Chef José Maria Gonzáles Barea, nickname Currito, was recently honored in Madrid. After years of experience in his own restaurant in the Basque town of Saturce, Currito moved to Madrid back in 1975 to improve the quality of his life. The restaurant that bears his name is situated in the Casa de Campo complex, close to the center of Madrid opposite the Palacio de Oriente: the several hundred-hectare estate with pinewoods and meadows was the hunting lodge of the Spanish royal family in the twentieth century.
Currito was honored during the presentation of his excellent book Desde Santurce a…Madrid. Una cocina al lado del mar (From Santurce to Madrid. Sea-based cuisine), a memoir of the 60 years he has dedicated to the noble culinary profession, containing 300 recipes. Important Spanish journalists and fellow chefs praised Currito’s talent during the course of the event.
José Maria Gonzáles Barea has successfully revived traditional Basque recipes, thanks to the excellent quality of the local products from land and sea, combined with his extraordinary manual skills. Despite his huge success, Currito states with the greatest modesty that, “The result is not so much in selling as in buying: you must get to the market first in order to find the best produce”.
In the kitchen, Currito transforms the products of his native Cantabrian Sea into delicious dishes. All the native fish species are found here, from the humblest sardines and baby tuna to more prestigious fish like tuna, turbot, cod and sea bass.
As well as expertly barbecued fish and red meat, the Casa de Campo restaurant offers numerous other traditional Basque dishes: guisos (stews), such as red bean stew; pochas (Spanish white beans picked while tender); marmitako (tuna and potato stew); various salt cod dishes, including bacalao pil-pil a la vizcaína (creamed salt cod), and kokotxas (cod gullet); fried anchovies; unusual dishes like foie en escabeche (pickled liver), ensalada templada de bacalao (tepid salt cod salad) and milhojas de rabo de toro (puff pastry with bull’s tail).
The secret of each of these dishes is skilful blending of the quality of the ingredients with a passion for the work itself, and this is the quality that has guided Currito upwards to the highest culinary spheres.
In 1976 Currito joined other colleagues to form the Asociación de Restaurantes de la Buena Mesa (Good Food Restaurant Association) and was its chairman from 1988 until 2001. The Association brings together all the most representative restaurants of traditional Spanish cuisine, and has been ahead of its time in claiming respect for popular culinary traditions and presenting them to the fine food sector.
Currito’s cooking has played a leading role in Spain’s most important culinary events, and he has received countless prizes and international recognition in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, the US and Jordan.
Currito’s style has much in common with Slow Food: making top quality ingredients and the revival of Basque cultural and food traditions available to other cultures, so that they learn to appreciate the skill that goes into every single traditional dish.
Behind Currito the chef is a humble, talkative, generous man who has won the affection of everyone he has met in a lifetime dedicated to his work, imprinted with the love for cooking he has passed on to his children, who work alongside him today.
All these factors combine to make a visit to Currito’s restaurant a ‘must’ for anyone exploring the food scene in Madrid. The dining rooms and typical terrace shaded by tall trees are among the most popular places in the Spanish capital.
This is certainly the best reward for a man who has devoted his entire life to traditional cuisine using the best products land and sea can offer.
Hugo Cetrangolo is the director of the agroindustrial program at the School of Agronomy of the University of Buenos Aires and an active member of the local Slow Food convivium
Adapted by Ailsa Wood