RAFAEL CENTENO MOYER
MICHELIN STARRED CHEF
Chef Rafael Centeno came across the wonders of the culinary world by chance… and discovered he had a huge talent for it.
Chef Rafael who heads Maruja Limón, is a genuine phenomenon. A completely self-taught chef, who accidentally walked into the kitchen of his wife’s restaurant and a decade later received his city´s only Michelin star. Furthermore, he was listed as one the 100 best chefs in Spain by Lo Mejor de la Gastronomía.
The restaurant, named after Rafael’s mother in law (Limón is a homage to an old, famous Flamenco song), has operated for the past 15 years in the Galician city of Vigo, located on the Atlantic coast near the border with Portugal. In the late 90´s, after Rafael’s Olympic pentathlon career abruptly ended with a knee injury, he was searching for something new. He joined his wife’s restaurant as a manager. After watching a documentary on the legendary restaurant El Celler de Can Roca in Cataluña he realised he´d found his new vocation. Rafael discovered the philosophy and complexity of the culinary world and was hooked. “I was mesmerised and eager to learn everything,” he says.“I spent hours training.”
Today, together with chef Inés Abril, who participated in the popular Spanish TV program 2014 Top Chef – the restaurant offers a fresh, light, richly flavored and textured interpretation of local Galician cuisine, with its abundance of fish and seafood (befitting Europe’s largest fishing port).
The menu is updated every few months, based on the best available seasonal ingredients. “I want to capture the true nature of the produce in my dishes,” he says. “To create a simple cuisine with traditional roots, which relies on the freshest ingredients, found every day in the market. The use of sauces and condiments is always minimal, because I want to ensure that the original flavors remain clear and distinct.” His aspiration has certainly paid off. In 2010 the restaurant received a Michelin star, which it maintains up to this day.
FERNANDO P. ARELLANO
TWO STARRED MICHELIN CHEF
“To be universal, you have to be local,” says two starred Michelin chef Fernando P. Arrellano.
Award-winning culinary master Fernando first decided to become a chef after watching them in action whilst washing dishes at a London restaurant aged just 18. Determined to break into this world he studied cooking for three years at the Dublin Institute of Technology graduating in 2000. He then managed to find work at some of the best restaurants in Europe such as Patrick Guilbaud and two-star Thorton’s in Dublin, Le Gavroche, three-star Waterside Inn and Gordon Ramsey’s three-star establishment in London, Don Alfonso 1890 in Naples, the famous three-star Maison Pic in Valence and three-star Can Fabes in Barcelona.“To absorb, filter and interpret,” says Fernando. “That´s always been my motto.” Which is just what he did.
Then aged just 27, he launched his own project in Madrid. In September 2005 he opened the Zaranda restaurant. Off the beaten track in a secluded side street in Madrid, this small restaurant only had room for 34 diners. But it made a big impression. Spanish newspaper El Mundo named it “Best new restaurant in Madrid 2005” that same year and the same award was given by American Food and Wine Magazine. Barely 11 months after it had opened, the Michelin Guide awarded it one star followed by the Repsol Guide which gave it two suns. Fernando was also named “Cook of the Year” by television channel Canal Cocina in 2008. The Lo Mejor de la Gastronomía guide presented him with the Al Grande del Mañana (Best Young Chef) prize for his pioneering efforts and in the following year with the Technical and Conceptual Innovation prize for his cutting-edge methods and style.
After five years in Madrid, the restaurant moved, along with all his team, to Mallorca, where they immediately recovered their Michelin star. Ten years later, Zaranda has established itself on the island as one of its leading restaurants receiving its second Michelin star in November 2015 – making it the only restaurant on the island with two stars. They cited “Excellent technique… and surprising fusion of flavours…” as some of Fernando’s many skills.
Spanish national newspaper El Pais has since named it the second-best hotel restaurant in Spain and German Restaurant Ranglisten considers it the number one restaurant in Mallorca. It has also been awarded “Best Restaurant of Mallorca” in the Grand Prix Gourmet two years in a row.
