Albert Sastregener, head chef of the Bo.TiC restaurant in Corçà, near Girona, which has been awarded two Michelin stars, was recognised with the 2022 National Gastronomy Award in June, an award that, says Sastregener, they are happy to get because it shows “someone has noticed the path we are taking”.
Sastregener says he loves cooking above al and believes that “if you work in a job you like and put a lot of love and care into it, things turn out much better”. He also explains that his goal and that of the team that works at the restaurant is to “transmit happiness” and to make a restaurant that is “formal and yet informal at the same time, so that you also feel at home”.
The chef thinks that the hospitality industry is very cheap but that “luckily the larger firms have started raising their prices, the medium-sized ones are joining in and the little ones have to get on the bandwagon” because “we come from a hospitality industry that has been exploited” which he says makes it “normal that young people no longer want to work in it”.
What does the award mean to you?
We’re very happy and proud to be where we are. We like it when someone notices the path we’re taking and puts a voice to this path. And this voice can be summed up by the National Gastronomy Award, along with the two Michelin stars. This means that there are people who pay attention to the work we do and recognise it. We’re happy for everyone involved, for all of the staff who are moving the Bo.TiC project forward; I run the restaurant jointly with my wife, the sommelier Cristina Torrent, and we are both life partners and partners in the restaurant. People think it’s just me, but it’s not. Without my wife by my side, I would not have been given the National Gastronomy Award, and we wouldn’t have been given the first or the second Michelin star; we wouldn’t have even embarked on this project. We’re also happy to make the family feel proud, because they know that this world of ours involves a lot of sacrifice and that we have to give up a lot, especially family life. And we’re also happy for the customers who support us, who come back time and again to eat at the restaurant, because it’s thanks to the customers that we are where we are.
Is your restaurant innovative?
We are non-conformist and we like to move forward. We innovate and we want to continue contributing our vision to the world of gastronomy, our way of doing things, whether it is training or making this transition in cuisine that we are now doing, while trying to be financially sustainable.
Bo.TiC already has two Michelin stars, the first only two years after opening.
We opened in December 2007, when talk of a crisis was already beginning. And at that time, Michelin started making nominations for the guide and we appeared in 2008 as possible candidates. In November 2009, we were given our first star and that nomination changed everything.
What do you mean?
We started when we were very young. Cristina was 25 and I was 28. When they gave us the star we had a spectacular year of work but we managed it very badly. We had come through a year and a half of hardship because no one came through the door, to the point that on weekends we asked the family to come to eat. The first year was quite painful, sitting in the restaurant car park and watching cars go by because no one stopped to eat. And then they gave us the star and people began to discover Bo.TiC and we had a spectacular influx.
Why do you say you mishandled it?
Because we wanted to absorb all the work that came our way and we weren’t able to. 2010 was a very strong year and in 2011 the work levelled off a little so we took the opportunity for a rethink. You get the star for what you’ve done, but it also lends credibility to the cuisine you continue to create. In 2012, we saw that the premises were becoming obsolete, because the facilities could not let us do what we wanted to convey to the client.
So you changed premises.
In January 2017 we opened here with the same mindset we’d had in the other place but trying to do things better. In this new place we have a little more space. We started working with 12 tables, half of the establishment’s capacity. And after a year, learning a little from our mistakes, once we saw that we had a good grasp of the restaurant’s size and facilities and that we had the right dynamism, we opened 100%.
And the second star arrived. Did you notice any changes?
The second star came in the midst of the pandemic, when people had a crazy desire to go out and help the hospitality industry because neither the Catalan nor the state government helped us with anything. It was really tough, whether your establishment had one, two or three stars and or none at all. All of the restaurants in the Baix Empordà area worked very hard. We are part of La Cuina de l’Empordanet Association and all the restaurants in the association came to the conclusion that it was one of the best years. Spectacular. The second star, like the national award, was not something we sought after.
You weren’t trying to get the second star?
We didn’t set out to get either of the two stars or the national award. We want to enjoy ourselves, to be happy with what we do and to do something different, such as offering a more innovative seasonal cuisine, expressing a little of this culture that we have. My attitude in the kitchen is: put a lot of love and affection into it and be happy with what you do. It sounds silly, but it’s impossible to be unhappy if you do this. If you work in a job you like, things turn out much better. And because we love what we do, we got more and more entangled in it. We came to a bigger place, the feedback was positive, people liked it, and so we applied another technique, and to do that you need more staff. For example, we do this micro snack menu that has characterised us since we opened. We used to make it small and now it’s bigger. To do this, we also needed a head of snacks, and seven people have now done this job. I mean that you keep adding and refining because you like what you do and we listen to what our customers want from us.
How many workers are there at Bo.TiC now?
We have 24 people in the kitchen and 12 in the dining room. We are 36 people feeding 28, 30 or 34 customers and we like that. Cristina likes to receive the customers and take the order, and I like to welcome customers as they pass through the kitchen – all customers who enter the restaurant must pass through the kitchen section to get to the dining room. We like to show this visible face that was lost in the restaurant industry a few years ago because chefs went on television, or to advise hotels or restaurants, and there was no one left in the restaurants themselves.
Is the profession of chef very well regarded, and has this given chefs prominence in the media?
Yes, but here we like to greet the customer, introduce them to the head chef and the team that makes the restaurant work. They all do a spectacular job that is sometimes overlooked and we don’t give them the prominence they deserve. If they told me that to have a restaurant of this category customers must come in a jacket and tie and can’t put their elbows on the table, eat with their fingers or laugh or have a good time, I would give it up. I want a restaurant that conveys happiness, where you lick your fingers, where you laugh, that is formal but at the same time informal and where at the same time you feel at home. Family gatherings or intimate meals as a couple that people remember. I like things to happen in restaurants, for there to be smiles and that what happens stays in people’s memories.