Congreso Internacional de mujeres gastronomía y medio rural


Lucia Freitas: “It doesn't matter if you're the King or the Pope. There's no sampling menu at 22 h".

David Salvador


This chef will represent Galicia at this first meeting of women, the rural world and gastronomy.

This Galician chef runs A Tafona, a gastronomy outlet that has had a Michelin star since 2018, and also Lume, an informal restaurant which opened one week after the star had been awarded, but which customers (and distances due to Covid) have promoted to gastronomy status, with menus featuring 6 and 8 dishes (35 and 40€), with greater fusion.“At A Tafona I'm more conservative”. Both of them, however, "make use of the same market garden and the same sea". Galicia's sea, because there's nobody more Galician than her.

Mature, positive and content, Lucía Freitas comments easily and earnestly on any topic. About the possibility of taking on the role of a police officer to ask for vaccination cards before customers can enter the restaurant, the responsibility of restaurant owners to take on more women "and balance things out a little", or the need to implement fair working hours "to give staff a work-life balance". Aware and sensitive, in September Freitas will be at the new women's congress Féminas, where she might elaborate a little on the new restaurant she intends to set up in Santiago; where she will continue to work "to leave a better world behind me for my son". 

How are things in Galicia? How are your restaurants doing?

At the moment the restaurants are open for business and full up. Luckily we can go on working in Santiago, where we haven't been closed down. But they may ask to check vaccination or past illness. 

Do you have to ask for that?

Not yet here, because we're not on a high enough level, but they do have to in Pontevedra and many other places.

You're being turned into police officers ...

We don't like that job, but it's better than shutting down the interior completely because in many cases that means closing the entire restaurant. I don't like it, but I see it as a lesser evil.

What you understand and convey perfectly well is who you are and what you offer at A Tafona …

I'm passionate about Galicia, and I'm a fierce defender of that sentiment. When someone sits down in your restaurant, they have to feel your land, its produce, its producers ... You have to give them an experience that will make they understand where they are. And I think I manage to do that at both restaurants. At both of them the produce is 100% Galician, and the story we tell is the story of our producers, who are Galician. I love being able to give a voice to people who do their utmost in their work, like we do, and they're Galician like us, too. Those people need our loudspeaker, now more than ever before.

Another Galician chef, Pepe Vieira, said at the Meeting of the Seas recently that “inspiration doesn’t hit you when you’re travelling – it comes to you as you stroll around your restaurant". Are all Galicians so canny?

Inspiration comes to you during the daily round. In my case, when I'm looking around the garden, when I go to market, to buy fish, when I'm living, happy, and breathing. All that inspires me. And when you leave home you also see things that are new, and well, why not, they could eventually be added to your way of doing things. Surroundings are very important, but you can't be so short-sighted either. You have to seek out the best and try to expand.

Two restaurants, a catering service and an ice cream outlet ... you can't get bored easily.

I have people who've been working with me for years, and they give me a lot of help. I try to surround myself with people with an understanding of cooking the way I do it, and who can cook the way I do. People who are now part of the business. And I can also draw on my brother, who crunches the numbers and takes care of external events. Eight years ago when all this started up, there were four of us. Now I have a well-rounded business structure, with almost 20 employees.

Tell the story. 24 hours in the life of Lucía Freitas.

I get up with my son beside me, and do whatever I can to take him to school. Then I run off to the market to buy things, and after that it depends. Today you caught up with me after a session on the radio. Yesterday I met up with a customer to discuss an event. Three times a week, I try to escape to the gym for 45 minutes and do a bit of a workout. And later, I never miss out on work at A Tafona. My life's a little hectic. It might start at 8 in the morning and finish at 2 in the morning. That's the way it is. The glamorous life of a chef ...

And it's a single-mother family, too ...

I have the most marvellous parents. They're always around, and so are my siblings. Since he was born, my son has been used to mummy working long hours, and we try to spend as much time as we can together. Sometimes he goes to the vegetable garden with me. He likes that. We grab moments when we can, and that gives me a recharge.

If A Tafona weren't in the city, if you had stayed in San Sebastián - where you worked and studied - and had opened a restaurant there, for example, could you do what you're doing?

I couldn't live outside Galicia. When I was 27 years old, I decided to come back because my homesickness moved me more than the desire to go on cooking.

That wasn't really my question ...

