Viri Fernández, founder member of Asturias' "Guisanderas" Club, voices her pride in the organisation, and speaks out for traditional cuisine at the FéminAs congress.
Viri Fernández, chef at El Llar de Viri (San Román de Candamo, Asturias), took the stage on Tuesday at FéminAs to speak out for tradition, "and research too, but looking into the past". Fernández opened her restaurant in 1996 and took refuge in the cooking she knew about, the cooking done at home, local cooking, to start off with. “Look for security in business”, my parents always told me. “And I found security in cooking in my surroundings”. Firmly rooted in tradition, a year later, "when the in thing was Ferran Adrià and duck confit", she felt she had to take another step, and created the "Guisanderas" Club, an association of traditional female chefs, which took the loudest applause at the congress so far.
She is up front with the concept of the stewmistresses - "it's a profession. About 150 or 200 years ago, there was one in every district of Asturias, and she was an expert in recipes. They called her in to cook for celebrations, or a burial, or whenever the sick had to be fed. The "guisanderas" were usually spinsters, independent women who did the rounds of people's homes. When we set up the Club, we gave it the name because we wanted to pay homage to them. Because they were our predecessors in the conservation of recipes and customs. Because we owe what we have to them. Because they were free, empowered, enterprising women", explained the chef.
So enterprising and resilient that, "don't look so surprised, but they were the forerunners of the foodtruck or the catering phenomenon of today, because they went from village to village with a cart full of food, utensils or herbs to work with. "They, and all female chefs that have cooked down through history", she added, "also invented the concept of what we now know as tupperware, when they realised that some meals would keep if they were put into bread. And that, for example, is how 'empanada’ pasties came about”, she explained to general applause.
The "Guisanderas" Club
Along with Fernández, twelve pioneers founded the Asturias Guisanderas Club in 1997 with a solid commitment to protecting traditional recipes, but also because they were tired of all the focus being on men while they stayed at home. Nowadays there are almost fifty of them all over Asturias, of all ages. The stewmistresses live out the present without losing sight of the past, in a special region in terms of the variety and quality to be found in its larder, albeit hampered by a complex orography.