Jesús Sánchez, the chef at Cenador de Amós lifestyle
We talked to the Navarrese chef about the three-Michelin-star restaurant that he opened-together with his wife, Marián Martínez, almost 30 years ago in Cantabria and which is located in a Baroque palatial mansion, restored with respect, but also embracing cutting-edge materials.
“At the very outset, Marián and I believed we were decorators, we thought we knew about interior design, but we had no idea. Fortunately, we soon brought in some professionals and dedicated our talent and enthusiasm to cooking, which is what we are all about”, confesses a laughing Jesús Sánchez, chef and owner—together with his wife, Marián Martínez—of the three-Michelin-star restaurant, Cenador de Amós, in Villaverde de Pontones (Cantabria).
It was in 1993 when the couple installed themselves in this eighteenth-century Baroque palatial mansion and, although it is true that the spirit of the building has remained intact, there has been a great deal of work carried out since then by different decorators in what is known as the Mazarrasa Palace. The last to add its touch to this restaurant—which, due to heritage reasons, is done in stone and hardwood—was the studio from Santander José Piris & Asociados, whose team designed a new roofed pavilion in the garden, made from black steel and glass and featuring furniture in URBATEK’s XTone.
“Where the terrace once was, we have created a cube—that fully opens to the exterior—in which we receive customers and serve the first aperitifs, “explains Jesús Sánchez, who has also incorporated a large three-metre table in one of the rooms, designed with Porcelanosa Group materials: “featuring an oval shape, with edges that are not rounded, but angled, as if it were a hexagon”.
The jewel in the crown, or rather the palace, at Cenador de Amós is the main dining room, located in the old patio, which was the access for horses and coaches. “It was originally only roofed in the centre and the sides were in the open air, a design inherent to Tuscany or the Mediterranean, but not suitable for the Cantabrian climate, which is why when we bought the mansion we covered it and fully enclosed it in glass, screening the light with fabrics”, states the chef about this minimalist space, topped with a recovered ceiling that they wanted to keep intact and fully unaltered, beautiful decadence, only primped by a large gold-leaf lamp.
The graceful personality of the different independent rooms—where the royal past and the sophisticated present are intertwined in harmony—is due to the fact that many of the original architectural elements of the house built in 1756 have been respected, such as stone arches, carpentry, hydraulic tile floors and period doors boasting blown glass.
Cuisine at Cenador de Amós
Jesús Sánchez and his team are now immersed in developing ideas for the new dishes that will be included in their menus this season. However, the three-Michelin-star chef admits that he can reveal that customers will be able to identify local flavours in these dishes, as they have been taking a more introspective look at the environment around them of late. Cantabrian cuisine is one of the three clear influences detected in Sánchez’s creative recipes; the other two are cuisine from Navarre—”from memory” as he says—and from France, since it is worth remembering that when he started his career, the international culinary exemplar chef was on the other side of the Pyrenees.
The Cenador de Amós was a trailblazer in becoming a destination-restaurant, which—at the beginning of the century—attracted travellers to a place by way of their gastronomic experience and not vice versa. “I don’t know if we found Villaverde de Pontones or Villaverde de Pontones found us”, states Sánchez, comparing a visit to his restaurant to a play or show: “Today, visitors to the Cenador start to enjoy it from the moment they make their booking and they receive our reply. It is a very strict process, everything is logged, from the moment we receive the guest until we say goodbye”.
Although we must acknowledge that Cantabria has also made it easy for the chef, not only because of its privileged proximity to produce—which Sánchez knows all about, as he comes from a family of farmers in the Navarre village of Azagra—, but because just a few minutes from the restaurant are some of Cantabria’s best beaches: Langre, Galizano and Pedreña.
We know that there is no luck in Michelin-star restaurants, but it is fortunate that Cenador de Amós is located where it is located, hosted in this palace, and serving products from the sea and mountainous territory that has it all… “except for olive oil, but we have quality butter”, the chef concludes.