Occupying a small, unassuming corner behind the plaza in Los Gigantes is Restaurant El Rincón de Juan Carlos. From the outside you might not give it a second glance, passing it by in favour of a table in the plaza, but to walk by its door is to pass up the opportunity to sample some of Spain’s finest gastronomy. And that’s not just my opinion, that’s official.
On March 29th 2012, at the BCN Vanguardia conference centre in Barcelona, six young chefs drawn from across Spain will compete for the title of Cocinero del Año 2012 (Chef of the Year 2012) at the IV Concurso Cocinero del Año (CCA), and one of those finalists will be Juan Carlos Padrón, the chef who lends his name to the family restaurant.
Last week, Tenerife Magazine went along to Restaurant El Rincón de Juan Carlos in Los Gigantes, which is considered by many to be the best restaurant in the Canary Islands, to meet the rising young star of the Spanish gastronomic world and to find out what it takes to become a top chef.
As I entered the bijou restaurant, tucked onto the corner of Pasaje de Jacaranda, I was struck by the complete lack of pretensions in the dining room. Were it not for the menu outside and the knowledge that there was a maestro at work in the kitchen, I might have mistaken it for any other restaurant in the resort. The simple, lemon décor, white linen and original artwork (Juan Carlos” wife is the canvas artist in the family) made no attempt to detract from the reason you enter that doorway ““ to enjoy truly excellent cuisine.
How to grow a top chef
Occupying a table in the corner of the restaurant, I begin to ask Juan Carlos about his career as a chef and how he came to be such an accomplished culinary artist.
Juan Carlos tells me that cooking is in his blood and just about everyone in the Padrón family tree for the past three generations has worked in the production and preparation of food. His grandfather was a fisherman, his grandmother and mother both cooks and his father a chef. Growing up in the family restaurant, Juan Carlos” culinary training began when, as small boys, he and his brother Jonathan were given a pot with carrots and potatoes to play with.
“When I was a small boy my father placed crates for me to stand on so I could reach the sink to wash dishes,” says the ever-smiling chef. “As I got older I learned to give out the menus to customers, to take the orders and to serve the drinks. Then I started to do some flambés supervised by the chefs, and to clean the fish and serve it.”
Since leaving the family restaurant to train as a chef, Juan Carlos has worked in Michelin starred restaurants in mainland Spain and France as well as in the restaurant El Drago in Tegueste where he worked alongside Carlos Gamonal. Attending seminars in El Bulli with Feran Adria and in El Celler de Can Roca with the Roca Brothers, gastronomic influences on the young Tinerfeño chef have been at the very cutting edge of the world’s most creative cuisine.
The best chefs in Spain
Now on its fourth edition, each CCA final takes two years during which 60 professional chefs are selected from more than 1,000 applicants drawn from all parts of the Spanish mainland and islands to compete in six semi-finals. The winners of each heat then compete in the final to find the Cocinero del Año (Chef of the Year).
The chefs have to prepare a balanced menu with the correct amount of vitamins, carbohydrates, proteins, fats and fibre, all for under €16 cost. The three courses are judged on flavour, composition, presentation, creativity, texture and aroma as well as the professionalism of their preparation. Juan Carlos was the only chef from the Canary Islands to be selected to participate, and he went on to win his semi-final which was held in Malaga on 1st June 2011.
On 29th March 2012, at the BCN Vanguardia conference centre in Barcelona, Juan Carlos will join his fellow semi finalists; Victor Manuel Rodrigo, Juan Jiménez, Marco Varela, Sergio Bastard and Javier Estévez, in the final which will be hosted by three Michelin stars chef and President of the CCA, MartÃn Berasategui.
Amazed at the €16 cost tag as the criteria for the menu in such a prestigious competition, I ask Juan Carlos what his winning Malaga menu consisted of.
“The starter was Steamed Parmesan Ravioli in a Lentil Reduction with Onion Petals; main course was Fillet of Parrot Fish with its Livers in a Seafood Sauce and for dessert, Warm Apple Terrine with Cinnamon Ice Cream.”
Since the competition, the parmesan raviolis have made it onto the menu at El Rincón de Juan Carlos and I can vouch first hand for their sublime flavour and texture ““ they’re like fairy pillows of soft, parmesan down that melt on the tongue. The ‘classic’ menu at El Rincón de Juan Carlos features dishes which combine taste and texture in a way that doesn’t just delight the palate, but that also provoke experiences and feelings. For those who appreciate top notch gourmet food, El Rincón offers a tasting menu which affords diners the chance to sample some of Juan Carlos” most creative dishes.
As we chatted, the tables of the restaurant began to fill and I asked Juan Carlos what the menu specialities are at Rincón de Juan Carlos.
“We don’t have specialities,” he tells me earnestly. “Every dish we do is a speciality and the menu changes frequently to incorporate seasonal ingredients.”
It’s a family affair
Now in its ninth year of operation, El Rincón de Juan Carlos has continued the Padrón tradition of being a truly family affair with Juan Carlos and his brother Jonathan in the kitchen and their wives front of house, quietly and efficiently waiting on tables, describing the dishes for customers and providing wine and menu recommendations with a wealth of knowledge and winning smiles. Their father now sadly passed away, the boys” mum still works alongside her sons in the kitchen.
One of the most down-to-earth and unassuming people I have met in a long time, chatting to Jaun Carlos it’s difficult to imagine the world he inhabits when he competes; a world filled with Michelin stars and Repsol soles where he rubs shoulders with the likes of MartÃn Berasategui. To me, he and his brother are like Tenerife’s answer to the Roca Brothers whose El Celler de Can Roca is officially runner up to the best restaurant in the world. Of all the famous chefs he has trained and studied with, I ask Juan Carlos which he admires the most.
“My father,” he says, unhesitatingly. “The best chef in the world was my father. When I cook in the final of the Concurso Cocinero del Año, it will be for him.”