Panoramic view of hole 12 and 14.
Image by Joann Dost courtesy Royal Isabela Golf Club
royal isabela golf club: 2012
Traveling to Puerto Rico for the first time in 2012 was a great experience. Why had I not done this before?!! Landing in San Juan was a delightful occasion. I specifically remember how difficult it was to find this golf club. The town of Isabela shows no signs of golf let alone an 18-hole golf course with gorgeous Casitas overlooking the ocean. And yet after driving all over the town, I discovered where the entrance was, behind a little tiny house that you would never think to look. Behind this gate, the journey to the Royal Isabela clubhouse, designed by Hart Howerton, was spectacular.
I was greeted by a wonderful team of staff and then checked into my Casita, which was complete with a stunning ocean view and double rain shower heads in the bathroom! Family dinner was the first agenda, and it was an absolute delight. Here I was sitting with the owners Stanley and Charlie Pasarell, their members and guests, and coincidentally a fellow Connecticut resident from New Canaan, sharing stories over a divine dinner. One thing that captured my memory was the outdoor lighting that allowed for a full view of the beautiful stars in the night sky. I appreciated this style of dinner and it was a great welcome for visitors to come out of their shells and get to know perfect strangers in a unique setting.
Stanley and Charlie Pasarell, renowned Puerto Rican tennis players in the 60s, later found their way to golf and envisioned and built this property. Stanley is a warm soul, immediately noticeable, and he has rescued over 100 dogs from the neighborhoods and delivered farm produce from the expansive farm at Royal Isabela to the locals in need. Charlie, I learned first hand was a dear friend of Arthur Ashe, and to this day I have not published that interview because I am still trying to convey Charlie's emotions on paper without breaking down in tears. His bond and story is unforgettable. Everything about this property had an element of kindness and responsibility for the game of golf, the preservation of the land and the local community.
Stanley and Charlie hired José Carles Fabrigas while he was a caddie at the club. They didn't have a kitchen at that time and Jose said he would make his famous hamburgers and it went from there. I still have not to this day had one of those hamburgers!!!
I am pleased to share these experiences and my interview and relationship with José Carles Fabregas and their family which has continued to grow over the years. ~ Diana Delucia
Image left: José Carles Fabregas competes in the 2018 Golf Kitchen Punta Mita Chef playoff.
Right: Showing of the catch of the day in Boquerón, Puerto Rico.
An interview with José carles fabregas
José Carles Fabregas is one of the young chefs that stole my heart in 2012 when I was fortunate to be writing a feature story at Royal Isabela Golf Club in Isabela, Puerto Rico. José and his wife Magda have had their share of challenges over the last ten years, and their story is nothing short of remarkable. ~ Diana DeLucia
GK: We hear that you were a great junior player in Puerto Rico. How did you become involved in golf?
When I was eight years old, I rode in the cart when my father played golf. When I became more interested in the game, my father asked Daniel Santiago, the best player on the golf course, to teach me to play. Daniel even came to live with us for eight years. He was like a brother to me. In 2003, I became Puerto Rico Junior Golf Champion. I represented Puerto Rico six times for six years in a row.
I traveled to the United States to try out for golf mini-tours, but it was too expensive for me to sustain. I quit playing golf when I was 18. My father and mother got a divorce, and it was very hard for me. I could no longer concentrate on the golf.
GK: When did your culinary interest begin?
When I was in the United States, I visited my cousin, Nagib Sued, a chef instructor at Le Cordon Bleu [College of Culinary Arts] in Atlanta, and became quite interested in his work. The culinary scene at the school inspired me.
When I returned to Puerto Rico from the U.S, I began studying accounting. I was living alone and didn't have a lot of money. I started making hamburgers, creating my recipes, and selling them at a street stand. When my burger became famous and I began to make money, I quit studying accounting and enrolled in culinary school with the encouragement of my father and my now-wife, Magda. I continued to make my hamburgers while at culinary school, and then I started to get requests for catering. I was not an expert, but I never say no! I always try to take every opportunity that comes my way.
After I finished culinary school, I continued to sell my burgers and added chicken and steak kebabs. A restaurant owner offered me a job, which I accepted, but I quit after seven or eight months. I went back to my catering and my burgers. Many people were also hiring me to cook for them in their homes.
