Rolando González

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"My cooking is a multicultural mixture and it is really this to-ing and fro-ing around the worlds cuisines that inspires me."

Fotografía de INTERVIEWS WITH OUR CHEFS
What made you want to become a chef?
Really, it was a matter of survival. I spent 15 years living away from my country, so I had to learn to cook. My group of friends and I (almost all of us foreigners) would get together once a week and each of us would bring a dish to share. They persuaded me to take cooking classes because they always liked what I made and how I served it up. In the end, I decided to enrol at the cooking school as a hobby - I already had another degree. 
 
What is your first memory of a dish that made you dream?
The first time I saw a chef preparing a squid on television - it seemed enormous to me! I remember recording the programme to try it out afterwards. 
 
Who has influenced you in your cooking style or philosophy?
I became addicted to Karlos Arguiñano's programmes on TVE some 20 years ago. I would record them when I wasn't home so I could see them in the evening and jot down the steps of what I fancied making. The way in which he prepared everything and how easy he made the most complicated dishes seem really influenced me in the easy-going, cheerful way I run my kitchen, and in my methods when I give a class.
 
What inspires you? or Where does your inspiration come from?
I travel a lot... On each trip I take the opportunity to immerse myself in the gastronomic culture of the places I visit. My cooking is a multicultural mixture and it's really this to-ing and fro-ing around the world's cuisines that inspires me.

What is your favourite culinary method or technique?
The post-cooking smoking in Arabian cuisine, the tandoori oven dishes from India and a good session of baking using wood from the heart of my country. 
 
What is your favourite ingredient?
I've got a long list. Spices in general mark the difference between an ordinary dish and an extraordinary one. I've even got cayenne pepper in my bag from using it so much! Cardamom adds a special subtle flavour to food and desserts. The same can be said for lamb of a local Panamanian fruit called 'nanche'.
 
What is your favourite cooking utensil?
For me, the most basic thing is something that a lot of cooks forget, having the right knife for every need. A chef's knife is not a perfect replacement for a paring knife, nor can a paring knife replace a boning knife! 
 
What material do you prefer for your pans and saucepans?
Teflon is vital... then, the ease at which a pan can go from the flame to the oven! 
 
What would you like to change about the cooking schools?
Teaching is one of my passions. My answer would be the chef-lecturers who don't have the time to dedicate to teaching their subject thoroughly to their students. A class where my role is to show slides or where the students have to do the research doesn't seem fair to me for those who need to learn. My contribution should be to share my knowledge and professional experiences, more than simply covering a specific amount of class time.
 
Your advice for young chefs.
Always keep your feet on the ground. It doesn't matter how well things are going, what recognition you attain, the awards you accumulate, how well you cook or the pats on the back you receive. If you aren't grounded, you lose... You lose respect, feeling, opportunities. 
 
What do you look for when you hire someone for your restaurant?
It is vital to have commitment in order to develop a sense of belonging. This isn't just something I require of cooks, but something I offer in return as Chef to create the synergy that, in the end, will result in the success of anything coming out of that kitchen. At the end of the day, you'll spend more time in the restaurant than with your family or friends. 
 
How do you motivate your team?
I was talking about exactly this point with the staff of a restaurant that I've just advised. I don't believe in rule by fear. Cooks should respect the chef because of what he knows and what he can resolve, not because they fear him. For me, conviviality and good vibrations in the kitchen are always a priority.

What would you like to change in the catering industry?
That quality isn't sacrificed in the name of cost. Effective cost management for the business and that employers, above all, understand this and know how to apply it. 
 
What do you do when you have difficult guests?
For me it's easy. First off, food is subjective, just like any other work of art. That's why not all food is liked by everybody - nor is it disliked by everybody. What's more, the idea of 'the customer is always right' did not come from anyone who had anything to do with hospitality! A blood-free medium-cooked beef tenderloin does not exist! You need to educate diners.

What do you like to do to get away to relax?
A trip of any kind. As soon as I'm in the car on the way to the airport, I can disconnect and be happy! When I can't travel, then my escape valve is to go out and sing! I was second tenor in a professional symphonic choir for a while.
 
What pushes you to keep on going?
I don't work to achieve success. Success is the result of one or more well-executed factors. Just loving what you do and doing things well is enough. Any recognition that comes after that is an additional reward. 
 
Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
Any dish that I can salvage from ethic cuisine, like the Moe that I've shared among the recipes in my profile. Rekindling the past is showing respect for the present and recognising the culinary identity of anything from a tiny village to a whole country. 
 
What is your favourite restaurant?
Wow! I'm often asked this and it's very difficult to answer. In my country: restaurants with top quality service and consistency in their dishes, such as 'Segundo Muelle', 'Maito' and 'Azafrán'; plus, Indian, Korean and typical Panamanian restaurants, like the 'Vereda Afroantillana' or 'El Trapiche', for example. Out of Panama, I love eating in Spain, where the food is accessible and good almost everywhere; in Peru, where I have great friends and colleagues... a long list, too!
 
Which current chef do you most admire and why?
I admire any young or not so young chef who dares to create real cuisine, who uses products that are native to their region and who infuses their environment with love. Without a doubt, a successful restaurant will always feature all of these. 

How do you think restaurants should be classified? 

Food is subjective. Personal preferences always influence any food critic. If a Frenchman qualifies an Indian place, the spices will always seem too much; the inverse is also true: for an Indian, the most delicate and subtle French dish may seem insipid. My qualification is always about good service, type of food, ambience and coherence in the concept (personality) of the premises as part of the whole.