Chef María Varela says that A Parada das Bestas is better understood if you move the focus away from its kitchen and observe the surroundings, which she refers to as “the community.” Firstly, because of the product, which largely comes from the organic garden itself or from local producers. Also due to its location in Pidre, a tiny village in the Ulloa region (Lugo), a few kilometers from Palas de Rei, in the heart of the French Way but isolated enough to remain impervious to trends. That rural interior Galicia, solitary and still essentially small-scale, a model that explains well a particular way of being in the world and also of understanding gastronomy.

Finally, due to the emotional bond that this establishment has with the community to which it belongs, without which – the chef assures – the A Parada das Bestas project, today a renowned restaurant that receives diners from all over Galicia, would not have been possible. “When we opened 27 years ago, we had no idea about cooking. We began to prepare dishes thanks to the fact that many neighbors taught me their recipes, in addition to the fact that people from the area came to eat, and came back and came back, just to help us get out of the mess we had gotten ourselves into,” he recalls. the cook laughs.

Who knows if deep down they were certain that A Parada das Bestas could become, as it has been, an economic engine in a fundamentally agricultural and livestock environment and it was everyone’s responsibility to take care of it, or because of that sense of community to which Varela was referring to the fact that it still survives, despite everything, in many rural areas.

A Parada das Bestas is the project of chef María Varela, in the kitchen, and her partner, Suso Santiso, in the dining room. It began “from the purest unconsciousness” 27 years ago, when the young couple decided they wanted to live in the country, acquired an old 18th century farmhouse and, ipso facto, problems began. Licenses, credits, works, various slamming of doors and something that had been slightly overlooked in the heat of battle: the guests had to be fed.

“We decided to turn the house into a rural hotel and for that we had to cook. We didn’t know, so we drew lots: I was in the kitchen and Suso was in the living room, but it could have been the other way around,” explains Varela. Today she is a renowned chef with numerous awards and she is part of the prestigious Nove Group, which hosts a series of chefs who share her commitment to the Galician territory, society and culture. Whether from the avant-garde (there are Javier Olleros or Lucía Freitas, among others) or, as is the case of Varela, from the opposite place: the iron respect for tradition, for the spirit of the old restaurants.

Varela’s is, therefore, an atypical trajectory, that of someone who learned to cook away from noise, among neighbors and relatives who came to the restaurant to share secrets and recipes. Then came the courses, recognition and training in Hospitality. “It was when my children were older and they didn’t understand that mom also went to school,” recalls the chef. Perhaps due to this unique trajectory, Varela’s speech is at all times more intuitive than intellectual, although it ends up being deeply contemporary. “We cook with what the garden gives us, what else can we do? We cultivate the land as it has always been done: looking at the moon, at the climate, based on knowledge that has always been here.”

From this garden located at the foot of the restaurant come the turnip greens or collard greens that we usually find in winter dishes such as Galician broth, an antidote to the cold and the emotional recipe par excellence for those of us who have roots in Galicia. It even works with pilgrims, a substantial part of A Parada das Bestas’ clientele, who tend to get excited about this stew based on collard greens, white beans and unto (the white fat that covers the pig’s intestines and is used in numerous dishes. , among them the filloas, the Galician version of the crêpe).

Sustainability, km 0 and slow food are raised here, therefore, to their maximum expression without the need to resort to manifestos. And in an environment like A Parada das Bestas, nothing else seems to make sense. We did not find creative displays, although we did find some twists to some recipes that make the chef’s imprint clear. This is the case of the delicate homemade citrus butter that accompanies grilled salmon with vegetables, or the corn and zucchini bags, to give a few examples.

One of its fetish ingredients is the DOP Arzúa-Ulloa cheese, the popular soft cheese made with cow’s milk, always present in several dishes on the menu in different textures and presentations. Whether melted, accompanying some roasted seasonal vegetables and served al dente, with a very mild basil pesto and a tomato vinaigrette, in a carpaccio of Galician beef and cured Ulloa or accompanying a duck liver and pumpkin toast.

These slight concessions to creativity are seen more in the starters than in the main dishes, which recreate traditional recipes quite faithfully. The excellent beef comes from a local producer, while the chicken is their own and takes the form of such representative dishes as the pilgrim-style Pidre capon, a typical recipe of the ancient wayfarers now reinterpreted by the chef, which is made with blackberries and a sauce based on brandy, Mencía wine and Modena vinegar. You can also find pieces of lamb and, although fish are less present, there are usually proposals with cod.

For dessert, something as simple as a homemade flan can be the perfect culmination of the trip: that subtle and perfectly integrated shot that arrives towards the end of a film and that, suddenly, provides meaning and roundness to the entire footage. This is how after the first spoonful of this dessert everything suddenly begins to fall into place. From the trip to Pidre along winding and deserted secondary roads, with probably hostile weather, listening to the murmur of the Ulla River between stone houses, eucalyptus fields and cattle grazing freely. Also the peace that surrounds this stone mansion that awaits us with its blue wooden windows, which without realizing it we will have managed to integrate. We will probably also be invaded by that particular emotion, so specific, that only traditional cuisine brings and never avant-garde cuisine, and we will begin to understand what morriña means even without being Galician.

And all thanks to that flan (we haven’t tested it, but we suspect it also works with other desserts), capable of providing an apotheotic ending to a kind of gastronomic and emotional road trip through the bowels of inland Galicia.