Mario Castrellon Chef-Owner at Restaurante Maito
Maito defines Panamanian history, living and stands out a variety of urban and creative dishes with a unique taste. He is one of the engines in the new Panamanian cuisine. His work with the native communities and local products, shows its results in the most committed Panamanian gastronomy. The support to local chefs has influenced him in the enhancement of his restaurants and many other projects.
How does it feel to be awarded as the Best Restaurant in Panama?
We all feel joyful and it is a huge responsibility - for me and every team member. Every day we realize that there is a lot to do, work hard and become better. I never considered it only as a Maito project, always as a Country one. It is a great feeling.
How is the dynamics among the team at Maito?
It is very good. We have a great team and I can’t imagine not doing it together. It is a teamwork that arises, we simply express ourselves through creativity.
How do you know when a dish is ready?
There are dishes that are never ready and there are others that are evolving. There are many ilters, but the real test is when our customers are tasting them.
Are dishes always evolving?
Yes, as a chef I have that mission, to question what I do and always keep evolving. Is there the perfect pairing? There is the perfect marriage and it is not always the best or the most appropriate one. Yes, there are ways to find harmony in solids and liquids with chemical mixes, by customizing them, it gives a sense of accuracy: it is possible.
What do you think about pairing with other liquors and drinks?
It seems to me perfect and probably in some cases, there are drinks that can be taken according to the dish. When you play with high or low thermal senses, cold or hot, you probably need an intense element to create an outcome in that tasting. My menu won’t limit you, you can have it with cocktail, wine or simply a beer. No limits or rules.
When it comes to cooking, order or anarchy?
A little bit of everything. Without contrast there can be no point of instruction. Anarchy is needed to rethink things, to make experiments, to have chaos and from this, order.
Through that order: ponder, create guidelines for further studies and share that knowledge. It needs to be complete. I try to limit anarchy to my office mainly.
What do you think of pairing with other liquors and drinks?
It seems to me perfect and probably in some cases they are the only drinks that can stand according to what foods. When you play with high or low thermal senses, cold or hot, you probably need an irreverent and intense part to compensate or create a situation of equal opportunities to excel in that tasting competition. My menu doesn’t limit you, can have it with cocktail, wine or simply a beer. No limits or rules.
When it comes to cooking, order or anarchy?
A little bit of everything. Without contrast there can be no point of instruction. Anarchy is needed to rethink things, to make experiments, to have chaos and from this, order. Through that order: ponder, create guidelines for further study and transmit that knowledge. It needs to be complete. But I try to limit anarchy to my office mainly.
What is the secret of the pastry?
Camilo, he is Maito secret and our magic formula to make things go well. I express what I need and his experience, respect for tradition, study, willingness and he knows how to make it happen.
I personally have no passion for the baking process.
Nowdays many ingredients that were only used in salty dishes have been opened to sweets, what do you think about that?
I try to do it the other way around. Add sweet to sour. But it's very good because every time we talk less about salty and sweet cooking, the more we talk about cooking in general. The pastry techniques are no longer exclusive, you can prepare them with cold starters. In the end it is a fusion of the kitchen itself, of elements of the salty cuisine that are incorporated into the sweets. Think forward always.
What was your first job in the restaurant industry? How was that experience?
One of my first jobs was in restaurant La Posta. I spent there many years, working my way up and learned great things. Long working hours, lot of lessons and great experience.
Have you found it difficult, due to your young age, to be taken seriously in the industry?
I never really cared what other people think about me. My hard work and results speak for itself. I may have a rebel image but when it comes to work, I am very committed. When I started to work on Maito, at first no one could understand, everyone and I mean, everyone, were talking about my failure, because of the concept, location and all things you can think of. But I took the risk, responsibility... and look where we are today.
What do you like most about Panama and its region?
Our geographic position, the diversity and of course Panama history that justify our current eating and living.
Privilege City in Panama?
Boquete. Its weather, temperature, nature and lands of volcanic origin, makes it for me the best place in Panama.
Do you have time to relax and what do you do when you have a day off?
I try to spend most of my free time with my family. Spent time with My wife and daughter, sometimes we go to the beach or we stay home and just do nothing. I am learning to live and enjoy my family time.
What is your final career goal?
I look forward to my family life in Boquete, we already spend most of our time over there. Our idea is to cultivate a land and focus on coffee growth - live relaxed and maybe in the future open a boutique hotel in that area.