Q&A with chef Mari Fernandez

Q&A with chef Mari Fernandez

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On Spain’s Asturian coast, within the small fishing city of Puerto de Vega, on Plaza Cupido—Cupid Sq.—a self-taught prepare dinner writes culinary love letters to the Cantabrian Sea.

On the northern coast of Spain, the place misty mountains slope down towards the Cantabrian Sea, there’s a port city of unusual simplicity and sweetness. A fleet of fishing boats painted firetruck purple and forest inexperienced unload their catch each morning on the rula, the industrial fish market that anchors the port. The consumers—suppose gruff males in Members Solely jackets—eye the fish from the public sale ground or from the balcony above it, make their bids utilizing handheld clickers, after which truck the fish to eating places round Asturias.

A few of that fish by no means will get on a truck, by no means meets a intermediary. As an alternative, it’s carried by fishermen up a steep hill with stone streets to an unassuming restaurant known as Mesón el Centro. And there it’s delivered into the arms of a self-taught chef named María Antonia Fernández—Mari to all who know her—whose gales of laughter and stressed spirit appear to match the vitality of the wild Cantabrian Sea under.

Within the years since we began coming to Asturias with the League of Vacationers, Mari has been our tireless culinary information by means of the bounty of Puerto de Vega. Journalist María Elizondo spoke together with her by telephone lately to study extra about her life on the fringe of the ocean.

This interview has been edited and condensed for readability.

Roads & Kingdoms: How did you find yourself proudly owning a restaurant?

María Antonia Fernández: It was completely circumstantial. My husband was instantly out of a job, and we had a two-year-old then. So we stated: Okay, let’s take up this bar, for now… And “for now” become 33 years.

R&Ok: And the way did you study to prepare dinner?

Fernández: I at all times say I’m not a prepare dinner. I’ve been right here 30 years, however I didn’t know something about meals. I didn’t research cooking; I didn’t work as a prepare dinner for anyone. I’m a prepare dinner, however out of sheer dedication.

If I understand how to prepare dinner it’s as a result of I try to recreate reminiscences… Or discover reminiscences, my childhood reminiscences. I need my meals to style like issues that we used to have earlier than.

Like a tomato, for instance, a tomato that has by no means seen a fridge, I attempt to recreate these flavors, an actual tomato like after we have been little.

Or an oyster, an oyster that reminds you of being thrown round by a wave within the Cantabrian Sea. The style of that water you swallow, that’s the sensation I’m striving for after I prepare dinner.

R&Ok: So that you taught your self tips on how to prepare dinner however you could have had influences at house

Fernández: No, no, my father was a carpenter and my mom labored serving to him.


R&Ok: Your husband Mon (José Ramón Pérez) oversees the eating room and wines, is your daughter working with you as nicely?

Fernández: She is. She grew up on the restaurant, atop the freezer. I known as her a freezer child. We might get an order of croquetas and I might say: An order of croquetas! and add one other one for the child!

When she grew up, I needed her to seek out one other job, a Monday to Friday job with summer time holidays and all of that, however although I used to be telling her that, I assume I used to be exhibiting her the other… As a result of I am keen on cooking, I find it irresistible.

I say cooking is just like the quantity Pi. It’s infinite: the day you study one thing, that’s the day you additionally study nothing… So although she studied different issues, she stayed.

She now works my grill, and she or he has a riskier method to cooking than I do. She’s younger, she’s not afraid.

Me, I’m nonetheless in disbelief on the recognition I’ve gotten: the Michelin’s Bib Gourmand, the Sol Repsol, I’m additionally a member of the Membership de Guisanderas [an all-female collective of top traditional chefs of Asturias]… I typically don’t imagine it, I don’t wish to change something in my cooking, lest they take all of these away.

Cooking is just like the quantity Pi. It’s infinite: the day you study one thing, that’s the day you additionally study nothing.

R&Ok: Have you ever at all times been right here in Puerto de Vega?

