Being born in a town such as Aranda de Duero (Burgos) gives people character; let’s call it a gourmet character. Raúl Calleja confesses to be a lover of good food and of the lamb reared in the area, although his tastes go way beyond wood-burning ovens: for our appointment he chose the trendiest Asian restaurant in Madrid. A faithful follower of Master Chef, he is a dab hand in the kitchen on a daily basis. He boasts that his oxtail with rice is second to none.
He is 41 years old and he studied Economics, specialising in Marketing and Business Management, in Valladolid. His beard and haircut are those of a hipster, but he bucks against this label. He has been working for IFEMA for the past decade and managing Fruit Attraction for the past seven years, the second most important event at the Madrid Trade Fair Centre and the one that is growing most.
Although few people imagine it, there is a good musical predisposition in his genes. In fact, he plays three instruments: the dulzaina flute, the Spanish whistle and the accordion. His grandfather was a professional musician and his great uncle was one of the best clarinet players in Europe. At home, with his parents singing, the sound of the 7 musical notes was engraved in fire on his mind.
Raúl arrived at our meeting, in the old quarter of Madrid, carrying his three musical instruments.
When did you start playing music?
At the age of 8 I was already playing my first notes on a recorder. My family have always been linked to the world of music. My grandfather formed part of the Band of Palencia and his brother was one of the best clarinet players in Europe.
When I was small, on a local radio programme, they asked for people to show off their skills and my mother encouraged me to present myself because I showed promise. And that is how I began.
What has music given you?
Nature moves and sounds on a specific frequency, although we are not physically able to hear it. Music forms part of our essence, it develops creativity, balance and rhythm. On a more worldly plane, I can say that when I was young I travelled around many countries at a time when people of my age did not do so. I was a member of a folk group in Aranda del Duero and this allowed me to travel all over Europe from the age of 14.
I suppose that you have many anecdotes to tell about this period of your life?
Of course. When I was 17 we went to Denmark to a Peoples of the World folk festival and we spent all our money on the first day, so we started busking in the street. In just an hour we made quite a lot of money, but the police arrived and confiscated our instruments because busking was not allowed. The Spanish embassy had to intervene to untangle the situation and get our instruments back as we had to play that night.
What type of music do you play? Would you have played professionally?
We perform Spanish folk music, traditional music and brass band music to liven up the village festivals. I have never considered becoming a professional player, but rather I like to enjoy it to the full. It is my main hobby. I like to play so that people can dance.
What memories of your childhood do you have?
We had to live in Brazil for two years due to my father’s work. This was at the time when the coup d’état took place in Spain. When I got home from school, the whole house was in tears because my parents believed that under these circumstances we would never return to Aranda. Fortunately this was not the case.
You look quite like a hipster, don’t you?
Do I? I’d never thought about it.
Your beard and haircut are the latest trend.
Well, my beard is really due to laziness more than anything else. Also, if I shaved it off now, I think my son would not recognise me. And he likes it, he plays with it.
Who are your favourite groups or singers?
I am a great fan of Celtas Cortos; they remind me of my life in Valladolid and Guns N’ Roses have always been my favourite group. On the 31st of this month I am going to see ACDC in the Vicente Calderón stadium.
Do you really cook every day? Some people have all the luck!
Yes and I do the shopping as well. At home, we have shared out the housework and my wife and I each do what we like best. My favourite option is cooking and I forgot to mention that I also make some slow cooker stews that are delicious.
I have seen on Facebook that you go to pick milk cap mushrooms in the country.
Yes, and afterwards I can make a dish of chickpeas with milk cap mushrooms and snails that is delicious. But the best bit is picking them in the country and spending the day with family and friends.
Please don’t carry on; you are making my mouth water… Did you ever imagine that one day you would be managing a fruit and vegetable event like Fruit Attraction?
Well no, but I can say that it is a great honour and responsibility to have the chance to organise the sector’s important sales event in the country that is the main fresh produce supplier in the world.
What do you like to read?
I am a big fan of Javier Sierra – I think I have read all his books and I am always waiting for the latest one to come out, although at the moment I am reading one by Michael Crane, “La setta di Lazzaro”.
And what about sports?
I leave this for the weekend and I play paddle tennis, pelota and when we manage to get away, I go cycling on my mountain bike. We have a mobile home on a campsite at La Cabrera and there I enjoy nature and barbecues along with my wife and three children.