“People go to Disney to see Minnie Mouse and come to Pedraza to see me.
Here I am Minnie ”, says Samantha Vallejo-Nágera (Madrid, 53 years old) jokingly, while serving some tourists who want to take a picture with her in front of the door of Casa Taberna, her restaurant in Segovia.
“There are people who see me and start crying.
Can you believe it?
I still can't believe it, ”she continues, distributing kisses and hugs among the visitors who come to meet her.
, the gastronomic television program for which she has been a judge for a decade and which premieres a new season on Monday, has made her a popular character.
“TV is hard for me, because it requires many hours of work, but it is true that it changes your life.
It is the gasoline that feeds my other projects ”, she acknowledges.
Vallejo-Nágera refers to Samantha from Spain, the
company that she founded in 1995 and in which more than 30 people work;
to his advertising agreements with numerous brands, and to Casa Taberna, the tavern, restaurant and boutique
that opened at the end of 2020 in a 17th-century Castilian mansion in the center of the town where he grew up.
A detail of the tavern, decorated with covers of old bullfighting magazines, portraits of matadors and old photos of the town. Ángela Suárez
Detail of one of the desserts: rum brioche with burnt milk ice cream.
Casa Taberna has just received a coveted sun from the
and is already a must in Pedraza, a mandatory stop for the hordes of visitors who arrive in the town every weekend.
Tourists already know that they have to walk Calle Real, see the ruins of the church of Santa María, enter the castle where Ignacio Zuloaga lived and painted, take a walk around the Plaza Mayor and have a snack "at Samantha's, the from the TV".
The cook is aware that many families come to see her and that is why, whenever she can, she is there.
When she is not around, she senses her authentic personality, a mixture of simplicity, tradition and, according to herself, “Spanish without complexes”.
Samantha Vallejo-Nágera poses with her mother, Sabine Dèrouléde.
The widow of the famous decorator Paco Muñoz is in charge of supervising all the details of the tavern and making the floral arrangements. Ángela Suárez
Samantha Vallejo-Nágera poses at the entrance to Casa Taberna with two of her four children, Cloe, 20, and Pedro, 18. Ángela Suárez
The tavern is decorated with covers of old bullfighting magazines;
portraits of matadors such as Manolete, Antonio Reverte and Dolores Sánchez,
and old photos and maps of the town.
It is a foretaste of a menu that the chef describes as “traditional Spanish food, rich and simple”.
The menu is made with local products and includes dishes such as onion soup, ham croquettes, jerky with truffle oil, peas with Iberian bacon and cockles, and grilled leeks.
Everything works as a good prologue for the grilled T-bone steak, an original and risky bet in a land where lamb is king.
“I do not dedicate myself to making haute cuisine, I dedicate myself to making traditional cuisine.
Everything is made like home.
That is, very well done, ”she points out.
The restaurant offers the same menu, but in a more secluded and formal space,
The main suite of Casa Taberna, measuring 50 square meters, has a separate private room decorated with noble materials from the area. Ángela Suárez
Corner of the bathroom of one of the rooms.
The four rooms at Casa Taberna are a mixture of tradition and modernity. Ángela Suárez
"It is a dream come true.
It may sound like a cliché, but it is so”, says Vallejo-Nágera.
As a child, when she was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she imagined herself as “a fat old lady with glasses” looking at the reservation book of her tavern.
"Well, not fat, because I've always done a lot of sport," she clarifies.
“But I did dream of having my bar and my hotel in the town.
Now I have them and I don't need anything else”.
She came to Pedraza at the age of five.
At the beginning of the 1970s, her mother, Sabine Dèrouléde, French by birth, separated from her father, the engineer José Ignacio Vallejo-Nágera, and settled in the Segovian town with the master furniture designer and Paco Muñoz decoration.
“For my mother, Paco was the love of her life.
He died 14 years ago and is still her love.
The two of them instilled in my brothers and me a passion for the countryside,
the people and the crafts.
We have always spent summers here.
I couldn't spend the summer anywhere else,” she says.
“To give you an idea, the other night I had a nightmare.
I dreamed that I was spending the summer in Sotogrande, I swear to you”, she continues with a laugh.
Casa Taberna was born as his personal project, but it is now a family business.
Her husband, winemaker Pedro Aznar, commercial director of Marqués de Riscal, helps her with finances.
Her mother, who lives in the village year-round, oversees all the details and is in charge of making the floral arrangements.
His sister, Mafalda Muñoz, and his brother-in-law, Gonzalo Machado, led the rehabilitation and interior design project, preserving the essence of the house and the architecture of the area: wood, stone, iron, leather, wool, restored pieces and furniture from antique dealers
"For us it was very important to value the crafts of Pedraza and Segovia," says the chef herself as she points to the floor of the entrance, decorated with a circle of lamb tabas that has been there for centuries.
"It served to ward off evil spirits and brought good luck."
Samantha Vallejo-Nágera, in the kitchen with her children Cloe, 20, and Diego, 12. Ángela Suárez
The youngest members of the family are also involved in the business.
Vallejo-Nágera's eldest daughter, Cloe, 20, is studying hospitality in Switzerland and in the summer she returns to Pedraza to help out her mother.
To the other children of the cook —Pedro, 18;
Roscón, 15, and Diego, 12—also like to help.
Many visitors, especially children, ask about Roscón, her son with Down syndrome, who is almost as famous as she is on social media.
“I 'sell' my family, I communicate it, because I believe that people need and want that.
Sometimes with so much technology and so much noise, I feel like we are out of touch with reality.
And I think you have to go back to reality, connect with what is essential, ”she explains.
According to her, that is what Casa Taberna is all about.
“My catering company
The one I started with almost 25 years ago, is called Samantha de España and I sell that in all my projects: Samantha's Spain.
We Spaniards have many complexes and it is difficult for us to sell ourselves.
I do it wildly."
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