Fernando’s paprika spiced octopus and potato veloute and white onion and cuttlefish caviar are considered works of art. As is his traditional crispy fried razor – wrasse with peppers and garlic & parsley dressing. The creative process never ends for this most innovative of Spanish chefs but he remains modest. “I like to be effective but without going too far,” he says. “I´m not a magician.” Only, his fans and culinary experts worldwide know that he is…
MIGUEL BARRERA BARRACHINA
MICHELIN STARRED CHEF
Living on a farm until he was 11 was an inspiration to Chef Miguel Barrera.
“I grew up surrounded by wild herbs, fresh vegetables, fruit orchards and animals”, he says fondly. “This connection with nature influenced my style of cooking more than anything else.” His family moved soon after and set up a restaurant. Then aged 20, Miguel attended the Castellón Catering School in Valencia in 1982, at that time considered the best in Spain. There, teacher Dativo Pérez introduced him to the secrets of Nouvelle Cuisine. “I’d picked up a few things from my parents,” he says. “But learning new techniques opened up a new world of fascinating possibilities.”
Chef Miguel didn’t travel the country working in different restaurants like many chefs. Instead, he stayed put, honing his techniques, always curious to discover new combinations. In 2005, he remodeled his existing premises and re-named the restaurant Cal Paradís, meaning The House of Paradise. Intimate, cosy domesticity and a new way of understanding food was his signature identity. Penjar semi-dry tomatoes with sardine alioli and barbecued garlic was one of his first dishes. It still holds pride of place on his menu years on. As do his baby squid in meatballs. Wild hare rice with mushrooms and truffles was another of his creations along with hake cocoxa, fried cauliflower and vegetable couscous. “I wanted people to recognize my dishes instantly”, he says. “For my creations to have a distinct personality.”
Greatly influenced by his childhood spent on the farm, he based his dishes around local products. “I aimed to use 90% local and seasonal produce”, he says. Keen to pick the best catch of the day, Chef Miguel goes to his local fish market every morning at 8am. Nestling in between mountains and the sea, his restaurant boasts the best fish and seafood as well as wild mushrooms, truffles and artichokes.
In 2012, the Valencian Gastronomy Academy named Cal Paradís the Revelation Restaurant of the year. “Of all the prizes we received over the years, which number some 20 awards, this was the most significant because it was the first.” he reveals. “Getting outside recognition was such a boost.” The following year his restaurant received a Repsol Guide Sun Award and then a Michelin Star. “It meant so much,” he recalls. “Suddenly your clientele grows and becomes more international.”
In 2016, he took charge of the Mindoro de Castelló hotel restaurant. He was also voted Best National Chef 2017, awarded by the Spanish Federation of Wine and Gastronomy Associations. This year he designed the menu at a new NH establishment due to open in Valencia. Chef Miguel, who has since been awarded a second Repsol Guide Sun Award, has also just launched a book this June called La Despensa Perfecta. La cocina de Miquel Barrera (The Perfect Pantry. Miguel Barrera’s kitchen). In it he tracks Valencian gastronomy from the 14th Century until the present day, of which he is one of its leading lights. “Spanish gastronomy is one of the ones which has most evolved in the world”, he says. “It’s all about simple, tasty food which has a close connection with nature and feels like coming home with the first bite. Regardless of whether it’s the first time you’ve ever tried it. That’s magic.”
IGNACIO SOLANA PÉREZ
MICHELIN STARRED CHEF
Cooking in chef Ignacio Solana’s family goes back four generations.
His great-grandparents opened the original establishment just after the Spanish Civil War in 1938 – the same restaurant Solana which he still runs today. Aged just 13, Ignacio studied at the respected catering school – Escuela de Hostelería in Laredo, Cantabria, northern Spain. “It wasn’t a passion back then” he reveals. “It was a way of life, something I fitted into naturally”.
Five years on, Ignacio began working at some of the top restaurants in Spain such as Real Club Náutico in Laredo, (Cantabria) the then Michelin star restaurant Aldebarán in Badajoz, (Extremadura), Túbal in Tafalla, (Navarra) and Michelin star restaurant Europa in Pamplona, (Navarra) where he became the second in command. “That’s when I truly fell in love with cooking,” he says. Along with the huge variations in Spanish gastronomy. “You only have to travel 100 miles in Spain to discover different climates, food and traditions,” he says. “That’s what makes our gastronomy so special.”
