Kiko Moya, chef of L’Escaleta, spoke exclusively to Spain Life Exclusive

Kiko Moya is one of the most prominent chefs on the southeastern coast of Spain, situated in the interior of the province of Alicante, home to L’Escaleta. This restaurant in Cocentaina, surrounded by mountains and orchards, is now in its second generation since its opening in 1980. It’s a restaurant that aims to transcend beyond merely providing pleasure at each table.

Who is Kiko Moya? Although he isn’t quite fond of the title ‘chef,’ and even though working in a kitchen wasn’t his lifelong dream initially, Kiko managed to make his mark in renowned kitchens, showcasing his talent. Since joining L’Escaleta in 1999, he hasn’t stopped growing. But let’s allow him to tell his story firsthand.

Kiko, can you tell us how you became a chef?

The truth is, I didn’t plan on becoming a cook. My parents had a restaurant, and we were always messing around in the kitchen. I can’t say, like other chefs, that I watched my grandmother or mother cook, but our daily life revolved around the restaurant. It’s also true that as I grew up, I helped my uncle on weekends, who was in the kitchen. I saw how tough it was, your hands would smell of garlic, of shrimp. For a kid, it was a bit unpleasant. I worked as a waiter for a while in the dining area and put in extra hours, just like any restaurant owner’s child. Honestly, the hospitality industry always felt comfortable to me. My uncle always told me that if I liked it, I should learn what the kitchen was like from within, not to depend on whichever cook was around. So, I gradually started getting into the kitchen to manage the restaurant more effectively. And I haven’t left since.

When you’re young, especially in my time, being a chef wasn’t cool. It wasn’t an attractive profession for a young person because the sacrifice was evident: when your friends were out having fun, you were working in the restaurant. Perhaps what kept me in this small world of hospitality is that it’s a changing profession, it challenges you creatively. It’s by no means a dull job.

And then you prepared yourself to carry out your ideas…

Right now, there are too many hospitality studies. However, back then, there was a school in Galicia, which was too far away for me, another one in Barcelona, and there was the CdT in Alicante offering a Higher Technician cycle in Restoration. It lasted two years and covered hospitality from the administrative side, service, and the kitchen. I did it because I wanted to manage the restaurant. When we finished, Ferrán and Arzac gave us a talk. Ferrán gave us a number to go to his house for some training. Out of the initial 5 who were going to go, I ended up being the only one. It was a beautiful adventure, but I struggled because in 1998, it was the first time I had left home. Nevertheless, I remember it fondly.

And since then, what do you feel are your achievements?

I think I don’t evaluate what we’ve done until now that way. At L’Escaleta, we received our first Michelin star in 2001. While I was in the kitchen, that was the merit of my uncles and my father. The second star, which arrived in 2016, felt more personal. By then, Alberto, my partner, and I, the second generation, were already here. It’s true that it’s one of the most important recognitions we could receive, among many others. And also, I don’t have the feeling that we’ve achieved anything. We’re on the path, we continue working, it’s an examination we have every year, every day. When we got the second star, the feeling was not that we had achieved something but that we were working to deserve this. There’s always much more to do.

“Being a chef is an ongoing journey, a commitment to constant learning, nurturing one’s team, and embracing the humble pursuit of knowledge within the vast world of gastronomy.” – Kiko Moya

In fact, just as you’re awarded a Michelin star, they can also take it away…

Of course… I say that they lend us the star, they don’t give it to you. When you receive recognition, like an Oscar, the movie is finished, recorded, produced, it’s a packaged product. In contrast, in our case, the restaurant is a product that is still alive and under construction.

And can you pinpoint when you started feeling like a chef?

I’ve always had imposter syndrome. I’ve never considered myself a great chef. Fortunately, gastronomy is vast. You never manage to know everything. When you go to any country, they’re small universes of which you hardly know anything. Considering oneself a chef as such for me has always been something like… “at some point, they’ll realize I’m not one” (laughs). This is imposter syndrome. My view is that we’re team leaders; we have to allow our teams to evolve and learn. We have to pave the way for them to feel comfortable working, and you can bring out the best in each one.

When I meet wonderful people who, from the outside, have achieved important things, and they convey that sense of humility, I think this is the only way to keep growing. When that person believes they already know everything, I think they begin to decline. In my case, in each project, I try to learn from scratch, to enjoy the journey and not just focus on the destination. Enjoy the ride, be comfortable with your team, not so much thinking about the goal but rather about the journey.

How would you define your philosophy in the kitchen?

L’Escaleta is located in an area that’s neither very rural nor very industrial, with a population that’s neither very large nor very small. And I like to observe everything around us. It’s important for the restaurant to tell stories through its gastronomy. Stories that can be related to the landscape, to a specific product, to a beautiful personal story, or sometimes not so beautiful. I want people, when they come here, to have the feeling that something has happened, that we’ve told them something related to who we are and where we are. We try to link our cuisine to the landscape, to the season, by offering the best products within our reach. A cuisine supported by simple ingredients, without twisting the product or the technique too much. With straightforward solutions when expressing ourselves. That’s our initial idea…

“Our cuisine aims to tell stories—narratives woven from the landscape, personal tales, and the essence of who we are, evoking an experience beyond the mere act of dining.” – Kiko Moya

What plans do you have for L’Escaleta?

In a few weeks, we’ll be advising a venue in Madrid, a project very different from ours. It’s an immersive experience, with images projected on walls: a project radically different from L’Escaleta called Sinestesia. Even from its name, you can perceive the proposal of colors, flavors, and touch. An experience that lasts a little over two hours. It’s like a kind of journey through a tunnel, and we’re responsible for the gastronomic proposal.

Another project, if not the most important one we’ll develop in 2024, is a small orchard in front of the restaurant. We want to see the facets that crops can offer us, from their maturation, flowering, ripe fruit, green fruit. Where we’ll try to recover native varieties that have been lost. And it will give us a lot of valuable information to continue growing in this field.

Would you like to take this space to share something you feel?

At certain times, we considered moving L’Escaleta because we’re not in a big city, but we realized it’s more important for it to be here, and there should be satellite projects that showcase what the restaurant is about, and people can benefit from what we do here, beyond enjoying the meal. That it becomes something that transcends the act of eating, that people assume it as their own, that they see the benefit of us being here.

Kiko Moya is as straightforward as he sounds. And from that simplicity, he has ensured that this second generation of cousins moves forward with the restaurant, with new plans and ideas that relate to the charming environment surrounding L’Escaleta. This restaurant has been providing warm and delightful culinary experiences for over 40 years, where what stands out is the love poured into the project. And if something is done with love, what can go wrong?

Contact details:

Subida a la Estación del Norte, 205

03824 Cocentaina, Alicante

965 59 21 00

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