Impossible. Without my family, it would be impossible. I'd have to pay two or three people to help me. Not viable. But I'm in a much better position now. What I've acquired over the years is a good team that enables me to spend more time with my son. The Michelin star, and everything operating properly, has allowed me to buy myself some time.

You're talking about your team, which is chiefly made up of women. Your own wish?

I try to practise positive discrimination. It's important for me to have women in the team. To help them and make them believe that in the future they can open their own businesses too, to balance things out a little. So that it's not just a world of men. As a chef and a woman, I've always felt a little insecure. It took me years to learn to appreciate my work and gain security. And this is also a task for restaurant owners: putting women in posts that will enable them to grow.

And that sure purpose is helped along by one of your struggles nowadays, a call for reasonableness and temporal sustainability that has also been echoed by, among others, Eduard Xatruch: Night duty can't finish in the wee hours.

That's right. I explain this at the side of the menu in A Tafona. We want people to be happy as they leave the restaurant, but the team also has to be happy in their work. To achieve that balance, the cutoff time for ordering a sampling menu, which are always long affairs, is 21.15 h. If you really want to try it, you have to arrive at that time at the latest. 

Have you got those customers? Do people come at that time?

Yes. And also, I'm inflexible with times. After 21.15 h you can't order the long menu. It doesn't matter if you're the Pope or the King of Spain. My team comes first. That's sacred. I believe that our task as chefs and owners of restaurant businesses is also to try to "educate" our customers. I'm aware that we all have our own reality, and that we use restaurants to escape and enjoy life, but we have to think about the people who are working for you.

It might be one of the big changes the pandemic brings about in the sector ...

Definitely. But why? Because chefs have discovered that there are other things besides work. It used to be I didn't have a second for my own life away from the kitchens. There were days, weeks, months when I didn't have a day off. And there comes a point when you stop, you put things into perspective, and you say: No, I don't want it to be this way for me. I don't want this for my son, and I don't want this for my team. That's why it's the chefs' job to find out where the viability of a menu lies. Your ego makes you lay on a lily-gilding menu, and people have to be working 16 hours a day ... It's not right. It's time to change. It's unsustainable. Catering has to be professionalised in all senses.

Can you explain that?

You charge what you have to charge. I bellyache a lot about this. Work is very often given away for free in Galicia. The charge is for the product and nothing else. That's why we're so cheap. And a start has to be made on changing that. Maybe Galicians are a little ashamed of charging. But we all have our fixed costs and our teams. And you have to do things right and pay taxes. Only by becoming more professional will we keep the restaurant industry going. 

Loud and clear. Go on.

I'm sure I'm not just here to cook. My idea is to change my little world. Trying to help people who need help, give a boost to work by women, and showcase the delights of Galician gastronomy. And, if I can leave a better world behind for my son, all the better. Chefs' work goes beyond cooking.

Right. Let's talk about the new menu at A Tafona. Doesn't "Algarabia" (the name of the menu) mean a hubbub?

It's a mixture of many things. I always say I have a highly enriched mental life, too much so. And that produces a lot of things, and they all have the same common thread, which is my vegetable garden, my Galicia and my things. I've learned to accept myself, to know who I am and how my head operates, and this menu is the outcome. The best I've done in a long time, incidentally. Maybe because of this acceptance of oneself.

You're still keen on chromatics ...

Yes. I've always been very chromatic. My energy has always had a lot of colour input. I liked being surrounded by colour, light and happiness, and that's what I have now.

It's sensitivity too.

Absolutely. I'm such a sensitive person, and that has an upside and a downside. My senses are so acute, especially smell, and that makes it really easy for me to create. When they were handing out gifts, I got creativity ... Except I don't have many others ...

You're good at creating. Where does the magic happen?

Well, half of the current menu came to me during a night of insomnia. Sometimes you have a block, and when you have to make up a menu, that's how it is. I'm a demanding person, and this menu had to be the best. I was under pressure, and I suffered from insomnia many nights. And on one of those nights I took pen and paper (I'm an analogue creature) and that was how the first draft came about, and it was more or less the menu it is now.

To round this off. Any new projects?

Lockdown enabled me to roll out some projects I had shelved. I started up my own line of ice cream (Cinza) and I did an urban cuisine delivery service. Now it's time to develop Lume. I took over the adjacent premises, and I'm going to open a new restaurant. Something along the lines of the formats I created during the pandemic. 

Takeaway only?

No, sit-down eating too. A bit more casual than Lume is now.


No, not yet. The name will most likely emerge during another sleepless night.

These creative people ...