Rebeca Hernández

Rebeca Hernández is a chef and owner of La Berenjena restaurant in Madrid. She believes that cooking is a cultural value to be cherished and protected and keeps track of good street food from every corner of the world. Rebeca works every day to convey her support for sustainability through her dishes.

Portrait of chef Rebeca Hernandez

Chef Rebeca Hernández portrait by Donna Salama

When and how did sustainability first become important to you?

Since I was a child, my parents have told me about the importance of respecting nature and its greatness. I imagine that sustainability, as it was understood years ago, was still the educational basis on which I grew up – hook fishing, controlled livestock, free-range chicken and seasonality. Over the years I have been finding out how to improve this philosophy with more responsible habits and a way of life.

What made you decide to get involved with the MSC?

Certification for me is very important as it establishes standards of consumption and care for species and the environment. This guarantees control – not only of species, of the sea and people's livelihoods – but also the quality of the products, their origin and preservation before they reach our kitchens. The MSC is good news for nature, and the development of its work seems essential to me. Scientifically, it also helps us with greater knowledge of species and the different forms of life.

Why is it important to inspire and encourage people to cook healthy and sustainable seafood?

We are our environment and we are the future of the sea. Our legacy will be very poor if we do not begin to understand our effect on nature, the sea, the species and the people that make a living from it.

What advice would you give to someone who is new to cooking seafood?

I recommend to be very selective with the fish you purchase. Look for the MSC blue seal which guarantees sustainability. Treat seafood as a delicacy. Fish should be lightly cooked and budding chefs should respect its textures.

What makes the traditional Spanish approach to cooking so unique?

Spain is a country which respects tradition and we value the cultures which have passed through the Iberian peninsula and left their gastronomic imprint. Celts, Iberians, Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Carthaginians, Jews, Arabs… the history of Spanish cuisine is one of the most varied and interesting in the world. Our gastronomy reflects not only the nations which have colonised our country but the countries that Spain have conquered in the past as well.

Can tradition teach us something about sustainable fish?

Because Spain is mostly surrounded by water, fish has been at the heart of our cuisine since prehistoric times. We use ancient, sustainable methods – such as salting, pickling or smoking our produce – to preserve our seafood. We have made use of our resources previously in a sustainable fashion – and can do so again.

How can we ensure that sustainability filters into street food?

By working with the least number of intermediaries possible. Also by buying products whose origin and fishing methods are local and which we know. Choosing MSC labelled fish products naturally as well. Awareness plays an incredibly important role.

Fishermen are greatly respected among Spanish people. Why is this?

Fishermen have put food on people’s tables for millennia in Spain. Fish and shellfish are fundamental aspects of our diet and naturally the people who go out and catch it are hugely respected by Spaniards. They hold a place of honour for the role they play in our communities and their resilience in what is a demanding profession. But we also respect them for the traditional fishing philosophy they stay true to. This is seen in regions like Galicia, a unique marine ecosystem in the world, which remains in good condition thanks to the local fishermen’s sustainable methods.

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