Saray Ruiz

A Sweets Lover

12/02/2019 · By Beatriz Portinari
saray ruiz gastronomy openning
The master chocolatier has won the top prize at the 11th Championship for Best Master Artisan Chocolatier Lluís Santapau Trophy, a contest that claims recognition for quality confectionery and artisanal chocolate in Spain. © Courtesy of Saray Ruiz

Saray Ruiz is the first woman to win the top prize at the 11th Championship for Best Master Artisan Chocolatier Lluís Santapau Trophy. Her next challenge is to lead the Spanish team at the World Cup of Pastry in Lyon in 2021. Two great news for a bubbling career.

Imagine a childhood among pantxinetas, intxaursalsas and fried cream-filled pastry tubes, to name just a few traditional Basque pastries. And a 13-year-old girl who spends the summer in Bilbao with her uncles and asks them to let her help them at the restaurant they run. Like them, she wakes up at 5am and waits for them dressed and ready in the kitchen so they don't leave without her. That girl is today pastry master Saray Ruiz (Bilbao, 1985), the first woman to win the 11th Championship for Best Master Artisan Chocolatier Lluís Santapau Trophy and the captain of the Spanish team that will compete at the World Cup of Pastry, to be held in Lyon in 2021.

“Whenever I’m asked about the Lluís Santapau Trophy, I think, well, it’s not that I’m ‘the best chocolatier’ but the best among all contestants. I’m sure there are better chocolatiers”, says Saray, who is donating the prize money to cancer research. “My first dessert was a cheesecake I made with my grandmother, who also used to make a delicious goxua (a typical Basque sweet). Everyone remembers my grandma for her cooking, although the men in my family have also been good cooks; in fact, my father is the one who cooks at home.”

Saray owes her solid background making sweets, cakes and chocolates to her Basque ancestry, to her teenage years in Alicante and to the excellent training she received at the Barcelona Confectionary Guild School, ​​where she is currently teaching theory and practice and instilling in her students the vocation and the generosity needed to become the best confectioner in the country.

Vocation and Vindication

Interestingly, the career path of this pastry master took a 180 degree turn at the age of 24. First, without a vocation, she studied Business Management and Administration, combining her degree’s syllabus with cooking blogs and books that she would read all the time. When she finished her studies, she left everything behind to start over again. “I have a friend who got ill with cancer at a very young age, and she used to tell me: ‘Saray, you must study cooking, that’s what you like, don't waste your life.’” When I arrived at the Barcelona Pastry School to start studying something that really made me happy was a bittersweet moment because my friend passed away that day.”

Saray chose confectionary because it was the most technical and complex discipline of all. And as soon as she entered the school, she knew she wanted to be a teacher there, sharing a classroom with high-level pastry teachers such as Raúl Bernal, Olivier Fernández and José Romero. “Teaching is very gratifying, but also a great responsibility, and I hope to live up to it. I prepared for the Santa Pau Trophy in just one month. Those were terrible days. But I wanted to do it to motivate my students, and especially my female students, because up until this moment no woman had won this trophy. And although I have never felt discrimination because I’m lucky to be surrounded by a team that believes in equality, I wanted to give visibility to women's work. I had a lot of pressure because I risked not winning and then teach fifty people on the following day. How could I motivate them if I didn't win? This award was an example for my students to see that you can achieve anything you set out to do with work and effort,” says Ruiz.

“I entered for the Lluís Santapau Trophy to give visibility to women’s work”

Between Marvel and the Pastry World Cup

For the first time in the history of the Championship for Best Master Artisan Chocolatier, there was a mandatory theme: Marvel, which wasn’t easy for a pastry teacher who isn’t fond of this type of comics or films. She spent weeks reading about the origins of the Marvel sagas and about their main characters and symbols to create a universe made up of chocolates, cakes, dough balls, truffles, sweet and salty popcorn and an artistic piece with chocolate as the main element. “I like to mull over things a lot, to learn about the history behind a plate or a cake, so I decided to reproduce the garage where Marvel was created, to go where it all originated. I wanted to recreate that utopian space of the American dream. And since Stan Lee, the creator, had died in 2018, I wanted to nod to his cameos in films and to his retirement, like when you leave a job and put all your personal items and tokens into a box,” she says.

After winning the Lluís Santapau Trophy, not only she received the deserved applause of the school’s students and teachers but also of her fellow pastry chefs, who consider her one of the most relevant names in their profession. Now her immediate challenge is to get ready to lead the Spanish team at the World Cup of Pastry. The time trial has already begun. The first phase is taking place six months earlier than expected, in January 2020, in Paris, where they will compete against other European countries. If they qualify, they will reach the finale, to be held in Lyon in 2021. “Realistically, if we manage to get to Lyon, we will compete against France and, how can I put this every time France competes, France wins. It’s very difficult to win with such an opponent, but I still think that nothing is impossible!”