Pablo Chirivella of Tavella Restaurant in Valencia

Tavella’s Pablo Chirivella – Alchemist of Tradition

Meet Valencian rising star Pablo Chirivella.  The classically trained chef has worked in Hong Kong, the UK and Mexico.  He has interned under the likes of Martín Berasategui, who holds the most Michelin stars in Spain (eight in total), and later honed his skills as chef de partie at Martín’s Abama in the Canary Islands.  He has all the pedigree and experience that an aspiring chef needs to make a serious name for himself.  But that’s not all.  He also has a secret weapon; a meticulously maintained 200 year old farmhouse, originally owned by his great grandfather, and now recognized as a city “Intangible Cultural Heritage,” site.   It’s a gem of a location that embodies all the history, elegance and tradition that inspires Chirivella’s cooking, and makes his Tavella, one of the most captivating restaurants in Valencia.

Table at Tavella Restaurant

Table overlooking the patio at Tavella Restaurant. Photo by: Pepe Gil-terrón

An evening at Tavella feels less like a restaurant and more like a dinner party in the home of 19th century Spanish aristocracy.   Tables are cleverly positioned throughout the still intact rooms of the first floor. Diners might be seated in the old reception area, the formal dining room, the patio, or even the old kitchen, which still boasts its cabinetry, stone countertops and working sink.  Door after century old door, the place exudes a level charm unattainable in a typical city store front.  Only the stunning new wine cellar, with its minimalist glass enclosure and dim lighting,  provides a brief modern departure from its otherwise faithfully antique interior.

La Brasa at Tavella Restaurant

La Brasa at Tavella Restaurant. Photo by Pepe Gil-terrón

For Chirivella, setting up shop in his great grandfather’s building was not just a practical matter.  Sure, the place is beautiful.  But you get the sense that the aesthetics are just a bonus.   The real reason Tavella exists in this spot, in which his grandmother still lives upstairs, is that it allows him to maintain his sense of “home.”  After several years spent abroad, Chirivella admits that he missed his family and his city.  It was a yearning that ultimately led him not just back to Valencia, but to the family property itself.

Not surprisingly, this narrative is reflected in Tavella’s cuisine.  Guided by a philosophy which he calls “searching for origin”, Chirivella focuses heavily on  traditional, homestyle Valencian recipes, which have been reinterpreted through a wider, if not more sophisticated lens.  Like the college kid who returns home after 4 years at University and sees his hometown differently,  Chirivella’s take on the food of his youth finds new heights as he incorporates his experiences abroad.  Classic dishes like artichokes with ham and calamari with beans and garlic share the menu with international dishes like tacos de rabo de vaca (beef tacos with tail meat) and the playful, sandia, melon and mojama, which fuses watermelon and honeydew with cured tuna, capers, and spicy-sour guindilla peppers.

sandia_melon

Sandia, melon and guindilla peppers. Photo by: Pepe Gil-terrón

At the core of Tavella’s kitchen is the wood grill, or la brasa.  For Chirivella, it’s a traditional method of cooking for which there is no substitute.  “Cooking over fire is pure,” he explains, “you can’t hide mistakes.” Along with starters like potato, roasted garlic and wood grilled pancetta, diners can also opt for the popular Menu de la Brasa, a 5 course tasting menu that comes to a crescendo with a main course of flame grilled “meat or fish.”   For a chef who has cut his teeth in some of Spain’s finest kitchens and has the technical chops to do anything he wants, Chirivella’s dedication to the world’s most basic cooking style is not only admirable, it’s genius.  It’s a direction that sets him apart from most of his contemporaries, and puts him in a relatively smaller class of chefs (think Victor Arguinzoniz of Asador Etxebarri or Argentina’s Francis Mallmann).

Panceta a la brasa with roasted garlic and potato

Pancetta a la brasa with roasted garlic and potato. Photo by: Pepe Gil-terrón

Granted, those are some pretty big shoes to fill.  And at risk of setting too lofty of expectations, it’s probably best to simply appreciate Chirivella’s talent in the present; a cuisine which is clean, elegant, and above all, honest.  For now, he is a chef to watch in Valencia, and his Tavella is a place to enjoy.

Photo by: Pepe Gil-terrón

 

 

 

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