If you are a keen foodie then you are undoubtedly aware of the granting of a new Michelin star for Messina in Marbella: the elegant restaurant in which Mauricio plays the role of Chef and his wife Pía Ninci, that of Maitre’d and Sommelier.

The star may still be shining brightly with its novelty, but locals always identified Messina as one of the top establishments for fine dining on the Costa del Sol, as a restaurant where meticulously prepared and refreshingly creative cuisine is married to service that is, quite simply, unique, and not the least bit snobby. We recently caught up with Mauricio, who could hardly contain his excitement after having achieved the highly merited star.

Tell us what receiving Messina’s first Michelin star was like!

The star was awarded to us in Santiago de Compostela at the Palacio Dos Reis Católicos. They only extend the invite to one person so I was alone, but I was connected via telephone to the entire staff, who were eagerly awaiting the news at the restaurant. This year, the gala wasn’t live streamed, so Pía and the team had to rely on my live updates. I would speak into the microphone telling them what was going on.

Eventually, I disconnected the phone as I nervously awaited whether or not they would call the name ‘Messina’. When they did I felt a tremendous sense of joy. I have dedicated my life to cooking for almost 20 years so to finally receive the star was immensely gratifying.

Did you manage to do a bit of sightseeing in Santiago de Compostela?
Yes, the Michelin organisation did a great job of taking us sightseeing and I was able to network with lots of other Chefs. Everyone from Arzak to Carme Ruscalleda and Martín Berasategui were there and all the invited Chefs enjoyed a meal in which we did more talking than eating!

Tell us about your current gastronomic philosophy…
We are working on creating novel, creamy textures using new ingredient combinations. I don’t mind sacrificing the aesthetics for textures that bring emotions to the palate. One ingredient we are using a lot in our experimentation is macadamia – we are creating new crèmes that we serve, for instance, atop a razor clam. We also use macadamia crème to add texture to broth, or we whip it up to make cream.

Do you use animal-based ingredients to create new creamy textures as well?
Yes, we obtain gelatin from pig ears, to add texture to beef broth, for instance. Cod bladder, meanwhile, also contains a gelatin that creates a wonderful texture for soups, as do the flippers of manta rays. It takes hours to make the crèmes, and although they look quite simple in a dish, they add a unique texture and flavour that makes every second of their preparation worthwhile.

What trends are you noticing on the current Spanish culinary scene?
We are definitely going back to the search for subtle, serious cooking with a good, solid foundation. There are always Chefs who aim for shock value, but most of us want to be taken seriously and that means pleasing the diner and meeting their expectations. When you are a young Chef, you tend to ‘pull out all the stops’ but as you mature, the surprise factor diminishes in importance.

What comments by diners most surprise you?
They often surprise me quite pleasantly, by saying that at Messina, the service is even better than the food! (Mauricio laughs). My wife, Pía, is the Maitre’d and Sommelier and recently, she was one of three Maitre’ds asked to speak at Andalucía Sabor, where she shared tips on how to make the customer experience a truly excellent one.

Messina has never been a stuffy restaurant; our aim is to make diners feel comfortable. We are discrete but friendly; our hope is to make customers feel really at home, and Pía is a natural at the art of customer service. Our team is solid and has been described in the press as ‘moving as though they were part of a ballet performance.’ Most of our staff have been with us for many years and our unity shows in the service we provide.

Have you raised your prices since obtaining the Michelin star?
No, we were the same restaurant last year as we are now so raising the price doesn’t make sense. However, since the awarding of the star, most people opt for our tasting menus (there is one, nine-dish menu and one 14-dish menu), which makes for a richer experience and is also better for Messina itself.

Congratulations once again to Mauricio, Pía and the team. We cannot think of any more worthy restaurant. Keep aiming for the stars!

Words Marisa Cutillas