The Sandoval Family: Archaeologists of Flavor

Haute cuisine as a product of research.

By Real Academia de Gastronomía

Real Academia de Gastronomía

Mario SandovalReal Academia de Gastronomía

A Town Surrounded by Vegetable Gardens

The origins of the Coque restaurant lie in Humanes de Madrid, a town some 15 miles south of the Spanish capital. It is a town surrounded by vegetable gardens, where the produce for which it is best known—cauliflowers, lettuces, carrots, beans, and more—have been grown for time immemorial.

Bar La PeñaReal Academia de Gastronomía

In 1955, a bar called La Peña (Coque) was opened, which is where this story begins.

Álvaro (known as "Coque"), the Sandoval brothers' maternal grandfather, managed the dining room. His wife, Isidra, was in charge of the kitchen and used excellent local produce, including game, beef, and locally-grown vegetables.

Sandoval's grand parentsReal Academia de Gastronomía

The founders of La Peña: Isidra and Álvaro Coque.

Bar La PeñaReal Academia de Gastronomía

As a child, Teresa, their daughter, used to help serve the tables, later working with her mother in the kitchen, following her recipes while trying out ideas of her own.

The restaurant was open non-stop from 6 a.m. until after midnight.

Teresa y Rafael, Coque's restaurant foundersReal Academia de Gastronomía

Taking the Reins

Teresa was 22 when her mother died and she had to take over the running of the kitchen. By then, she was married to Rafael Sandoval, who took over from his father-in-law in the dining room. The pair raised their children without taking a break from their work.

Bar La PeñaReal Academia de Gastronomía

Teresa's Famous Stews

The restaurant was constantly filled with customers from Humanes de Madrid and further afield. They came to try Teresa's stews, especially hare with beans; "prendedero" rice with tuna in a home-made pickle called "escabeche" (passed down by Isidra); and her famous chops with hyssop, made with a cold dressing of olive oil, vinegar, and oregano.

Sandoval brothers with their parentsReal Academia de Gastronomía

The Coque Rotisserie

In 1976, the Sandoval brothers' parents—Teresa and her husband Rafael—opened a modern rotisserie in Humanes de Madrid called "Coque," as a tribute to the head of the family. Coque became famous for its signature dish of suckling pig.

They invested in a traditional wood oven, which gave the suckling pig a unique flavor. They didn't just use any old pig: the couple set out to find the best type of pork for roasting, and found it in Pietrain and Duroc crossbreeds. The result was pigs with an unusually fine layer of fat.

News of the Coque rotisserie soon reached the capital.

The Sandoval BrothersReal Academia de Gastronomía

A Natural Transition

Passing the family business from one generation to the next was a natural step, since the Sandoval brothers had spent years helping in the restaurant. Some of them juggled their own interests with the restaurant business, while others put their heart and soul into the family enterprise from a young age. The death of their father, however, meant that these changes came sooner than anticipated.

Hermanos SandovalReal Academia de Gastronomía

The Sandoval Brothers

Although 3 brothers currently run the restaurant, there are 4 Sandoval brothers altogether: Rafael, José Ramón, Juan Diego, and Mario. The second of the 4 spent a few years running the rotisserie, balancing his work there with another activity: training soccer teams. In 2010, he was offered the opportunity to take charge of a professional team.

Rafael SandovalReal Academia de Gastronomía

Rafael: The Sommelier who Fought Bulls in Las Ventas

Rafael Sandoval inherited his grandfather Coque's passion for bullfighting, and temporarily left the family business to pursue it as a career. However, following his father's sudden death, he left the bullring behind to get involved in the family business and take over the running of the wine cellar. Rafael was named the best sommelier of 2018 by Spain's International Academy of Gastronomy.

Rafael Sandoval, bullfighterReal Academia de Gastronomía

Juan Diego SandovalReal Academia de Gastronomía

Juan Diego: A Natural-Born Bar Manager

Juan Diego worked in the bar from the age of 13, when his father asked him to help out full-time. When his father died, he took over the management of the restaurant.