My cooking improved, and I was still playing golf on the side, but more for fun. While playing in a tournament, I met Miguel Suárez Igartúa, Director of Golf at Royal Isabela. He asked me to work with him as a caddie. And, I said yes, because I never say no!
I was the first caddie at Royal Isabela. There was no restaurant on site at that time. One day, everyone was playing golf, and they were getting hungry. I offered to make burgers for Stanley and Charlie Pasarell, the owners. After that, they allowed me to cook in addition to my caddie job. I was delighted.
GK: How did you land the job as sous chef?
When Stanley and Charlie were interviewing for the position of executive chef of the new restaurant, the first one to interview was Alex Yates, who was the executive chef at Leverick Bay Resort in the British Virgin Islands. He needed someone to help him cook for Stanley and Charlie as a part of his interview.
Alex got the job and immediately hired me as sous chef. I worked for Alex for one year, and it was the best experience of my life. He is a visionary who taught me a lot about classic cuisine. Nobody knows this, but Alex told me that he would train me to take over this kitchen eventually. He even took me to New York to meet Dave Pasternack at Esca, where I worked in the kitchen. Dave likes to visit Royal Isabela, and we often went fishing.
GK: When did you get the executive chef position here?
Alex had some personal problems and had to leave suddenly. Stanley and Charlie were a little worried about offering me that position, but Stanley did so regardless. Everything happened so fast for me, and I enjoyed creating new recipes for the members and guests.
Everything here is organic and natural. We have a huge farm on the property. The farm allows me to have the very best ingredients available at all times. Our proximity to the ocean gives me the very best fresh catches of the day. I can even take things off the golf course and use them in my recipes.
GK: How much time do you spend creating your menus each day? I notice you change them daily.
I have a system in place; I have all my recipes documented, except for my hamburger! That is my secret. I create new recipes every day, and I might change two or three ingredients depending on availability and the season. Thinking and planning take me two or three hours every day, but I never notice the time because I love my job and work. I also allow my cooks to become involved in the planning and make some decisions so they can feel good about their job. We are a team.
GK: What are your plans for the future?
I want to stay here, and I want to keep learning. There will never be another place where I have my garden, the ocean, and the best fresh fish right at my fingertips.
GK: What are your experiences working with the Pasarell family?
It is a privilege. They are very nice people who want me to improve. They always talk about the good things I do, but they will also tell me if something is wrong. That is what I like; I need honest feedback from my guests and my bosses. They are my teachers.
Updated Interview with José Carles Fabregas - February 2016
After we spoke in 2013, I hired my old friend Edwin Roberto Valle for the executive sous chef position. Roberto studied with me in culinary school, and then I worked for him in 2008 for eight months in a little restaurant in Cabo Rojo. When Roberto arrived at Royal Isabela, it brought my kitchen an even more positive feeling. Roberto knows how I cook and how I like my dishes to go out to my guests. He respects my work and everything I do.
GK: You have had some extreme challenges to overcome in the past few years, tell us about that.
In July 2013, my wife and I received the news that we would be parents. Our daughter, Valentina Carles Toro, was born on February 26, 2014. On October 31, 2014, at eight months of age, Valentina was diagnosed with cancer, Neuroblastoma. I think it was the most disturbing news a parent can receive. In Hima Caguas Hospital in Puerto Rico, Valentina had surgery to remove an eight-ounce tumor; the Doctors thought she would be fine; however, after many tests and biopsies, they found high-risk Neuroblastoma cancer in the bones. Valentina went through a standard protocol for a high-risk Neuroblastoma cancer patient.
Valentina has had ten operations, six cycles of chemotherapy over six months, two bone marrow auto transplants, and 12 rounds of radiotherapy. We lived in the hospital for 11 months. I have to thank my second family, Stanley and Charlito Pasarell, Edwin Perez, and Juaquin Lopez, for all the support during this challenging process.
In January 2015, my wife and I got the news that we were going to be parents for the second time. Daniella Carles Toro was born on September 13, 2015. This was the best thing for my wife and family because we had to be strong for all that was coming with Valentina's treatment.
In September 2015, Valentina received every exam to detect cancer, and everything was clean. This experience that we are going through has shown us that we have to believe in Faith and to be positive at all times.
