camp (Tarragona). After a year there, I was hired by Hotel Valdepalacio, in Toledo, which had chef Santi Santamaría as consultant for its restaurant (1 Michelin star). The first year was tough, but the second was fun. The kitchen team changed and I became the head chef’s right hand man. After three years on the job, I longed for change. I had learnt classical recipes from a classical chef and I wanted to explore new cooking ways. At that time, the world was divided between Ferrán Adrià and Santi Santamaría. I spent four months working at Nerua in Bilbao with the proviso that I would later join Mugaritz as a stagier for eight months.

What’s the most surprising element in Mugaritz?

Its unique philosophy and creative process. Right now, I think they are probably the best in terms of work techniques.

What’s your greatest challenge at Abadía Retuerta?

For me it’s the day-to-day work. I have more than 20 people in my team and that’s a great responsibility. At first, the hotel seems very daunting but the abbey is amazing. The various halls and the refectory have been preserved and, in my opinion, it is one of the top five spots to enjoy a culinary experience.

How would you describe your cooking style?

I’ve never really known how to answer this question. I think it is defined by the ingredients: seasonal and full of flavour. I think it is also free, because I cook what I feel and what I really like. Undoubtedly, every dish follows its own creation process and there is plenty of trial and error. It’s a technical cuisine with beautifully plated dishes. We strive for perfection.

At our restaurant Refectorio, we love to provoke with seasonal vegetables – it´s something I learnt in places like Mugaritz,Nerua and Rodrigo de la Calle. Greens help us to balance dishes and add nuances and textures.

Is there a particularly distinctive element?

We look for synergies with the estate’s products: honey, pine nuts, wine salt, the wine itself. One of our desserts is called Wine Nuances and in it we try to recreate flavours associated with wine such as liquorice, coffee or tobacco. It’s our tribute to wine although it is not an ingredient in the dish.

Do you still have any influences from Catalan cuisine?

Yes, I maintain things from my childhood. On the menu I have sweet and spicy mint-flavored snails. It’s a traditional dish with a contrast of flavours that my grandmother used to prepare when I was a kid. But in the end, I cook the snails the way I like them and I’ve got my own recipe.

Is it challenging to manage two restaurants with different styles such as Refectorio, with one Michelin star, and the more casual La Vinoteca?

When I started, I was probably more focused on Refectorio, but La Vinoteca is my pet project right now. The idea behind this restaurant is to have top quality ingredients —the best we find in the market. Clients can enjoy our estate’s wines along with dishes to share and nibble in an informal manner.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

I don’t really have much spare time (he laughs), but when the hotel closes I like to spend time with my family.

What kind of restaurants do you visit with your friends?

All sorts. My favourites are fine dining restaurants, but I’m happy going anywhere. Last Christmas, I travelled with the team at Le Domaine all the way down to Córdoba just to eat at a restaurant with one Michelin star.

Do you cook at home?

Yes, but I let my mum spoil me when I am with my family.