Our guest in the Flavors segment is a Panamanian that since his childhood was already looking through the cookbooks that were collected at home and putting them into practice. However, for economic reasons he began to study industrial engineering, leaving it halfway to fully enter into what he was truly passionate about by going to the Higher Institute of Haute Cuisine. Chef Pascual Gonzalez is the living example that with preparation and a lot of work it is possible to exceed all expectations. Today he is the owner of the prestigious Praia restaurant located in the thriving Amador sector and takes time to give this exclusive interview with The Visitor – El Visitante.
What did you do before becoming a Chef and what motivated you to enter this industry that is innovating every day?
“I left high school with the dream of working in a restaurant, I studied one and a half years of Industrial Engineering and decided not to waste time, and get into the business immediately. The ritual of cooking and gathering the family was the daily bread in my house. Between my mom’s sweets and good taste of setting a table and my dad’s one-day cravings for making buns, “torrejitas”, fried fish, etc. Those are the happiest moments I have in my memory. Emulating that happiness is what motivates me to replicate it.”
At the beginning of your career, who were your mentors and where did you work?
“I have two important mentors in my gastronomic life: Fabien Migny and Angel Martinez. The first gave me the opportunity to learn the techniques, without knowing how to make white rice, to meet a cooking brigade and to be treated elegantly. And Angel could be described as this saying: When the student is ready, the teacher appears. With him I learned the structure, management, and understanding of a restaurant. Both inside the kitchen and outside of it. They are my two great teachers.”
Tell us about your studies and experience abroad, and how did these influence your culinary proposal upon returning to Panama?
“My last studies were a Postgraduate Degree in Food and Beverage Management at the Sant Pol de Mar Hospitality School in Barcelona. I did a 6-month “stage” with Martin Berastegui in his restaurant located in Lasarte, San Sebastian. It is a dream come true to be able to be in a 3 Michelin Star restaurant, just being there and witnessing that execution is a privilege. I got to work with great chefs, it is a mixture of excellence and humility. Since within that environment we are all equal.
I think these experiences are very important, but I do tell you that it is of no use to only read books, or to pursue master’s degrees and postgraduate degrees if you don’t get there and burn your hands as it should. In this career, studying is just as important as practice and execution. You have to be on the front lines to grow in this career.”
How is Panamanian gastronomy at all levels today and how do you see it in 10 years?
“I think it is on the right path, there are great chefs, some who laid the foundations, others who are already a reality and have put Panama under an international magnifying glass, and others who have blood and desire to show the world how rich it is. our gastronomic culture. I’m talking about gastronomic culture, since it’s not just the dish you eat, but the whole story behind it, which fills the heart when you understand it. In 10 years, if we work on our weaknesses: transportation logistics, professionalism in service, we can be talking about Panama as a gastronomic tourist destination.”
The restaurant that you lead is located in the Amador Causeway, a sector with great tourist potential. What could you suggest so that this sector becomes a great tourist hub for Panama City?
“I consider Amador to be one of the most beautiful places in Panama, sometimes I think that we do not realize what we have. A front-line view of the sea, the Panama Canal, the different activities that can be done, make Amador a unique place.
The construction of the direct access bridge will help a lot to not think about the roadblocks. But there may be other options that were presented in the past, for example a Ferry on Balboa Ave, that connects with several points. Also expand the development options, different businesses that can magnify this beautiful sector of Panama City.”
Photos courtesy: Chef Pascual Gonzalez