"When Jose and his wife Magda became pregnant, she could not be exposed to the radiation treatments that Valentina needed to receive. Jose held Valentina in his arms through her chemotherapy and many other treatments. Valentina will be two on February 26, 2016, and she is happy, strong, beautiful, and very active. Valentina inherited her dad's fortitude, resiliency, and determination to live." ~ Stanley Pasarell
GK: You created a fundraiser for Valentina's treatment; please tell us about it.
On February 7, 2015, 25 top chefs in Puerto Rico hosted a private dinner for Valentina. It was initially for 100 people. We sold out in one day! The following day we sold another 200 tickets, so we decided to have a 300 people dinner to raise funds for Valentina's Treatment. This dinner was so impressive; I could really see the hearts that the chefs and my friends and guests have.
I want to thank the Intercontinental Hotel of Isla Verde for the donation of the hotel's ballroom. We called the top wine imports of the island and every company to donate wine for this cause, the same with food suppliers. The food and wine industry came together for this memorable night.
GK: You are a great golfer; tell us how you are playing now?
In 2015, I didn't play much golf because of everything that was going on with my daughter. However, I can still beat my boss Stanley if he puts some money on the table. I know I will be back playing tournament golf in the future!
I choose to entertain myself with "fishing". We had our boat on the ground in our backyard for years, and one day I began to fix it.
Fishing helped me with the despair we were going through. I thought that if I caught something, maybe I could bring the catch to the restaurant and show my guests.
The funny part of the first day I went fishing, I went with my sous chef to look for some fish, we went for three hours without any fish, and then my sous chef got one little blue runner fish, and we started celebrating because we got a fish! He was celebrating so much that the fish got out of the hook and jumped back into the water. You had to have seen our faces. It has been eight months since that day, and we have caught many large, great fish for the restaurant. I go every week with my sous chef or my dishwasher. With my sous chef Andreas Gonzalez, I go fishing, and with my dishwasher Roberto Ortiz I go to catch some Spiny Lobster or Conch.
The good thing about serving the fish we catch is that you can taste and feel the freshness of the product. It's the same with our organic farm; you feel that, and you get all the nutrients from the product.
I don't catch everything I serve in the restaurant, but I hope one day to do that. It's my new goal, but I believe in and trust my local fisherman. Ever since I became interested in fishing, I have wanted to learn more about what the ocean has to serve up for my recipes. I think it is very important to educate people about how abundant the ocean is and what it can give us if we take care of it.
GK: You were recognized with some awards 2013-2015.
Yes, here is a list of my awards and some special events I participated in since we last spoke.
2015 - Royal Isabela 4th July BBQ Challenge Peoples Choice
2015 -Guisando la Feria Culinary Competition - Silver Medal
2015- Festival Porta Del Sol - Silver Medal
2015 - Qualified for the Final of the Puerto Rico Culinary Team Competition (Top 10)
2015 - Participated in the Privilege Dinner of the Best 20 Chefs of Puerto Rico
2014 - De Norte a Sur Cooking Competition Silver Medal
2014 - Participated in the Privilege Dinner of the Best 20 Chefs of Puerto Rico
2014 - Ex Alumno Distinguido de la Escuela Hotelera Award
2014 - Festival Porta del Sol - Bronze Medal
2011 - Present - Wente Vineyards Wine Tasting Dinner by Erick
2014 - Present - James Beard Award winner Dave Pasternack's Wine Tasting Dinner
2013 - De Norte a Sur Cooking Competition _ Gold Medal
2013 - Saborea Puerto Rico Peoples Choice Award
2013 - Golf Club World Behind The Gates Book by Diana DeLucia
4 Signatures Recipes and Chef full biography
2013 - Chef Puerto Rico New Promise Award by Food & Wine
GK: Tell us about the special Dinner that you hold every year.
For the last two years, Royal Isabela and I have hosted a Dinner with Dave Pasternack called The Whisperer Dinner. We make this Dinner for the charity of el Pastillo Conservation Trust. He has been great to me. We go fishing before Dinner and what we catch is what we serve.
* A new update will appear later in this book collection and Jose's story will take a few more twists and turns.
* I try to keep each chef's interview as close to their own words and language as possible to show their character.
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