Then in 2004, aged just 24, he took over his family´s restaurant giving it a contemporary twist but not forgetting his mother’s legendary stews. “People came from miles away to try her chicken Picasuelos, Cantabrian mountain cocido and hake stews,” he says proudly. Now critics raved about dishes like roasted leeks with salted cod in a pil-pil sauce and black garlic and green mustard, poached egg, wild mushrooms and truffles, fresh oysters in Cantabrian gazpacho, Alaskan wild salmon tartar with cucumber ice cream. “We made a green pepper caviar which was simple and amazing and we did lots of wonderful things with tomatoes and lobster,” he says. “We loved combining vegetables with seafood.”
Three years later, he had an annex built and then in 2012, aged just 31, he received the acclaimed Michelin star. One of just ten of the youngest Spanish young chefs to receive the coveted award. Chef Ignacio began to travel, meeting other chefs. “My world opened up,” he adds.
More prizes and awards followed such as a Respol Guide Sun Award, the 2014 Premio Arco-Atlántico awarded to the best chef in Cantabria and the Prize for the Best Croquette in the World in 2017 awarded at Madrid Fusion. “The secret to our croquette is that we make the béchamel with raw milk, which makes it creamier and then we add some of the best Spanish pata negra ham,” he says.
Spaniards will literally travel hundreds of miles for an exceptional croquette, one of the most iconic of tapas in Spain. Now, instead of making 10 litres of béchamel a week, Ignacio makes 10 litres every day.
Chef Ignacio continues to be one of the most well-respected chefs in Spain, applauded by critics and public alike, regularly giving conferences all over the world. His philosophy is simple. Use the best available local products which have been lovingly cared for and prepare them with flair and respect. “For the Spanish, food is like a religion” he says. “We eat for pleasure and a chef’s mission is to provide that.”
MICHELIN STARRED CHEF
Iván Domínguez’s motto is respect for the product, elegance and flavour…
Iván Domínguez is a chef who doesn’t do things by halves. He joined the Spanish Navy when he was 17 and worked in the kitchens preparing daily meals for up to 600 soldiers during the Iraq war in 2003. After he left the Navy, he returned to his home city of La Coruña in Galicia, Northwest Spain and enrolled at the Fraga do Eume Cookery School.
“I knew this profession required vocation, passion, creativity and sacrifice,” he says, due to his life at sea. “But I wanted to be an innovative chef. I wanted to learn more.” Working for a catering company at the weekends he learnt to work with huge quantities of food for weddings and events. “Not using tins like we had on board the ship,” he says. “But with fresh and high quality ingredients.” “That’s when I realised the sheer physical and psychological effort which was needed.” And a star was born.
Soon after he went to work at the Casa Pendás restaurant, famous for its stews and other restaurants such as Loxe Mareiro, specializing in fish and seafood and O Retiro da Costiña which has one Michelin star. Iván also worked at Casa Marcelo, a Michelin star restaurant in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, famous for its avant-garde dishes such as cafetocaldo (consomé in a coffeepot), tomate kinder (tomato filled with cream), the miniempanada, a mini pie cooked in a tin of cockles. Perhaps its most attention grabbing dish was a liquid aerosol bread…
“Our team was so close we had breakfast together in the market every day an hour before work and bought all the food there for the restaurant, just like that, without intermediaries.” Iván was headhunted soon after by his current restaurant Alborada in La Coruña which attained a Michelin star in 2010 which it preserves up till this day and two Respol Guide Sun Awards.
As the head chef and gastronomic director, he defines his style as Atlantic Gastronomy. “We use fresh, quality products from the sea and local farms,” he explains. “Our dishes are very personal, artisan and we use locally-sourced organic products.” “We surround ourselves with the very best seasonal products. We understand why farmers feed their chickens the way they do and what time of year sole is most delicious. We want to rely on technique but no solely on that in designing a dish. Above all, the most fundamental thing is that it needs to taste amazing.”
MICHELIN STARRED CHEF
One of the youngest chefs of his generation to receive a Michelin Star, Yayo Daporta, has always had a strong emotional connection with food.
“My whole family cooked together and my grandmother’s Pepitoria chicken was legendary,” he says. “At 16 I regularly prepared clam fideuà and cheesecake for my friends.” Chef Yayo was awarded his Michelin star in 2007 at the age of 31, just two years after he opened his restaurant, Yayo Daporta. “I was shocked and elated,” he says. “I hadn’t expected such instant recognition.”
