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Chef Maria de los Angeles Echeverria: “My work is to make the kitchen a place of expansion, to help in the training and growth of other women in gastronomy”

The most delicious segment of The Visitor – The Visitor arrives this time with a Chef who has had the cooking talent in her genetic code since she was a child. A gastronomy professional who experienced how her talent evolved as if it were an ancestral call, “a manifestation of her grandmothers’ dreams” as she describes it. Throughout her professional career, she has achieved great accolades, such as being a finalist in Top Chef Panama and even the host of this nationally recognized television program.

Our guest, Chef Maria de los Angeles Echeverria, has a remarkable gastronomic trajectory in highly recognized restaurants such as Maito, Botanica and Sansara Yoga and Surf in Cambutal, Los Santos Province. The self-proclaimed Panamanian by birth and Australian by nationality, the country where she studied at the Canberra Institute of Technology, invested time to speak exclusively about Panamanian gastronomy and its evolution in Azuero, as well as the opportunities that hospitality in the tourism industry.

Photo: Chef María de los Angeles Echeverria

Within your gastronomic journey and perception, at what point is Panamanian gastronomy as a tourist product?

“Panamanian cuisine has achieved growth and evolution worthy of international recognition.Panamanian chefs have taken the task of promoting our gastronomic idiosyncrasy with great courage very seriously; It has been the awakening of a lethargy in which we put foreign things first and placed them on a pedestal, until we came to realize that all this time we have been sitting under a treasure of our own flavors and ingredients that little by little have resurfaced to take on the leading role it deserves. It has been recognizing the value of our history and losing the fear of showing it with all its edges and contradictions.

What led you to Los Santos Province to work in the culinary sector and how has the region evolved in gastronomy?

“My first encounter with Los Santos was in 2019 when I moved to Cambutal to manage the kitchen at Sansara, a boutique hotel/resort, specializing in surfing and yoga, with a predominantly foreign clientele.

It was love at first sight in that remote corner of the peninsula, where I had the opportunity to be close to local products like never before and with it, the desire to make those ingredients shine, especially having the platform to share daily with people from different parts of the world to whom I could show my interpretation of Panamanian cuisine.

In my opinion, Azuero’s cuisine has adapted to please the dominant markets that cross it: the Santeños, who are unquestionably custodians of important traditions and patriotic fervor; the expatriates who have made this province their home, some with the desire to blend with the local culture and others with the ambition to find what they miss from their country of origin, which creates an interesting intersection between the perseverance of the native and the opportunity for expansion that It supposes the multicultural, and finally, the one who is passing through, whether national or foreign, who seeks in these abundant lands the warmth of the stove wrapped in a tamale, the sweetness of a new corn cake and the nostalgia of a good sancocho, the melodies of an accordion in the background and the grandmother sitting on her rocking chair in the porch, shelling pigeon peas.”

Photo: Chef María de los Angeles Echeverria

Currently you work more in the hospitality sector, how important is it to achieve an outstanding culinary and touristic experience?

“Currently, the work I do allows me to achieve many goals and is also a platform where local and foreign visitors have an unforgettable experience of Panama. I am in a transition period between cooking and customer service, which has allowed me to expand not only my knowledge and skills, but also given me the opportunity to have a direct approach to the experience that we can provide as a country and as a region to who visit us.

In gastronomy, hospitality is the key piece that surrounds the experience of a diner, which transcends beyond enjoying a plate of food, it is what leads to experiencing the stimulation of all the senses and, in turn, creating a memory that lasts forever. It is something that curiously, despite the fact that we Panamanians are quite friendly, in terms of service we need that generosity and detachment that hospitality requires. Putting the client’s needs – within reason – first, showing our best qualities, creating that masterful symbiosis.”

What legacy you want to leave in Panamanian gastronomy?

“I seek to ensure that there is space for all possible expressions of our identity. May kitchens always be a place of expansion, helping in the training and growth of other women in gastronomy, who continue to make their way in this profession, as well as the new generations of chefs who come with great inspiration.

That we can rediscover the value of simplicity, with care for the ingredients and conservation to achieve food garanteed. There are so many things that excite me to be able to contribute in everything that allows what unites us at the table, to have a mission of exalting the importance of each aspect that comprises gastronomy.

I currently conduct cooking and food preservation workshops to the Panamaes reserve employees, which mostly includes women from Pedasi and Los Santos. We work with local products and also with what we grow within the organic garden of the reserve. We produce long-lasting products such as preserves, jams and sauces, for now in an experimental phase with a view to expanding in the local market.”

Photo: Chef María de los Angeles Echeverria

If you were given the opportunity to create a project where gastronomy, history and traditions are mixed, what would it be like?

“After my experience with Top Chef Panama, it was fascinating to discover the curiosity and acceptance of viewers to see a culinary project of this scale, reaching the homes of thousands of Panamanians. I would love to have a space to document and share all the beauty of Panamanian cuisine, the memories that go through us when we eat something that is unique in its origin and show the resilience behind our culinary heritage.”

What are the five Panamanian dishes most sought after by tourists?

– Ceviche/seafood; our Caribbean flavors carries our flag.

– Fried foods: call them fritters, puff pastries, tortillas, jerky.

– Tamales: the Panamanian tamale, although it shares similarities with those of our Latin American neighbors, has a unique and unrepeatable flavor.

– Chinese/Panamanian food: heritage of our nation.

– Sweet cravings: we love desserts in all their expressions, from cocada and manjar to pesa de nance and bienmesabe.

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