We run a short interview with Nacho Manzano, a man with not one, but two Michelin Stars, and the executive chef at the Iberica chain of restaurants (Ibérica Canary Wharf, Ibérica Marylebone and Ibérica La Terraza) – which are doing something of a PR job for Spanish food in the UK (not that it needs much help, have you noticed the amount of places offering Tapas lately?)
As far as chefs go, Nacho is something of a traditionalist who blends old style Asturian cooking with more contemporary Spanish faire – he also runs his own restaurant up in the mountains of Asturias, Casa Marcial – a rustic experience, which, although kinda hard to get to, wins a hell of a lot of awards (not that I’ve not been)…
Having tried out the menu he developed at Ibérica La Terraza (which was bloody good – speaking as a guy who’s eaten a lot of Spanish food…) – I figured that he was a man worth tracking down. Cue some persistent emailing followed by some confused translators putting up with my customarily convoluted questions… then a few weeks wondering what was going on, and yeah, here we are at last…
So without further ado, heeeeere’s Nacho (and no I’m not talking about Mexican wrestlers or crisps…)
Full Name: Nacho Manzano
Birthplace: Asturias, Spain
J: I read that you developed your first recipe at age 13? Did you always know that you’d be a chef, and that you’d come quite so far?
N: I always knew I would become a chef, however at a young age I didn’t think I’d achieve as much as I have done!
Your favourite recipe that you’ve come up with so far?
I don’t have a particular favourite, but if I had to I’d choose the Corn Torto fritter with Cabrales egg cheese scramble as it has a special meaning for me, being one of the first recipes that I introduced to the menu at Ibérica.
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into the world of Nacho?
I get up early to take my daughter to school, and then head to the restaurant. This time of the year I spend most of my time creating new dishes, for both Casa Marcial and Ibérica, and have meetings with the teams in Spain and London to plan ahead.
Of all your achievements so far, which are you most proud of?
I am proud to have realised my dream surrounded by my family at my very own home.
What was your greatest cooking experience? Was there ever a time you remember making something particularly wonderful, or having a really great reaction to your cooking?
The greatest cooking experience happens every day for me, when guests visit my home and restaurant Casa Marcial. I think the dish that creates the best reaction is the Sea Urchin.
Could you recommend one Spanish food that you think our British readers haven’t tried, but might like?
Cocido Madrilenio, which is a typical stew from Madrid made with chickpeas, chorizo and morcilla
Tapas is becoming more and more popular in the UK, but are there any British foods and drinks that are well received in Spain? When I was in Soria last, gin and tonic seemed to be very popular…
Drinks are more popular, but I can’t think of any British food popular in Spain right now…
What, if any, do you think are the main differences in the culinary cultures of our two countries?
I think Great Britain is influenced by all the different people from all over the world that live there, especially in London, meanwhile Spanish gastronomy is rich due to the regional diversity of food and drink within the country
What are your most and least favourite foods, and why?
I don’t have any, I like trying new things that are not Spanish, even though I sometimes find it difficult because of the cultural difference
And your most and least favourite ingredients to cook with?
It happens to be the same as the above
What’s your culinary philosophy, summed up in a sentence?
Balanced flavours and the wellbeing of the guest
What does the great British public need to know about what you’re up to? What one thing would you tell them, if you had a megaphone and the entire country’s ear?
I’d tell them to try my cuisine at Casa Marcial, then dine at Ibérica Restaurants, and then go back again to Casa Marcial!
What was the biggest challenge that you’ve had to overcome and what did you learn from it?
I consider myself lucky as I haven’t had big challenges to overcome, everything has always felt natural
Who’s the person who’s most inspired you in your work – food industry or otherwise. Is there anyone that you draw inspiration or strength from? Do you have any specific culinary influences?
I learn things from all the Spanish chefs. However my biggest influence, as well as my biggest source of strength, has been my family.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?
Cooking is my passion. I don’t very much enjoy the management of different aspects of a complex business like a restaurant, but it’s something that needs to be done.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?
I don’t see myself doing anything else. I could tell you I’d love to be doctor, but I would be lying…
What advice would you give to aspiring food entrepreneurs and chefs who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had?
New generations come very well prepared, but I would advise them to experience freedom in their cooking, and always keep studying. Overall, they must be passionate about what they do, as being a chef is a 24–7 attitude and you need to be a sponge with legs, absorbing and learning about everything around you.
After a hard day’s cooking and running your businesses, what do you do to relax and unwind?
I spend time with my daughter, walk along the mountains around my restaurant in Casa Marcial and listen to music at home
What’s your ultimate aim? If you could achieve anything with your career and your restaurants, what would you do? Shoot for the moon!
Getting a 3rd Michelin star would be good, if I had to ask for something…
And we always ask two customary ridiculous questions…
You’ve been sent back in time and made head chef of the Imperial Palace in ancient Rome. You’ve been tasked to provide a three course banquet for Emperor Nero and his court. What do you make him?
- Ibérica’s serrano ham croquettes
- Corn torto fritter with Cabrales cheese egg scramble
- Asturian Fabada
- Slow stewed Fen chicken with rice, Piquillo peppers & saffron “Pitu de Caleya”
- Roasted chesnuts with fresh milk
Same as before but you’ve now been transported to an entirely new universe, and made head chef of Mordor. It’s time to cook a three course banquet for the Dark Lord Sauron and his orcs. What do you come up with?
I would prepare a vegetarian meal…
- Homenaje tomato salad tomato water & cheese ice cream
- Boiled artichokes
- Asturian butter beans “fabes” with vegetables stew
- Seasonal fresh fruit salad