Curiously, Yayo had not always been certain he would be a chef. After training at the Escuela de Hostelería de Santiago de Compostela, he chose to work at his family’s seafood business instead. “I was only 21 and not ready to commit to the long hours and demands of a kitchen.” he explains. But a chance to work with Michelin star chef Pepe Solla at his restaurant Casa Solla at 27, changed the course of his life. “The creativity and sophistication of his dishes blew my mind,” he remembers. “I knew then, my place was in the kitchen.” A stint at Michelin star restaurant Alejandro in Almería, followed by Carmen Guasp’s legendary restaurant El Amparo in Madrid sealed his fate.
“I learnt to treat each ingredient with respect and was taught to draw out the essential essence of their flavour,” he says, especially proud of working alongside Basque chef Carlos Posada. Aged 29, Yayo opened his restaurant in 2005 in his home town of Cambados, Northwest Spain, an area famous for having some of the best seafood and fish in the world. An 18th century former royal hospital, the restaurant exudes a traditional charm with a modern twist which matched the young chef’s dishes.
“Spanish gastronomy is very special because each region preserves its culinary identity and heritage,” he says. “This was what we try to transmit, but updated and unexpected.” The restaurant which he runs with his sister Esther, a professional sommelier, has since also been awarded two Repsol Sun Awards.
A judge on Spain’s top ranking show Top Chef in 2014, Chef Yayo remains modest about his success. “I simply cook from the heart, always respecting the product, striving to improve every day”. His signature dishes confirm his deep love of the sea and commitment to drawing out the essence of fresh, honest, lovingly-prepared ingredients. Cambados oyster ceviche, inshore-fished hake in mollusc fumet and marinated and baked horse-mackerel sashimi… all a testament to Chef Yayo’s love affair with food.
MICHELIN STARRED CHEF
CHEF “It all about giving people what they want – and doing it well” says Chef Fernando Agrasar.
Fernando is a well-respected chef and proprietor of the As Garzas restaurant situated in Malpica, on Galicia’s famously beautiful and treacherous Coast of Death in Galicia, Northwest Spain. Battered by up to nine-metre waves, the wild North Atlantic coastline provides some of the best fish and seafood in the world and Fernando knows just how to bring out its unique flavours.
Fernando is a self-taught chef who learnt his trade working in Michelin Star chef Toñi Vicente’s restaurant, Garfio in Denia, Alicante, Spain. He has held his Michelin star since 2010 and his restaurant is famous for creative and honest cooking. “We believe in good, down-to-earth home cooking, with a modern twist” says Fernando. “Our intention is not to force people to eat what I dictate. We like to let them choose what they fancy.”
Which is why there is always a rice dish on the menu – lobster with rice being one of his signature dishes along with wonders such as scallop carpaccio, Galician octopus and with potato foam in a shot glass… The ingredients are the true stars in Fernando’s kitchen. “It’s all about the product,” he explains. “Sometimes the simplest dishes are the hardest to produce well.” Being awarded the Michelin Star hasn’t changed Fernando, but it has opened doors. “We get a lot of people from different countries who discover us because of the guide,” he says.
He has also won many other prizes. Sol Repsol 2010, National Gastronomy Prize “Alvaro Cunqueiro” in 2011, Coast of Death “Faros Nerios” prize in 2012, the Malpica de Bergantiños “Doces do Antroido” prize from 2009 to 2011. He was also responsible for organising the “Rota das Estrelas” Gastronomy Festival in Portugal in September, 2015. One this is for sure, Fernando will continue winning prizes for many years to come.
Chef Juan Crujeiras likes making people happy through his cooking. “Is there anything better than that?” he asks.
“People sometimes tell me something they’ve eaten has brought back memories from their childhood or a loved one. That’s success for me.” After studying to be a chef in Santiago de Compostela, Juan trained at a succession of top restaurants in A Coruña, Northwest Spain.
But it was the opening of his restaurant A Estación in 2002 which changed everything. In 2009 he received a Michelin star. An expert in fish and seafood, his caldeirada, a traditional fish stew from northern Spain is famous as is his wild chestnut tart. But Juan, who recently opened a new restaurant Bido, believes a good chef is someone who can make something delicious with whatever is available. “In life, as in the kitchen, it’s all about experimenting and trying new things,” he says.
