Fran Martìnez: Two MICHELIN Star Menu at 65 euro. "My Restaurant Is for Everyone."

Alessandra Meldolesi
copertina fran martinez

In Almansa, in the Castile-La Mancha community, Fran Martínez and Cristina Diaz maintain their two MICHELIN Stars with accessibly priced menus starting at 65 euros. "And if one day the third should come, it is meant to be for this restaurant and this way of looking at cuisine."

The news

While Rasmus Kofoed raises the price of his tasting menu to 510 euros, elsewhere there are those who dream differently. Specifically, Fran Martínez and Cristina Diaz, who after founding Maralba 20 years ago, have been awarded with two MICHELIN-stars and are now aiming for their third. This could also be Castilla-La Mancha's first three Michelin-star restaurant, while embodying a completely different strategy.

The two met while working at Mas Pau for Michelin-star chef Sagristà. Then, they launched their own debut in the small-town Almansa. Fran cooking the kitchen, Cristina serving in the dining room as well as curating the wine cellar. When starting the restaurant they served a Catalan-French influenced style of fine dining. "In the end, when you open a restaurant, you replicate what you've seen done in other places. We served classical fine dining dishes, speaking from our experience, but that style didn’t attract guests as we hoped it would. The bar counter, which is common in restaurants around here, was missing, and 20 years ago it was hard to be served fine dining in this area. There were times when no one wanted to dine in gourmet restaurants." The couple tried almost everything to attract customers in the past, but mostly without much success. Until the "turning point" came in 2009, when a dish called ajopringue came in as one of the main starters. Ajopringue is a rustic local specialty made with pork liver and spices, that was prepared according to Cristina's grandmother's recipe and found great appreciation among customers. We felt that we had to focus our cuisine on the recovery of local dishes and their origins: "I understood that I had to cook food from Castilla-La Mancha, but in an evolved and creative way." Maybe including a nice Mediterranean overlook, given his passion for saltwater fish.

"It was still really difficult until we received our first star. But with that, we finally felt recognition for the work that my wife, my team, and I were doing. From 2003 to 2011 we struggled and sacrificed a lot, but today I see things in a new light and realize all the effort we have put into this. We have no regrets and by today Maralba has become nationally and internationally known. We now know what it means to suffer, but also how to enjoy success."

In addition to the two stars, the restaurant was awarded three Repsol suns and Cristina was selected best sommelier of Spain. Not bad at all for a family restaurant where the customer continues to be the central focus. The menu is extraordinarily accessible, with tasting menus starting at a modest price of 65 euros, with possibilities of choosing more elaborate versions for 90 or 100 euros. "For us it's a matter of honesty. The origins are the same, but there are fewer dishes. Instead of serving shrimp or fried bread dough with caviar, you are being served braised chicken, mullet, or artichokes. We don't want to exclude the regulars, who like to sit at our tables. This is not a tourist area where people can spend 200 euros for a meal. I don't want to achieve the impossible, I want to live off of this, and as for now Maralba is full every day."

"I have always been dedicated to fine dining. It’s the only thing I’ve learned. As a professional and as a chef, it would be a dream for me to one day receive three stars, which is something I have been fighting for since we got the second. But if the third star is ever to come, it is meant to be at this restaurant, with this interpretation of cooking and fine dining."


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