Fernández: I’ve at all times been right here. I’m the third of three siblings, so by the point I used to be born my mother and father didn’t thoughts a lot. I spent my childhood amongst the rocks, fishing with my dad, I might be the kind to return all moist as a result of I might fall into the ocean. That is such a small city, round 1,000 inhabitants, and again then there was no tourism, so we grew up operating on the streets. We might be on the rocks, by the ocean…

After I prepare dinner, I do attempt to transmit my childhood, my smells and my tastes or these reminiscences I’ve from after I was a toddler. In the long run you attempt to transmit the flavour of the ocean, the odor of the ocean, the odor of the Cantabrian Sea.

The Cantabrian Sea is a tough sea, and that’s what’s good about it, the fish and shellfish listed below are the equal to an Ibérico Pig. The ocean is tough, and the fish and shellfish should battle their approach by means of. It’s the identical with an Ibérico, it’s so completely different than a pig raised indoors. Ibérico has a lot extra style, a lot extra efficiency of taste.

R&Ok: Whenever you journey do you want go to different seas? The place do you wish to go?

Fernández: I like to journey and get misplaced, I additionally like to go to the south of Spain, to its sea. It is vitally completely different, a really completely different odor and a really completely different style. I just like the southern sea. After I embrace tastes from the south in my menu they mix very nicely along with the northern tastes, in the long run, all these flavors are Spain.



Among the bounty of Mesón el Centro: bogavantes from native waters, Martinez Parrondo wine from Asturia

R&Ok: What’s your relationship with the fishermen like? Are you pals?

Fernández: Sure, it’s been thirty years, they’re pals, and so they’re shoppers.

We’ll discuss whereas they’re nonetheless at sea, they’ll inform me what they’ve caught: “we now have turbot, we now have this or the opposite”, I inform them to save lots of this or that for me.

R&Ok: And do you decide the catch up or they’ll ship?

Fernández: They ship the reside fish straight to me.

R&Ok: After which? What do you do with the reside fish?


Fernández: Typically I conceal the fish within the again, as a result of if the diners see them, they’ll need them right away, however the fish are higher a day later.

R&Ok: You stated the fishermen are additionally your shoppers?

Fernández: Sure, and what’s stunning about that’s that they educate you and on the similar time you educate them. There may be, for instance, the codium algae that we now have numerous and that, greater than an algae, tastes just like the water from percebes. So to inform them: shut your eyes and style this… although they’ve seen all of it their lives… however by no means tasted it earlier than. These experiences are nice.

The Cantabrian is a tough sea, and that’s what’s good about it.

R&Ok: What’s your favourite Asturian dish?

Fernández: The hake, no? She is my princess. Everyone seems to be pushing hake, from right here there and in all places, however the hake from the Cantabrian, on a skewer, she is a real princess.


The harbor and fish market of Puerto de Vega at evening

R&Ok: Are there any explicit meals you bear in mind cooking that have been significant to you?

Fernández: There have been many, many. Positively if you guys [from the League of Travelers] come, as a result of I at all times have a good time. However any tables that permit me to precise my delicacies are memorable. It’s simply that I’m so dangerous at speaking… I actually attempt to categorical myself by means of the plate.

R&Ok: Do you journey to eat?

Fernández: I like to eat. It’s simply that I’m a catastrophe. I like McDonald’s, however I like Berasategui, I like Disfrutar, I like diverXo, I like all the things. I’m going to all ranges, I’ve no drawback.

Mon and I, we’re the proper couple, we wish to eat, we wish to drink, that’s it. Simplicity. We love gastronomy, he loves the world of wines and champagnes. Typically we shall be working and desirous about making restaurant reservations for after we shut the day.

We don’t have an issue driving 600 kilometers to go eat, sit at a fantastic desk. We love the sensation of sitting round a desk.

Typically individuals look stunned when at house setting a full desk with tablecloth, a dish, one other dish, all of it. I inform them: It’s all the identical for me, to scrub two dishes or six. I don’t care, the moments across the desk are a very powerful moments.


The League of Vacationers—Roads & Kingdoms’ new journey mission for readers and different likeminded wanderers—is returning to Asturias and to Mesón el Centro from September 24-October 1, 2023. See journey itinerary for extra particulars, together with tips on how to be part of.



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