A great fan of the late great Catalan chef Santi Santamaría and French cuisine for its elegance, for Juan the key is “Work, work and work”. “I love what I do,” he says simply. “That makes me very lucky.”
Lucía Freitas always wanted to be a chef. “As a child I spent hours in the kitchen” she says. “I´d open the fridge and create something special using four ingredients inside it.”
After studying at the Escuela de Hostelería de Artxanda in Bilbao and dessert school Espai Sucre in Barcelona, she worked at world famous restaurants Celler de Can Roca, Mugaritz, Bohio, Tápies de la Seu de Urgell and Bensd Avall in Mallorca. She opened her restaurant A Tafona Casa de Xantar in Santiago de Compostela, Northwest Spain when she was 27.
Since then, Lucia has gone on to win countless awards. Six-times winner of the Best Tapa Award in Santiago de Compostela, her tapas tasting menu is legendary. In 2016, Lucía came second in the Spanish Chef of the Year competition at Alimentaria in Barcelona.
“I believe in fresh, local, seasonal products,” says the innovative chef who designs the daily menu at her restaurant based on the best quality products from the nearby local market and her own garden. Last September she also opened a new restaurant in New York, Tomiño NYC. As the Executive Chef at this Manhattan eaterie, she relishes the challenge of her new American dream. “Establishing myself in New York is a dream come true.” she says.
Something about the sight of a hot twin-handled pan of lovingly prepared paella fills Spaniards with happiness.
“This is the essence of communal Spanish eating.” says Santi Almuiña, an extraordinary chef and Paella Master with over 24 years of experience preparing Spain´s most emblematic dish.
Sharing a delicious paella with family and friends is a special tradition that goes back hundreds of years. Originating in Valencia, on the Mediterranean coast, paella originates in the 19th century. But its ancient roots go right back to the 10th century when the Moors introduced rice to Spain.
There are as many paella recipes as villages on the Mediterranean coast and Santi prepares this most authentic of dishes in a myriad of ways. There are meat paellas with duck, rabbit, chicken and even snails and green and white beans infused with sweet paprika, garlic, tomatoes, saffron and fresh rosemary. Then there are seafood paellas as well as vegetarian varieties – there’s even a very special black Paella Negra – prepared with squid ink.
An expert in these traditional paellas, innovation is also key in Santi Almuiña’s quest for new frontiers. “Don’t assume things are what they seem.” is his motto. His latest creation – lobster paella with codium seaweed – has been a huge hit. As has his octopus, scallop and plankton paella.
Spain has some of the best seafood in the world and Santi’s emphasis on organically grown, natural ingredients means his paellas bring together the very best Spain has to offer. As senior advisor to the Extravaganza Culinary Consultancy, Chef Santi Almuiña exemplifies leadership qualities and professionalism, backed by a consistent, verifiable record of achievement.
Beni Couso’s tapas restaurant is where chefs in the know go to eat.
This veritable chef’s chef and renowned Tapas Master exemplifies the very best fusion of traditional home-cooking and new culinary trends. After receiving his training at the School of Hospitality in Lugo, Galicia he began working in legendary restaurant Lugar de Pascuais taught by leading chef Diego Lopez. Determined to strengthen his professional learning, he went to Barcelona to study a master’s degree in Creative Cuisine. He combined studies with work in Ribelino’s, a fashionable restaurant fusing drinks with haute cuisine.
His dream finally came true in February 2014 when he opened his own restaurant Taberna Patouro in Vigo, northwest Spain. A unique restaurant where you are just as likely to find a small vegetable “market ” in the dining room as a trough of freshly-baked bread, its open-plan kitchen within sight of the customer makes for an intimate and yet cutting-edge experience.
Chefs come from all over Spain to try his innovative creations. Wonders such as basil squid and hake croquant, lime and ginger shrimp ceviche and fresh marinated mussels nestling on a bed of dark chocolate.“Spain has some of the very best seafood in the world,” he says as he prepares his latest creation: seafood beans with spider crab in a sea urchin sauce lovingly placed on a small smoky dish of dry ice. Spanish tapas like Beni’s have to be seen to be believed…
For Héctor López, cooking runs in the family.
“I began working in my family’s restaurant at a young age,” says Héctor, of the restaurant El España which recently celebrated its 110th birthday.
