There is an image that expresses the delirium that fried potatoes planted Bonilla in sight when they arrived in South Korea in April 2016. As in a rationing scene at war, a row of women queue at the box of the Hyundai department store in Seoul, and each carries two 500-gram cans of the brand Galician appetizers. The line is disciplined in the hope of paying at last and taking the quoted product home. The first ship loaded with this merchandise had just arrived in the country after 42 days of navigation and the berthing had been broadcast on TV. There were not enough containers to satisfy so much expectation created by Korean distributors that they had discovered them on a trip to Spain, so the supermarket improvised a rule: each customer could take two cans. Just two. In a couple of hours they sold out. When it was his turn, a lady with a child in her arms asserted the child’s rights. “Two people, four cans”, claimed aupando the little one.
The story tells her with the energy of the times when she distributed the potatoes through the bars in her red Guzzi the owner of the factory. César Bonilla, 87, son of Salvador Bonilla, who founded the brand (of churros and potatoes) months before the baby was born, in 1932, jumps in his story without ever losing the thread. Talk about the first churrería in Ferrol; of the hotel that opened later and failed; of the day in the middle of the postwar period in which they had to leave their hometown “with one hand in front and the other behind.” How they started again in A Coruña, where they now have six churrerías; of the nights I spent just cutting thin slices of tuber; of the tortillas that his mother prepared the next morning with the ends that they did not give to make french fries; of the day a businessman ordered 100,000 bags for the visit of John Paul II in 1989 and then returned without contemplation the 40,000 he had not sold.
Bonilla tells in great detail how one day an emigrant in love with her products asked her to mount a churrería in Venezuela and there she went to install some machines. He also speaks of the times he has refused to convert his brand into a franchise, because “quality demands control and this is complicated in the distance” and how a group in South Korea wanted to replicate the formula of the churrerías coruñesas. They wanted it so hard that “they had already chosen a place”, but the Galician stood firm and that ship never sailed.
Today, this sea lover (former underwater fishing champion who has had several sailboats and now sails by motor boat) continues to captain the industrial building he founded in Arteixo (A Coruña) in 1988, without his father’s blessing, to resume the making potatoes that he had abandoned three decades earlier because he preferred to focus on chocolate with churros. There, César Bonilla receives field trips and lately dozens of reporters who have stung the bait of unwanted advertising. Today he has even been visited by a team that wants to shoot a documentary.
At the dawn of the Oscars, the turn that enters at four to produce 23,000 churros for the hospitality industry was already frying the dough when he learned that the winner had been the Korean ‘Parasites’. In the film, as a glamorous appetizer of a wealthy family, the unmistakable white can of potatoes is seen with the blue sailboat on a wavy sea and the typography of the brand. “Bonilla in sight” was the proclamation that Salvador repeated, a maneuvering end in the port of Ferrol, when from the ship, at night, he was asked “who goes?”. The can packaging was, however, a commitment of the son when he set up the factory, because in this way (although in a square and returnable format) he transported them as young people to the bars so that they did not break with the rattle of the motorcycle.
A lady who does not know, full of pride in Coruña, has sent this morning to César Bonilla a crocheted doll on a counter, also crocheted, where she sells cans of chips, which of course are also crocheted. The man has placed the gift, still wrapped in cellophane, in the furniture of his office next to a lot of trophies and historical photos of his business. In a portrait his mother appears frying churros and potatoes at the Ferrol festivities of 1932, with him in the belly.
Unlike here, in South Korea it was not surprising to see a can of Bonilla in the film. But, on this side of the planet, the success of Bong Joon-Ho’s film It has flooded in high tide the shore of this factory that despite producing 540 tons of potatoes annually and exporting 60 to 20 countries (40 to Korea) looks small and simple next to the huge Inditex neighbor, in the same polygon. The echo in the networks and the press (included The guardian) they have done the rest: internet sales have grown 150% and others have joined the usual distributors. They are new customers who have discovered Bonilla a Vista long after the Asian country, where the half-kilo can purchased here for 13 euros is around 25. With the demand fired, on the ship they have had to hire staff to increase a turn
But the potato is still doing like a lifetime. It is passed through salt water and fried at 170 degrees in virgin olive oil April, which comes from Ourense, within a system of vats in the water bath so that direct heat does not deteriorate the product. A scanner brought from Holland which they call “magic eye” separates those that do not come out golden, that are small, that end up broken or bent. “Look at everything the bastard throws!” The owner jokes as he passes by the waste container. “The secret is to continue as usual and not change raw materials,” he concludes. “Cheating, in this business, is a constant temptation because it’s easy, but you can’t.”