“Someone from America doesn't come to Ronda to order saki”

Benito Gómez, at Madrid Fusión.
Benito Gómez, at Madrid Fusión. / ALBERTO FERRERAS
  • The only chef from Malaga to be invited to hold a demonstration at Madrid Fusión is committed to using local products and boosting the local rural economy

  • Benito Gómez Chef at Bardal (Ronda)

This is Benito Gómez's year. In just a few months, the dishes he has produced at the Bardal restaurant have brought Ronda back into the 'Michelin firmament', and he is the only chef from the province to have been invited to hold a cookery demonstration at Madrid Fusión 2018.

As he walks through the busy exhibition area he is frequently slapped on the back and congratulated, but Gómez walks with his feet firmly on the ground.

Years of hard work lie behind his fame, as well as a commitment to traditional cuisine and the use of fresh local products.

His love of this type of cuisine comes from deep within him, and he is delighted to find that it is becoming increasingly popular.

This year you're the only chef from Malaga to be holding a demonstration at Madrid Fusion.

Well, Sr Capel came to eat at Bardal and he liked what we were doing there, which basically is focusing on the local area and creating very recognisable cuisine, because although there are times for everything I believe that in the end people start to get bored with so many surprises.

At Bardal the surprise is that they are eating things they have eaten all their lives, although we try to refine them to the maximum.

We try to make something really, really delicious out of simple things.

Bardal always aims to use fresh market produce for its tasting menu. Is that difficult to balance?

Yes, and as it takes more work, then it is harder. But the idea is to focus more and more on what is around us, and that means that we have gone from a very full larder to one which is smaller, with fewer products.

You have to really use your brain to make something special and entertaining to eat.

Many gastronomic restaurants also emphasise the use of fresh products, but in their case distribution is easier, there is more availability....

Yes, but the sea isn't very far from Ronda, and in the Serranía we have practically everything we need.

There are a lot of products to be discovered here, raw materials as well as processed.

There are plenty of wonderful things in all the villages in this area, which few people know about, and our idea is to create a sort of local industry.

If you go shopping away from home, you're not generating wealth in your own area. If we can add our grain of sand to help the local environment grow, then that's fantastic.

For example, if a young farmer has a few goats and he starts to produce something interesting, I'll try to help make that better known, so that this type of wealth stays here.

Are you starting to build up a network which means you can offer certain products all year round?

For me that is something for the medium and long term.

My dream would be for 60 per cent of our suppliers to be local within three or four years.

I know it is going to be difficult, but I believe that for a chef it is fantastic to be able to work with what you have to hand.

It is the people who are demanding the avant-garde, but in my case, if in a few years' time we have managed to make our mark in this area, even in a small way, it will be much more satisfying that inventing the latest spectacular technique in something.

You have also shown that you prefer slow cuisine to oriental sauces.

Well, look: someone who comes from America to Ronda and decides to eat at Bardal is not going to order a saki and yuzu cocktail.

What would be the point?

And I, as a chef, feel more comfortable with this style because I really like my sauces, my stews, my 'sofritos' of onion, tomato, paprika and herbs.

I identify with all that.

Looking from outside, Bardal seems to have had a meteoric rise, but a lot of work lies behind that success. What have you learned from Tragatá, your tapas bar in Ronda?

The bar taught us to produce a great deal with very few facilities.

We have created incredible food in that small kitchen and now the one at Bardal, which is so big and well-equipped, is like getting into a Ferrari in comparison.

During the time you have been 'cooking up' a project like Bardal, trends in dining have moved on, but luckily they have done so towards your philosophy.

In the end that is part of evolution because human beings have always evolved by trying things, and when you try, you put a thousand different things on the table and in the end one or two will stay there and then you go back to what you used to have.

I think it's great that there is avant-garde cuisine and that people try new things but I don't feel the need for that type of creativity.

I'm more comfortable with the traditional.

Ronda is popular with tourists. Do you have many clients from abroad?

We do, and more are coming, but our greatest satisfaction is that local people and those from elsewhere in Spain come to eat at Bardal.

We are lucky, or maybe not, to be where Tragabuches was.

That can be a double-edged weapon, because some people who knew Tragabuches come to us with specific expectations.