After graduating from the Hotel and Catering School in Santiago de Compostela, Héctor worked at many memorable restaurants in Spain like Akelarre in San Sebastián, northern Spain run by Chef Pedro Subijana, a pioneer of New Basque Cuisine. He also worked with Chef Toño Pérez at his restaurant Atrio in Cáceres, Extremadura, Western Spain, which has two Michelin stars.
Héctor then returned to his family’s restaurant in Lugo, Galicia, Northwest Spain determined to renovate its traditional cuisine. “Our restaurant has been an iconic establishment for over a century so making changes was a challenge,” he admits.
Ham, potatoes and egg, a classic Spanish tapa takes on a new life as egg confit on a bed of potato emulsion with crispy ham. Barbecued smoked sardines on a bed of corn bread crumbs and Padrón peppers comes alive because the corn breadcrumbs are soaked in an oil made from the sardine’s fishbones.
Thanks to his efforts, his restaurant has received a “Q” prize for Quality Tourism, awarded by the National Institute for Spanish Quality Tourism in 2014 and a Repsol Guide Sun Award. One of his new projects has been the rearing of native breeds of Ox, lovingly tended by his father and valued for their tender meat and exquisite flavour. Héctor also takes part as a judge on the cookery TV programme “Kitchen Stove Challenge” produced by regional channel, Televisión de Galicia.
“This is much more than a profession” he grins. “It’s a way of life. I think about food 24 hours a day and that’s just how I like it.”
Fernando Rodriguez’s love affair with the kitchen began at eight. “I loved cooking with my grandmother and mother,” he says. Aged ten, Fernando could make Spanish tortillas, lentils and meat stews on his own.
At 15 he worked in local restaurants on Spain’s northwest Atlantic coast in Galicia. Ominously known as the Coast of Death for its death-defying waves, the area is also famous for its incredible fish and seafood. “They remain my favourite dishes to this day,” he says.
Fernando trained as a chef in Santiago de Compostela, moved to Barcelona and worked at hotels like the 5 star Rey Juan Carlos I Hotel. He became Head Chef at the Tryp Barcelona and then at the Melia María Pita in A Coruña, northwest Spain.
His desire to innovate led him to work as Head Chef at Michelin star restaurants Alborada and then A Estación in Coruña. Working alongside his business partner Chef Juan Crujeiras, the dynamic duo love pushing the culinary boundaries that make them worthy of their Michelin star.
Dishes like black monkfish with basil, almond and sun-dried tomato and seabass with roasted vegetables in Iberian ham and cockle broth have made them famous. “We love traditional Spanish cuisine but we add our modern twist,” he says. “Nothing makes me happier than being in the kitchen”
“I´ve always loved food,” says Chef Álvaro Villasante. “I was the kind of child who ate liver with onions and loved green vegetables!”
Álvaro became a chef by pure chance. He went from washing dishes at a ski resort in the Spanish Pyrenees to working as an award-winning chef and never looked back. A childhood spent cooking with his mother at weekends stood him in good stead and he worked all over Spain, quickly rising through the ranks. He learnt his trade at the Pastelería Balbona in Gijón, El Rincón de Gonzalo in Tenerife and Parada das Bestas in Lugo.
Then in 2002 Álvaro moved to Miami and landed a job at La Broche restaurant with world-renowned chefs Sergi Arola and Ángel Palacios. He worked at the Sushi Samba restaurant as well as Eth Taro and other leading restaurants in Barcelona. “I did 17 hour stretches without ever looking at my watch,” he says. “That’s how much I loved it!”
Then in 2008, Álvaro moved back to his home city of Lugo, Northwest Spain and opened his own restaurant, Paprica. Since then he has made a name for himself for his innovation. It’s been voted as one of the top five restaurants to visit in Galicia by the Lonely Planet Guide.
At the international Madrid Fusión summit, his restaurant was named one of the 100 most creative restaurants in Spain. He has won a “Q” Prize for quality and has been nominated as the best chef of the year in Galicia in 2013.
Paprica has won best creative tapa six years running in Lugo and he has won the tapas contests outright five times. Tapas such as smoked smoked cheese roulette in black coupage sauce and line-caught hake with black rice croquant and tomato ice cream. “Tapas are the perfect way to sample haute-cuisine cooking in miniature in a relaxed social setting,” he says.
