It's 11 in the morning and the phone does not stop ringing at number 9 Mar de Bering Street, in the Madrid district of Hortaleza. "This is crazy," says Carlos Guillermo García before answering with a timid "Mesón Arturo, tell me?"
The reason for the telephone flood is because this Asturian Inn, in the historic center of Hortaleza, has won the prize for the Best Fabada in the World, organized by Gustatio and the Consistory of Villaviciosa. An award that leaves for the first time from the limits of the Principality of Asturias.
The person responsible for the dish is Carlos himself. Chef for almost 30 years and owner of the place for just over eight.
Born in Peru 58 years ago, Carlos arrived in Spain in December 1991. He followed in the footsteps of two of his brothers, who had left the Andean country in search of a better future in our country. A career pharmacist, "and with the approved degree", he did not find work in his sector.
His brothers, who worked in a seafood restaurant, offered to join them in February 1992. "I started in López Ferrero as an ironer," he recalls, without separating a millimeter from the pot where he rocks some beans.
"We have had 32 calls in one day," says Carlos.Antonio Heredia
It was his first contact with cooking. "I didn't even know how to make rice," he confesses, recalling how he got scared when he worked his first Father's Day before the "avalanche" of people. In our country he has learned "everything he knows about cooking".
For three years he worked in the seafood restaurant, north of Madrid, and lived in Hortaleza, the same neighborhood where his brothers were settled. One of them got a job at Mesón Arturo, the restaurant where they went to have a drink on days off. When that brother went back to Peru, he offered Carlos to 'inherit' his position in the kitchen.
The year was 1995. Carlos "didn't know anything about stews or fabada", but he really wanted to work. Arturo and his wife María, Asturian by origin and founders of the mesón in 1985, hired him and taught him, among other things, how to make his already known fabada.
"At first I made the food of the workers and other stews from the menu," explains Carlos while tasting the point of the beans. But after a period of small supervision, "of details", he put himself in front of the pot in which a fabada that already had fame is cooked before winning the prize of best to the best in the world.
Cook and owner
For more than 20 years, in which Arturo "treated him as if they were family", Carlos has been the cook of the Meson. And since 2015 it is also its owner. That year, Arturo retires and offers to keep the business due to the refusal of his children to run the business. "I got scared, it was a lot of responsibility," he confesses. But he finally agreed.
El Mesón has been presented to the Best Fabada in the World contest on several occasions. He managed to be a finalist in some of them and win the prize for best compango in 2021. But in 2023, it has managed to beat more than 20 Asturian restaurants and 7 from outside the community. A milestone never seen before.
The key to achieving this is, according to Carlos, in the product, "of the highest quality", time and a "secret" touch that he cannot confess. "All cooks have their own," he adds.
The fabada chosen as the best in the world. Antonio Heredia
Carlos has been working with the same supplier for several years, which supplies him with a fresh fabe from Navia and a compango from Tineo according to what he wants to achieve. "Every cook has to find the point he wants in his fabada," he adds. With blood sausage, for example, it achieves a specific color and flavor.
Just as important as gender is time, key to knowing when the dish is ready. No two batches of beans are the same. Some need more hours and others less. "The fabe is marking your time," he adds while watching the stew. In addition, Carlos does not serve his fabada the day he cooks it, he lets it rest for 24 hours.
An unattainable dream?
Winning the award was a shock to Carlos. "I didn't believe it, it was a lot for me," he confesses. He always thought about achieving it, but it was a dream that he believed almost unrealizable. But this year the fabes he took to Villaviciosa in two pots, made the day before in his restaurant in Madrid, "were delicious."
With them he won first the prize for the best outside Asturias and later with the prize for the best in the world. "If you have good fabes you can win; It all depends on the fabes," he explains.
It is the first restaurant outside Asturias to achieve this, which generated some controversy in the contest. But he draws on his nearly 30 years of experience to defend what he does: "Honor fabes."
A controversy that sometimes he himself sees in his restaurant, when someone enters and sees that in the kitchen, making a fabada, there is no Spaniard. He subtracts iron to the matter: he has fixed diners for many years, 80% of the people who come are from outside the neighborhood, "some even foreigners". And he melts into thanks to his customers, "many already turned into friends."
Carlos carefully prepares the fabes the morning before serving them. Antonio Heredia
The award has meant for Carlos a flood of calls and work. The reservation book has fewer and fewer blanks and Carlos has had to make two shifts to attend to requests. The living room, with capacity for 22 diners, falls short.
Far from complaining, he assumes the burden of making the best fabada in the world, a dish that only he cooks in the restaurant. "For nine years I haven't been sick for a day," he adds. It only closed, for 15 days and in August, when it had to undergo a small operation.
His two brothers returned to Peru, where they run the business inherited from their parents. He, however, has put down roots in Spain thanks to the inn, his wife, who also works in the restaurant, and their two daughters. He rules out, for the moment, returning and taking his fabada there. "I don't see it," he says with a shy smile.
Despite the zeal with which he prepares the dish, Carlos hopes that one of his two daughters – one of them helps him at the Mesón – will inherit his particular way of making fabada. Meanwhile, the only regret is that he will have less time for his other two passions: poetry and painting.
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- Articles Luis Blasco