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Having been working for almost 23 years in a gastronomic temple like Zalacaín, automatically confers him the quality of an institution. Raúl Miguel Revilla, current head sommelier at the emblematic restaurant, joined as an apprentice of Custodio López Zamarra back in 2022 and has ended up becoming a reference in the world of wine. In fact, he has received great awards such as the recent National Gastronomy Award 2023 for best sommelier. Long gone are those first services where his pulse almost trembled when it came to serving. Although Revilla has not lost any of that desire and love for his profession, and every day he continues to learn something new.
The jury of the Royal Academy of Gastronomy has recognized his impeccable career, his extensive knowledge of the world of wine and his know-how at the head of such a legendary winery. Coinciding with the restaurant’s 50th anniversary, we visited Zalacaín to chat with Raúl and see for ourselves.
Congratulations on the award. How did you receive the news?
Well, I received the news because Lourdes Plana, president of the Royal Academy of Gastronomy -although last week Luis Suárez de Lezo was appointed new president- called me. We were about to start the service and she wrote me a WhatsApp. But of course, we were eating, in our own little moment, and I hadn’t been too shy about it either. Then I saw all the messages, I called her and she told me about it.
And have you had time to celebrate it yet?
Actually, for me getting it is already a prize. I didn’t need to celebrate it as such.
You just received this award on the 50th anniversary of Zalacaín. You could say it’s been a rounded year. Can you think of any other perfect finishing touch?
I don’t think we should ask for more. It has been a round year and we are not going to be exaggerated asking for something more for the pension. We’ll settle for that -laughs-.
You’ve been with the restaurant for almost 23 years this year. If you look back to the year 2000, how do you remember that first day you walked through this door?
The truth is that my memory of that moment was like being in the best possible place in the restaurant business and at the hand of Custodio, my teacher. And the whole team that was there at that time. The diffusion in magazines was much more important. I had all the magazines where Zalacaín appeared and I followed him a lot. So I remember it with great respect. To really start here and with Custodio’s help, seeing how they serve and how they work in the restaurant…. So let’s say that my pulse almost trembled when it came to serving the diners. But well, little by little I seem to be trembling less -laughs-.
Are sommeliers born or made?
I don’t think you are born a sommelier either, I think it’s how. As I just said, you have to learn little by little and every day you become one.
Custodio was the one who opened the doors for you. More than 20 years later, you are in that situation. How do you approach that role with the new generations?
It is complicated. I think that nowadays the hotel and catering business is as complicated as it is, it is compromised in that sense. I see it that way, even in this restaurant. The philosophy that I have always followed at work is to enter when you are younger and you start to develop professionally. You get to know the house, the restaurant and see the degree of professionalism. It’s the way it was done in the old days in the trades. You were learning from the masters, as happened to me. I think it’s more complicated nowadays. People want to snap their fingers and get it all done. Sometimes it’s not that easy. Besides, in the world of wine, you are learning every day. You never know everything. And that’s a bit of a negative point that I see for today’s hospitality industry.
You’ve been in the same restaurant for 23 years, which is a long time…
I don’t know if I’ve been very conservative, but I’ve always considered that it was the best place possible. So I haven’t needed to look for another place. Right now there is also a crazy turnover of staff. I think you have to look for the place you like. It’s true that it may cost you and you won’t do it the first time, but I also consider having a bit of stability before moving from one place to another.
From your perspective at Zalacaín, how have you seen the world of gastronomy evolve over the years?
Obviously there has been an evolution. In the world of wine and also in the kitchen, of course. The dishes are perhaps now much more elaborate or more beautiful, they look like brushes. And the world of wine has changed a lot in the last 23 years. There has been a boom in wine-growing areas, which practically did not exist, and now they are becoming referents with great wines. In any area of Spain you have some interesting wine to taste. And that has helped a lot that there has been an important boom.
Do you think the average diner has increased his knowledge of wine?
They are getting to know more and more wines, and customers are also demonstrating it. It’s like what happens to me, that every day you have to increase your knowledge. The same thing happens to customers. They are soaking up more knowledge every day. Some even teach you; others you can see that they want to, but they don’t reach the knowledge they think they express.
And activities such as wine tourism, which has gained a lot of presence, also help to bring wine closer to the public and generate interest?
It is a way to learn more about the world of wine. It is dynamic and fun because you travel, visit, meet, see and taste. I think this is a very fun and dynamic way to get to know it well.
Is the figure of the sommelier reserved exclusively for haute cuisine?
Unfortunately, I would say that perhaps a specific and precise figure of sommelier is reserved much more for great restaurants. They are the ones who champion them. But I think there are also other small restaurants that have them, maybe they are a little more diversified, not so well represented. But we are going to appeal for this figure to be much more notorious.
It is becoming more and more common for smaller venues to put more emphasis on specializing in wine.
That’s good, and having that representation in smaller places can even help to promote wines and that resource much more. It is true that there are times when this is the case. But then other times, with two questions, if you have a little more knowledge, you know that they don’t go very well. I don’t care because I’m not going to criticize either. But it is true that if there were a little more specialization and professionalization, it would be much better.
A reference in the world of wine.
Above all, I think Pitu Roca from El Celler. For me he is a reference, a great person, a great sommelier and very close.
3 places in Madrid to have a good wine.
- I really like Lavinia. Now you can no longer eat there, but you can always go there to drink great wines.
- There is also a small restaurant called El Albero, in Paracuellos del Jarama. It has good wines and, besides, you can eat very well.
- And finally, the restaurant A’Kangas -which belongs to the group-. They are friends and they take care of me and we drink very well there.
A winery you envy?
For me ReKondo is one of the great wineries in the world and this summer I was able to get to know it.
Any ‘sacrilege’ that diners usually do?
In the end, customers also drink wine the way they like it. There are many times that, I don’t know if they would consider it sacrilege, but they tell me like this: “I know it’s not the usual thing to do, but can I have some ice in my wine? If the customer enjoys it, it won’t be. Maybe it would be more sacrilegious to combine it, to make some calimocho, with some soft drink. But well, if the public, the customer enjoys it… we may consider it a sacrilege, but in the end the enjoyment for the customer is what counts. And that is what moves us as well -laughs-.