“In Spain they are a huge part of any night out with family and friends as food is the social centre of everything! Good food brings people together and tapas are what the Spanish excel at.”
For Chef María Varela, the kitchen is the heart of every Spanish home.
“Every house when I was growing up had a grandmother cooking in it night and day,” she says. “Every important thing that ever happened, took place in the kitchen.”
One of María’s fondest childhood memories is running home from school and smelling her grandmother’s delicious creations wafting down their street. “Mine is a story of food wisdom passed down by generations of women” says the award-winning self-taught chef.
But it could have all been very different. For when she and husband Suso opened their rural 300-year-old hotel Parada das Bestas in 1997, María’s culinary know-how only went as far as making student pasta. “I had little idea about cooking,” she reveals. “What I didn’t realise is that I had absorbed a lot just watching my grandmother.”
María soon found she had a special talent for turning local produce into star dishes and tapas. Over 21 years later, Maria and Suso’s restaurant is considered one of the best in Galicia, northwest Spain. It was even selected by Gwyneth Paltrow and Mario Batalli’s series “Spain on the Road Again” in 2008 as a culinary temple. “I taught Gwyneth to cook my signature dish, Pilgrim Style Capon,” says María. “I could barely believe we’d come so far.”
Nowadays, pilgrims doing the world-famous Camino to Santiago de Compostela which passes near the restaurant, foodies, famous politicians and artists all flock to Parada das Bestas.
María’s famous vegetable mille-feuille courgette parcels are firm favourites. But she also excels with other mouthwatering tapas such as mussels in spicy escabeche sauce with wild mushrooms, pickled vegetables and pomegranate or sardine pastille marinated in cheese, piquillo pepper confit and strawberry vinagrette.
In 2012 and 2014 the Ministry for Agriculture awarded the restaurant a prize for excellence and innovation and another for their quality food products. In 2015 the Xunta, (Galician Regional Government), gave them a Camino de Santiago prize. “We have Canadians spending their honeymoon here, Australians doing the Camino who look us up especially, Americans who saw the series and want to sample the dish Gwyneth made…” says María. “I could never have guessed that running home to my grandmother’s home cooking could have inspired such a legacy.”
Nominated as one of Spain’s most up-and-coming young chefs at Madrid Fusion 2017, Daniel López has come a long way since leaving home at 18 to find his fortune.
“I don´t come from a long tradition of chefs and my family has never owned a restaurant,” says Daniel. “I sort of fell into my profession and I’ve never looked back.” Daniel moved from Galicia, northwest Spain to Tenerife when he was 18 looking for work and landed a job as a kitchen assistant at Meson Charro, run by a talented chef from the Basque country. “I finished my work quickly every day and worked extra hours so he could teach me,” he remembers. Inspired by what he learnt, Daniel listened carefully to all the advice he was given. “He told me to do four things,” remembers Daniel. “Get proper professional training, read cookery books, travel and eat.” Determined to give this new career his best shot, Daniel enrolled at the IES Fragas Do Eume in Galicia and once graduated began working at some of the most imaginative restaurants in the region such as Culler de Pau, Casa Pendás and Casa Marcelo in 2008, then considered the most innovative of its kind.
Aged just 26 he decided it’s time to open his own restaurant, O Camiño do Inglés in 2010 in Ferrol, Northwest Spain. “It was a tiny place, which I painted myself with a group of friends, but it was mine,” he says proudly. Offering tapas and wines it became hugely popular over the next two years, so much so Daniel was able to move to larger premises and invest his hard-earned profits into upgrading the new restaurant. It was the chance to really shine. “We offered fresh market ingredients and dishes with traditional roots coupled with original concepts and international flavours,” says Daniel. Dishes like wild mushroom and mussel stew, carrot and scallop tartar, cauliflower rice, rabbit in escabeche sauce with fennel, Cantonese style octopus, eel with boletus and white garlic.