He has managed Coque's dining room for over 10 years, earning him Spain's National Gastronomy Award in 2016. He is also at the forefront of diversifying the family business.

Mario SandovalReal Academia de Gastronomía

Mario: Heir to the Kitchen

"I learned the trade, the fundamentals, and my knowledge of the restaurant business and culture from my parents."

Although he was raised in the kitchen, Mario, the youngest of the brothers, also trained at the Escuela Superior de Hostelería y Turismo (School of Hospitality Management and Tourism) in Madrid. He spent time working as a trainee in various restaurants in Spain (Jockey, El Bulli, and Arzak) and France (Bocuse and Bras).

Since 1999, he has been Coque's culinary director, winning Spain's National Gastronomy Award in 2013 for his work.

Mario Sandoval (2017)Real Academia de Gastronomía

The Archaeology of Flavor

"The early days of the new Coque were not easy," recalls Mario. People came expecting traditional cuisine and we offered them something new. The first 4 or 5 years were really hard."

Coque Restaurant, Best Restoration Establishment Located in the National Territory award (2003)Real Academia de Gastronomía

In 2003, Coque received the award for the Best Restaurant in Spain from Spain's Ministry of Agriculture. A year later, it received its first Michelin star.

From then on, Mario began to seek his own philosophy, and ended up focusing on the "archaeology of flavor," with an emphasis on authentic local produce, working as a family, and what he learned on his travels.

In 2015, the restaurant received its second Michelin star.

Roast suckling pigReal Academia de Gastronomía

Reinventing Family Dishes

In his "archaeology of flavor," Mario Sandoval is concerned—just as his parents were—with the origins of every ingredient, and the authenticity of each dish.

Mario Sandoval (2017)Real Academia de Gastronomía

Cutting-Edge Cuisine that Is Faithful to Its Roots

The family's wood oven remains a key part of Coque's kitchen. It is used to give the finishing touch to several dishes while, of course, also being used for roasting suckling pig. Although Coque creates cutting-edge cuisine, presenting its dishes in small mouthfuls, the family legacy is still a huge part of Mario's cooking.

Other recipes that he has honored in his cooking are his mother's "escabeche" and his father's mushroom stews.

Gastrogenomica' by Mario SandovalReal Academia de Gastronomía


Searching for the best produce and new ingredients while remaining faithful to their roots is in the Sandoval family's DNA. It is what their parents did with pork, and the children—Mario in particular—have continued along this path, using the family's vegetable garden to grow produce that is native to the region.

Starters from Coque restaurantReal Academia de Gastronomía

In conjunction with the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), Mario has also developed various techniques and technologies than can be applied to gastronomy. Areas of interest include supercritical liquid extraction, hydrolyzed egg, ecological fighting-bull beef cooked at high pressure, polyphenols in red wine, and fibers. These have all been used in Coque's dishes over the years.

Coque’s cuisineReal Academia de Gastronomía

Journey to Madrid

The Sandovals always dreamed of opening a branch in Spain's capital city, Madrid—a vision shared by many of their regular customers. In 2017, this dream came true.
The dining room of the new premises is almost double the size of the original restaurant, and has a view of the spectacular kitchen, which is filled with natural light.

Coque's restaurant barReal Academia de Gastronomía

Guests are taken on a gastronomic tour that leads them through the bar, the wine cellar (a semi-circular space with an artificial tree at its center), the kitchen, and the research and development area, before arriving in the dining room. They are given a different appetizer in each.

The Sandoval BrothersReal Academia de Gastronomía

Present and Future

"My children are still young, but Rafael and Diego's children are already taking their first steps in the restaurant," says Mario. "Only time will tell whether they really like it. Coque is and will always be their home, but they are in charge of their own destinies. Ours is in Madrid now."

Credits: Story

Text: María García.

Image: Coque Restaurant.

Acknowledgements: Rafael Ansón, president of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy; Elena Rodríguez, director of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy; María García and Caroline Verhille, contributors to the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy

This exhibition is part of the Spanish Gastronomy project jointly coordinated by Google Arts & Culture and the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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