Pablo González Conejero

October 3, 2018

The stars shine better in the forest

Pablo González Conejero, chef at the Cabaña Buenavista, in Murcia, came late to the world of cooking. At the age of 21 he was a PE teacher and football player, and making a sofrito was a mystery to him. But seven siblings are a huge expense for a home, and to make a little money he decided to try his luck. His father, a journalist and former editor-in-chief of the newspaper La Verdad, told Pablo – now at the helm of a restaurant that spearheads the region’s gastronomy – that he was mad. He didn’t get it. Back then, being a cook wasn’t exactly the favourite profession sought by future mothers-in-law. But the young Pablo dug his heels in. He was fired from the first two restaurants he worked in as an apprentice... he was no good. Today, at his spectacular two-Michelin-starred Cabaña Buenavista, González Conejero is still a man on a mission, always cross examining his own work and the relationship between it and society and the surroundings he finds himself in. For him, cooking is a language that is a dialogue between the most cutting-edge culinary techniques, the latest available technology, and legacies: vertical ones, in other words, the percolation over centuries of traditions, produce and dishes etched by fire into the memories of the people of Murcia over generations; and horizontal ones, such as the physical surroundings of the region and its produce – from the sea, the land and the mountains, which are all compressed into a small area – that are part and parcel of the way diners see themselves. This chef – who as well as his Michelin stars and his three Repsol ‘Suns’, has also been awarded the Gold Medal of the Region – recognises that ‘the story of his Michelin stars is one that has come over fifteen years of work, with a team that believes in itself and that has grown in size and commitment, and of which everyone feels they are an integral part.’ He has turned various cuts of tuna (some which are most unusual) into a walk through his garden, but also puts the three thousand years of history of this coastline he has stored in his mind into each bite. He also reinvented another age-old ingredient, lightly cured roe, which he defines as, ‘a carrier of personal stories’; has subjected the meat of a species that was on the verge of extinction – the Murcian Chato pig – to innovative ways of cooking; and has immersed himself fearlessly into the fertile market gardens of Murcia... And all without relinquishing the performance. A pleasing experience, like eating should be, is also a game, something fun, and, at one point, Pablo swapped his chef’s toque for a top hat, pulling out a thousand and one gadgets and an array of unusual dishes and containers to present his impressive creations to his diners with a touch of cheekiness. One of his latest battles – because Pablo is a man of battles – is to bring back the dining room as a key element for the success of a great restaurant, making it a splendid protagonist for diners and converting it into part of the creation (not just the presentation) of all his dishes. Pachi Larrosa