Recognition soon followed as Daniel and his team began receiving countless prizes, even appearing in the Michelin Guide. Then in 2017 he was nominated as one of the most revelatory chefs in Spain at Madrid Fusion. “It meant a lot to me and my team,” he admits. “It´s a great feeling to know your hard work is being recognised nationally and internationally.” Daniel is now opening his second restaurant, Josefa’s Bar, named after his grandmother which will specialise in tapas and wine. “It´s very exciting and gives us a chance to try new things,” he says. Forever inventing and creating, Daniel’s future as one of Spain most exciting young chefs might never have come about if he hadn’t walked into that restaurant in Tenerife all those years ago. “I will always be grateful to that first chef who saw something in me and encouraged me to go into this profession,” says Daniel. “And to fate for making me walk into his restaurant.”
Japan, China, South Korea and his mother’s beachside restaurant in Galicia, Northwest Spain… All serve as inspiration for this most versatile of chefs.
Chef Álvaro Fuentes grew up surrounded by food. “My mother had a beachside restaurant which served traditional Spanish food,” he says. “But aged 18, I didn’t know whether I was going to be a waiter or a chef!”. A stint as a waiter in Andorra and washing dishes convinced him his place was behind a stove. Álvaro studied at the prestigious Carlos Oroza Institute of Culinary Education in Pontevedra and started his career under the guidance of the Michelin starred chef Pepe Solla, from Casa Solla in Pontevedra, northwest Spain.
He then moved to London and worked at the prestigious award-winning private member’s club, Home House. “The menu was the finest English food but I managed to sneak in a Galician dish Octopus en Caldeirada!” he says. Álvaro also landed a job at an exclusive modern Peruvian restaurant in Mayfair called Coya London. After moving back to Spain, he worked at the 3-star Michelin restaurant Lasarte restaurant in Barcelona with chef Paolo Casagrande.
“I was very happy,” says Álvaro. “I was learning amazing skills and from the best in the business. A chance encounter whilst on holiday one summer in his home town however took him in a different direction. “A small tavern became available and friends persuaded me to take it on,” he explains. His restaurant Meloxeira was born and his quality Spanish and international fusion tapas along with select wine pairings soon began attracting big crowds. Every year he closed the restaurant for a few months and travelled the world to countries such as Japan, China, South Korea, Peru, Thailand and Mexico. “I was always looking for new ways to merge this new knowledge with my own cooking skills,” he says. Now his Peruvian ceviches, thai-inspired prawn tapas, wok-fried lobster on fire, inspired by Singaporean chilli crab are star attractions at his restaurant.
Nominated as one of the best emerging chefs at the Gastronomic Forum 2017 in La Coruña, northwest Spain, Álvaro’s restaurant also appeared in the respected Repsol Gastronomic Guide.
Álvaro’s restaurant now has a two-week waiting list in the summer for reservations. “People like what we do,” he says, pleased. He presented a special seafood menu at Ireland’s gastronomic fair Taste Dublin showcasing the best Irish and international chefs and food this year and recently opened another restaurant, Otoro.
I’m really pleased I swapped being a waiter for being a chef,” he grins. “I’m where I should be. Food is a wonderful thing to dedicate your life to.”
Chef Diego Lopez Garcia’s ambition is to create delicious recipes which improve health, wellbeing and healing in all of us.
Diego López García is a leading authority on healthy food. He owns two restaurants in Galicia, Bulló and Lugar de Pascuais, which are both sacred temples for organic food lovers.
He advocates scientific understanding in cooking using artisan, locally grown products only. Diego´s vision has earnt him a fanbase from all over the world, not only amongst clients and journalists, but competitors as well. Known as the King of Bio-Tapas, he is a pioneer in multisensory cooking and creating small, delectable bites which leave a lasting memory.
ANTONIO LORENZO GAY
Antonio Lorenzo Gay is the third generation of a family of cooks from Chantada in Lugo, Galicia, North West Spain.
He learnt his trade at a young age following in his mother and grandmother’s footsteps whose recipes he saves and cherishes, determined they don’t become lost and forgotten. Antonio began his professional training at the Centro Superior de Galicia and continued his learning at the professional cooking school, Bell-Art in Barcelona. A few years later, he embarked on a culinary career at some of the most emblematic restaurants in Spain and countries like Australia and Brazil… until arriving back home to become an integral part of his family’s events company, Mogay.
In 2011 he launched his own personal project, A Braseria Faragulla Winebar, which combines all his passions and acquired experiences to create a space where the wines from Galicia accompany the very best locally-sourced food across the glowing embers of his grill.