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Jaume Vicens - Béns d´Avall. A family affair

Jaume Vicens - Béns d´Avall. A family affair

Jaume Vicens © ffmag

A love of good food, making memories around the table and the Tramontana of his childhood led Jaume Vicens to follow in his family’s footsteps in the kitchen of Béns d’Avall (Sóller). After more than a century of history, the restaurant (one Michelin star and two Repsol suns) brings together the knowledge of three generations. And with the utmost respect for the culinary tradition of his land, and the work of his family members – and teachers – Jaume Vicens has brought a modern touch to food at Béns d’Avall, bringing Mallorcan cooking into the present day with subtlety and originality.

 

What’s Jaume Vicens like inside and outside the kitchen?
I’m very transparent. What you see is what you get, inside and outside the kitchen, but maybe I’m livelier and more versatile outside. Inside I’m more serious. I always try to share my passion and love for what’s around us, the Tramontana area, the location of our restaurant Béns d’Avall. 

You represent the third generation of chefs in your family. Did you always know that you’d be in charge of the next generation to take over one day?
No. I started working with my family when I was 16 or 17 because I didn’t know what to study. But I liked eating, I liked the produce, and what my parents did. And, more than anything, I’ve always loved the moment we all sit at the table and share. I believe in that essence.

The Saint of the Tramontana, lamb dish. Restaurant Béns d'Avall. Mallorca

The Saint of the Tramontana © Béns d'Avall

How old were you when you rolled up your sleeves and began cooking?
I began really young. When I was thirteen. When I didn’t pass my exams, my punishment was working during the summer. And that’s how I began to try out this profession, which I’ve been doing since I was sixteen when, being a bit more mature, I chose this path and began to grow professionally. I think that, when a restaurant is created, some of its essence rubs off on you.

I think that, when a restaurant is created, some of its essence rubs off on you

Do you feel under pressure taking over as the next generation?
Yes. There’s always pressure, but it’s also a help and daily support. At the beginning I said: “I’ll never be better than my father” but the truth is that we make a good team. I know it’s really hard to overcome certain things and I think you shouldn’t focus on that. You have to learn as much as you can from everything around you, let yourself be helped, know how to listen and grow each day. 

And how do you feel about working with your family?
We’re a great team because we’ve got a solid basis. Since we began, the three of us (my mum in the dining room, my dad overseeing everything and me in the kitchen and buying) have become far more efficient. We’ve been able to refine lots of small things that, perhaps, we might have missed before. But I think the change has been positive and we work really well like that. 

How has the restaurant changed since you started?
I’ve kept all the best things and, if there were things that I thought could be improved, we’ve tried to refine them by talking things over in detail. I think that, after all that, the restaurant has changed for the better. The secret is respect. I’ve always had the greatest respect for my parents and their thirty years of work.

The secret is respect. I've always had the greatest respect for my parents and their thirty years of work

Do you manage to separate your work and private life? What do you talk about at family meals?
We always talk about work. It’s hard not to, but I think we’re getting better at it. We have so much passion for what we do that it’s undeniably hard not to talk about work.

What's your path towards sustainability like?
We’ve been sustainable for fifty years. Since the day the restaurant opened. We come from a family of country folk, fishermen, people who farmed and lived in a sustainable environment. And we’ve carried on working like that, knowing how to maintain this solid foundation of sustainability. The path to sustainability means taking a few steps backwards to be able to go forwards.

Propóleos. Restaurant Béns d’Avall. Mallorca

Propóleos © Béns d'Avall

You’re all very focused on producing your own food and your kitchen garden. What are you growing at the moment?
We have more than just a kitchen garden, we’ve also got a citrus tree orchard where we grow different varieties of lemons, oranges, yellow and pink grapefruit, tangerines and clementines. We’ve also got a permaculture farm in the heart of the Tramontana, close to the restaurant; nothing external is used there, it’s extremely environmentally friendly. That’s where we grow more unusual varieties, things you can’t get at the market. As well as that, we have a garden full of centuries-old olive trees and each year we produce 600 litres of olive oil that we use to supply the restaurant. We’ve also got lots of links to small producers in Sóller who supply us with other kinds of vegetables.  We’re really lucky and it’s a matter of appreciating what we have, because good produce needs love. 

What kind of presence does this produce have on your menu?
We’re completely seasonal and grow raw materials typical to each time of year so that we always have the best, freshest produce, adapting to what’s in season. We work with concepts, but the fresh produce always changes and is put before the concept. 

We work with concepts, but the fresh produce always changes and is put before the concept

Do you always work with Mallorcan produce?
Practically always, but not exclusively. We have Mallorca in our blood and it’s in the kind of food we make, which is emotional food that has been passed down to us, has feeling, and is based on seasonal produce but it leaves the door open to other Spanish produce too. We’re in the middle of the Mediterranean, north of Africa, at the gates to Europe. So, we expand our range sometimes, to create truly special combinations. 

How would you define the experience you offer at Béns d’Avall?
You’ll enjoy local food with lots of flavour that’s very fresh and uses artisan ingredients... You’re in the mountains with the sea spread out before you and everything around you for your enjoyment, along with great service. I always say that at Béns d’Avall we create happiness because people leave happy. And if we achieve that, what we’re doing is worthwhile.

Terrace of the restaurant Bens D'Avall. Mallorca

Terrace Béns d'Avall © Béns d'Avall

How has the Michelin star changed things on a day-to-day basis?
We’d already been working along lines that met the high standards of the Michelin Guide, but since I joined, we’ve perfected a few things. Perhaps it was my youthful perspective. But I’d say it’s made us even stricter and also made us appreciate what we have. Because an award like that, apart from giving your work recognition, is for everyone around you: your employees, producers... It’s changed us for the good. There hasn’t been a major change, but its noticeable and positive. 

Are you aiming for a second star?
That’s something that has really intense work behind it, and everything has its reward in the end. We’ve got our project, our goals... And I think they’ll produce results when the time is right. We won’t fall behind or stagnate. We like to ask a little bit more of ourselves, to improve, be up to speed and emphasise the value of everything we have. 

How do you see Béns d’Avall in twenty years’ time?
As I don’t have any children yet, or anyone to leave the emotional side of this story to, I can’t answer that. But food is constantly evolving... We’ve drawn a line to create a balance between the quality of what we do, and our quality of life. We know where we came from and where we’re headed. We know that you have to work hard, make a lot of sacrifices, especially in this profession, but we’re always aware that time is the only thing you can’t buy, so you have to manage it well and build a strong bridge so that all the rest can run smoothly. Because, without that bridge, things don’t turn out the way they should.

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