Words: Marisa Cutillas, Photography: Courtesy Of Skina
Words: Marisa Cutillas, Photography: Courtesy Of Skina

At the age of 25, many youngsters are still at university or working in their first job but at this age, Mario Cachinero, the Toledo-born Chef of Skina, won the first MICHELIN Young Chef Prize to be awarded in Spain. He was one of only nine Chefs across the globe to receive this honour. Mario’s rise has been as vertiginous as it has been prodigious. Just four years previously, at the age of 21, he had arrived in Marbella to work at Skina, which then had one Michelin star. By the time he was 23, he had helped the restaurant achieve its second Michelin star – quite a feat for someone who in many ways is at the commencement of an undoubtedly stellar career.

Mario honed his craft at the Escuela de Hosteleria de Toledo, where he studied to be a Chef and completed studies in Kitchen and Restaurant Services Management. He has worked as a waiter, served drinks, and washed dishes, starting out at his family’s cafeteria before refining his skills at Casa Elena, El Carmen de Montesión in Toledo (one Michelin star), and Casa Marcial in Asturias (two Michelin stars).

When I inquired how he met Marcos Granda (founder of Skina and owner of three other restaurants in Spain boasting a total of five Michelin stars), Mario answered, “I had just finished my stint at Casa Marcial when a colleague asked if I would be interested in starting at Skina. I was excited about the chance to learn new things. I never thought I would be the Chef. I assumed I would be the Sous-Chef,” he smiles. In his first year at the helm of Skina’s kitchen, he managed to achieve quite a feat alongside his hardworking teammates – that of retaining Skina’s Michelin star. Two years down the track, he and Granda would achieve a major coup for their restaurant: Skina’s second star. “My family always says I don’t call them enough and I answer that it’s because I’m always working. Receiving the second star helped them understand the effort involved in my work. To receive such a prestigious reward so early in my career is wonderful.”

I ask him how he initially adapted to the exacting level of excellence and work Skina is known for. “At first my dishes weren’t as aesthetically pleasing as I desired or they lacked small details. I listened well to the feedback I received from Marcos and my colleagues. Marcos is demanding and he would ask for more finesse. We managed to create a menu with lots of delicate touches and to emphasise specific details in each dish so as to highlight the ingredients.

The result, we believe, is a more enjoyable experience for our diners.”

Mario credits his grandmother and mother for having instilled a love of great food in him. “I’m not at all active on social media. I prefer to work since no matter how beautiful food photography can be, nothing beats the magic of going to a restaurant and enjoying a really fine meal. My grandmother and mother prepared food with love and technique. They would add little touches (a pinch of pepper here, a little cream there) that really livened up a dish.”

Destiny also played a hand in his future. “When you’re young, your mind isn’t 100 per cent decided on a career path. You have many options. What I found was that none of these really hit the spot. When I tried my hand at cooking, I discovered that I enjoyed making people happy through food.”
These days, Mario is a successful Chef with a good head on his shoulders. “Life has to be balanced. I work hard but believe in working to live, not vice-versa. I have a social life and a love life and enjoy going out. We’re adults, not children, and we have our responsibilities but so long as we fulfil them we also need to rest, enjoy, travel, and try new experiences.”

As we finalise the interview, Mario tells me about Skina’s latest plans. “We are making the restaurant even smaller, serving only eight to 10 diners at a time. This enables us to create more distance between tables and gives us more room to present products and prepare dishes at the table.” One such dish in the works is a risotto prepared alongside diners with a creamy Payoyo cheese (from the Sierra de Grazalema). Under Mario’s creative eye and steady hand, Skina is going from strength to strength, serving dishes that represent the very best of traditional Andalusian cuisine with touches of the avante-garde.


C/ Aduar 12, Marbella.
Tel: 952 765 277.