Reinterpreting Family Tradition
Text: Rodrigo García Fernández /©ICEX
Translation: Jenny McDonald /©ICEX
Photographer: Spanish chef Francis Paniego. Tomás Zarza and Toya Legido/©ICEX
The career of Francis Paniego (1968, Ezcaray, La Rioja) is marked by his family and the family environment. His parents, Félix and Marisa, ran a small hotel and restaurant in his home town of Ezcaray (La Rioja). They were the fourth generation at Echaurren, where Marisa started to develop her skills using the traditional recipes of La Rioja. As she cooked La Rioja-style potatoes or lamb chops, salt cod with red peppers or her legendary croquettes, her two sons Luis and Francis gradually became involved in the everyday comings-and-goings of the kitchen.
Luis was the oldest and was expected to carry on the culinary dynasty. Francis was a great admirer of his older brother, his role model. So he decided to sign up at the Escuela de Hostelería y Turismo de Madrid to learn the trade of restaurateur and follow in his brother's footsteps. But Luis died tragically in a car accident, and Francis decided to leave the school and return to Ezcaray to help out in the family business.
In 1988 the family invested time and money in the refurbishment of Echaurren, and Francis took the opportunity to go back to school, complete his studies and carry out internships at such famous restaurants as Arzak, Akelarre and Zalacaínwith visits to elBulli under Ferran Adrià. This latter period of training gave him a wider view of gastronomy, in which creativity took a more central role.
Francis was determined to find his own personal way of doing things, based on the reinterpretation and modernization of his mother's recipes. In 1999 an annex to the family restaurant was opened, called Echaurren el Portal, but a single kitchen served both. This allowed the young chef to offer creative, groundbreaking cuisine in his own style. In the new restaurant he was able to present the results of his culinary research, such as his well-known studies on confits and aromatized olive oils. Behind these initiatives was a genuine tribute to his mother’s cooking and the quality products of La Rioja.
In 2005, this effort to link up tradition with the culinary avant-garde earned the restaurant a Michelin star. Francis Paniego is a member of the select group of chefs who have made Spain a Mecca for world gastronomy. The latest chapter in his career is the supervision of the restaurant within the ultramodern winery of Marqués de Riscal, designed by Canadian architect Frank Gehry. Francis Paniego is the spearhead of new Rioja cuisine, a pioneer who is leading the way for other young chefs from the region who are also keen to find new forms of expression. And it all started out in a small village in the backwoods of La Rioja.
Tondeluna is the name of a little town near Ezcaray. Francis decided in 2011 to inaugurate a beautiful tapas bar in Logroño city center, called Tondeluna. Customers can taste traditional tapas from Echaurren and avant-garde miniature cuisine from El Portal de Echaurren in this great gastrobar, whose name and decor pay homeage to the nature and forests near Ezcaray.