Marc Ribas: rekindling the flames of Catalan cuisine and extinguishing forest fires

23 August 2023

Marc Ribas has carved out a name for himself by relighting the fire of traditional Catalan cooking, and to widespread acclaim.

He joins us at Cheese 2023 for celebration of flavors, sustainability, and community.

As a culinary alchemist with deep roots in the rich Catalan gastronomic tradition, Ribas offers a dining experience focused on the products of the forests, and the Ramats de Foc (literally Herds of Fire) project, which aims to restore, maintain and encourage silvopastoralism in Catalonia’s forests, for the good of the animals, and to help protect these woodlands from wildfires.

We spoke to Marc about his life, his work, and the importance of silvopastoralism.

Slow Food: How did your journey begin?

Marc Ribas: I started working at a restaurant part-time while I was studying for a degree in Fine Arts. My most important formative experience came from a place called Camp Ferran, a traditional Catalan restaurant a 20-minute drive from Barcelona in a small town called Sant Quirge de Valès. It’s a farmhouse, an old-school kitchen style that focuses on traditional cuisine, which makes it somewhat unusual, as these gastronomic traditions had been fading away, especially around Barcelona.

It seemed like an easy way to earn money at the weekend, but I got caught up in a passion for food, fire, and the rock-and-roll atmosphere of the kitchen. When I finished my degree I started working in an illustration company, but I only stayed there for about eight months. I missed the stoves, the chopping boards. So, I started looking for cooking jobs again, and worked in a bunch of places, exploring different cuisines to find a style that matched my own. Together my friend Artur Martínez we earned a Michelin star at a place Capritx. But afterwards I realized I wanted to return to my culinary roots, to the traditional kitchen.

What are your strongest formative food memories?

My most intense culinary memory is rooted in my childhood vacations, spent with my family of fishermen. Fishing, cooking what we caught, the festive atmosphere—it’s etched in my mind. Bringing the family together around a table and a kitchen, it’s something I hold dear. My early experiences as a cook, cleaning fish, helping my family, filleting fish, it all holds a special place. It’s a memory that tops even the finest restaurants I’ve been to or the grandest banquets I’ve prepared. The taste of that first shrimp, the explosion of flavor in my mouth—it’s the intensity of the sea, family, and food combined.

You’ve also become a TV personality in Catalonia. What inspired you to get into TV?

I do TV work to promote traditional cooking through a daily show presenting recipes in Catalonia. I wanted to continue spreading culinary knowledge further and wider than just my own kitchen. We also organize courses and a summer camp for kids to learn more about cooking and food production, explaining where everything they eat really comes from. It’s about providing a wider education around food, the land, and local, sustainable, and fair trade practices. I have 26 years of experience in the field at this point, but there’s a lot of work to do. I want to work closely with the products in the Ark of Taste and keep this movement strong while making it accessible to everyone without the barriers that come with high-end dining.

Tell us more about Ramats de Foc.

In the Mediterranean, climate change has heightened the threat of wildfires in our unmanaged forests. These fires, driven by shifting landscapes, demand more than just extinguishing—they require sustainable management. Silvopastoralism, a historic practice of harmonizing livestock with woodlands, offers multifaceted benefits: conserving landscapes, curbing fire risks, and yielding quality produce. Yet, as these traditions wane, our forests become more fire-prone.

This challenge brought about Ramats de Foc—a collaborative effort uniting landowners, farmers, firefighters, and eco-conscious businesses. This endeavor resonates with the very essence of Slow Food, aligning various needs to create a chain of food production and consumption. Ramats de Foc isn’t solely about nourishing with exceptional food; it’s about diminishing fire threats in critical woodlands—those playing a pivotal role in fire propagation. This is our shared commitment, our way of fusing culinary heritage with ecological preservation, ensuring that the flames we ignite transcend the kitchen and kindle resilience in our landscapes. And that’s what I’ll be presenting at Cheese.

The Dinner Date: Spanish forests, with Marc Ribas and Ramats de Foc

The first dinner at Cheese takes us to explore the forests of Spain, and a project working on silvopastoralism as a means of keeping the forest a living, fire-free food environment.

How do you see the evolution of Catalan cuisine over your lifetime?

Catalan cuisine has evolved, like all cuisines, but it has sometimes strayed from its roots. We’ve lost some knowledge, but we have documentation, academic and otherwise, that helps us to recover otherwise-forgotten traditions. I think there were some trends that younger chefs got caught up in for a while; things like molecular gastronomy. But I think there’s momentum now in the revival of older recipes, of course with a touch of fusion, a flash of urban flair. The challenge is to maintain these culinary roots, and preserve them from getting lost, while also avoiding a situation where they become overly commercialized due to tourism and global influences.

And what’s the value of the Slow Food movement in this revitalization process?

Slow Food is a strong motivator for me. It aligns with the way I cook and why I cook. The future is uncertain. I’d like to work to preserve our culinary identity and landscapes. We need to ensure that they continue to thrive, because without these links to our past, we lose our essence, our reason for existing. So I’ll continue fighting and working on this. Slow Food has given me that motivation, and I’ll be thrilled to share the results of that journey with you all in Bra.

by Jack Coulton, [email protected]

Cheese 2023 is organized by Slow Food and the City of Bra from September 15-18. See you there! #Cheese2023

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