Kiko Moya: “Haute cuisine has an obligation to protect local food producers” lifestyle
His family history is reflected in the menu of L’Escaleta, the Michelin-starred restaurant that has turned Cocentaina’s traditional cooking into haute cuisine and local sustainability into an engine for economic and social growth.
The first time he donned chef’s whites and an apron he was just 10 years old. Although he was a child, Kiko Moya never missed a Saturday as a possible stand-in when Paco, his father and one of the founders of l’Escaleta his uncle Ramiro, would ask him to perform the star act of the night: jumping out of the Sputnik wedding cake (named for its rocket shape) and blessing the newlyweds.
An identity formed in the kitchen
After all the dancing, fireworks and flashes set off by the old Kodak cameras, Moya stayed behind in the kitchen, listening to the sounds of the pots and pans, the spitting of the oil and the chorus of commands. “Heard and underway!”, the cooks would shout energetically as the waiters responded with an “OK!”.
In those symphonic rehearsals amidst wood, metal and fire, Moya already knew what his destiny held. “I needed to be in the kitchen to think about cooking, this profession is based on dedication and hard work. I learned that lesson at home with my uncle and it has helped me build my own identity and feel comfortable in the kitchen”, Moya confesses.
Forty years have passed since those early aspirations hiding in a rocket shaped cake, and although L’Escaleta has changed managers (Kiko Moya and Ramiro Redrado belong to the second generation of the family) and location, the original essence, combining game stews with cured produce and uniting Basque cuisine with traditional Valencian gastronomy, is still very much alive. “A dish is not necessarily better because it is newer. At L’Escaleta, we are very respectful of those that have worked well because we believe that there are dishes that will withstand the test of time”, says Moya.
This list includes Basque fish stew with garlic and peppers, a dish devised by Moya’s uncle, which has been on the menu since its inception, or the Iberian joint with onion ash (an all year-round dish). Other all-season dishes include the dry and sweet squared rice (a single layer of rice cooked using a controlled temperature), cured shrimp (the restaurant’s signature dish), Mediterranean mole or almond blossom cloud. He is currently working on a suckling lamb shoulder cooked with milk, a dish that is yet to be perfected.
Kiko Moya: “A dish is not better because it is newer”
Recipe book of memories
The history of L’Escaleta (“the little staircase”, named after the restaurant’s first location in a basement, in Cocentaina, Spain) is written in its recipes. These have been passed on from generation to generation keeping family memories and Cocentaina alive. “A restaurant has to combine new and classic dishes to create haute cuisine. Our work goes beyond just the restaurant, we have an obligation to protect local food producers, which has been the case even more so in the last few months. Restaurants have come to a standstill, but suppliers have continued to grow produce, not just for the sake of it, but to take care of our environment”, he says.
When Moya talks about L’Escaleta, he refers to it being “his house”, as this is where he learned the skills and traditions of the region from his uncle Ricardo’s garlic soups and tropical salads. “Tradition is not unchanging, but variable, and we look at the environment and what we have in each season because haute cuisine encourages you to reimagine. The concept starts in the kitchen. I always say that recipes can be found on Google, but what Google does not explain is the reason behind these recipes”, he reflects.
“Recipes can be found on Google, but what Google does not explain is the reason behind these recipes”
Moya’s cuisine is more than avant-garde, it’s hedonistic as it seeks the happiness of the diner through pure, local products where function serves over form. “The dish must be able to speak for itself”, he says.
This creative nostalgia that transforms innovation into a retrospective exercise has led him to win two Michelin stars for the restaurant. “Cooking must be a vocation and not subjection; as a team we work together to overcome this. I believe it is important for any employee to have the perfect work-life balance. I want to change the ideals of the culinary industry; just because you work in a restaurant doesn’t mean a 50-hour working week. I treat my business as if it were my home and I want everyone to feel comfortable as soon as they step inside. Ultimately, they are what keeps the business going. Just because you are a chef doesn’t mean you have to spend your life in the kitchen. Living is what is all about”, he stresses with conviction.
“I believe it is important for any employee to have the perfect work-life balance. Living is what is all about”
For Moya, L’Escaleta’s success comes from promoting the well-being of the whole team and the customers at all times. He believes it is important not to lose their identity but maintain their unique style. “We are like a museum full of history and facts; we tell stories about the dishes and the customer gets to experience them in reality”, he adds.
“We are like a museum full of history and facts; we tell stories about the dishes”
L’Escaleta – a gastronomic tale that has been told by renowned Michelin star winning chefs such as Martín Berasategui, Joan Roca, Angel León, Albert Adriá, Jordi Cruz, Eneko Atxa and Andoni Luis Aduriz. To celebrate the restaurant’s 40th anniversary and recent kitchen refurbishment using XTONE from PORCELANOSA Group, the first Wednesday of each month from March to December 2020 will host a guest chef, including names from above, cooking two of their signature dishes alongside Kiko Moya and his team. “We cook with emotion. This material makes the team proud to work in the kitchen because it provides continuity to the project, it meets our expectations and it offers the enjoyment that is sought in a haute cuisine restaurant”, he concludes.