Exclusive interview with Ibérica restaurants executive chef, Nacho Manzano

We sat down with Nacho to discuss how he got started in the industry and what makes him tick. As well as being Executive Chef at Ibérica Restaurants, Nacho heads up Casa Marcial a 2 Michelin star restaurant in the mountains of Asturias.

Q) How long have you worked in the hospitality industry and how did you get started?

A) It was totally vocational. Since I was a child I always knew I wanted to be a Chef and my dream was doing it in Casa Marcial, the house were my sisters and I were born. This house was always related to food, here my mother used to cook and we used to help her. When I was fourteen I decided to move to the city and train as a cook with my father´s friend who was a very popular restauranteur in Gijón, which specialized in fresh fish. I was there for many years until I felt ready to open my own restaurant. It was a risk as I pursued my dream and opened Casa Marcial in a very little town in the mountains of Arriondas in Asturias, quite far away from city centres and volume of people passing by. 

For this same reason, I feel very fortunate and I am very grateful to my clients as to visit my restaurant they must travel intentionally to this place. Thankfully they are rewarded with amazing views of the mountains of Asturias and my floor and kitchen staff are very motivated to make the most of their visit both in the service and the gastronomy side.

This year we are celebrating our 25th Anniversary in Casa Marcial. We are doing very special events in which we are inviting more than 50 of the most renowned Chefs in Spain to cook. 

This is a very happy year for us. 

Q) You operate restaurants all over the UK, what differences do you notice between the London market and the rest of the UK?

A) UK Market is very savvy, especially in Spanish cuisine. Spain is one of the favourite places for tourism in UK so people know about Spanish food, therefore they look for quality and authenticity. They can see the difference of what is real and what is not. They appreciate good product and well-cooked dishes. They love Spanish Gastronomy and if you make the effort to bring them the best of you, people reward you with their visit and their loyalty. At Ibérica Restaurants we are very thankful and devoted to our clients for their welcome, support and appreciation all over these years. 

In London you can experiment more as they are more used to new things and since we are here for ten years now, we evolve with our clients and include in our menus sometimes additional options, maybe a little bit riskier to challenge their palates. 

In the rest of the UK they are beginning to know us and get familiar with us, so we offer a great but maybe more traditional menu. We want them to know us for the quality, the product and the dishes we mastered, that they know and like the most. Also we give some hints to our common heritage and similar kind of taste for example between Glasgow and Scotland and the North of Spain such as Galicia or Asturias. 

Q) What keeps you motivated?

A) The area where I live, Asturias, between the sea and the mountains is full of inspiration. My cuisine is about roots, respect and tradition, the importance of the products, legacy and recipes. Starting from that it is all about developing, evolving, being creative and bringing these products or recipes a lot further. Life and food keep me motivated. 

Q) What one piece of advice would you give to a young you?

A) To take it easy. Life is too short, and you must make space for resting, travelling and enjoy your family and friends. You must be passionate about your job and keep the energy flowing but sometimes take a step back and give a little room to your personal life. 

Q) Other than your own restaurants where do you enjoy dining and why?

A) I love trying food and new restaurants. You can see me from the humblest cider bar or food house to the most exquisite restaurant. I love discovering new products or the real food of coastal or mountain villages. At the same time, I enjoy visiting colleagues, trying their new menus and talk to them about cuisine. 

Q) How do you feel about social media?

A) I like social media, but I won´t go mad with it. It is a fabulous way of communication, way more direct to your friends and customers and gives your information in real time that was unthinkable years ago.

I like the opportunities that offer but I don´t like the obsession for them or the fake image and ideal life, that many times people, popular or not, try to publish. 

I love the real contact with people and I wouldn’t like that we can be more unsocial in the real world being only social in the on-line world. I feel that we are losing the power and the warmth of personal communication. 

Q) What’s your favourite part of your job?

A) For sure the introspection, the process of creation and cooking. But furthermore, I enjoy the satisfaction of the customers. Watching a customer leave happy from my restaurants is the biggest reward I can have. 

Q) Can you name 5 key suppliers that have allowed Iberica to become the success it is today?

A) Juan Pedro Domeq for their Ibérico ham, Artisan Bakery for their bread products, Wellocks for great quality fresh vegetables, Gonzalez Byass, who produce and supply some of our favourite drinks such as Tio Pepe sherry and Terras Gauda, a family-owned Spanish winery, who supply us with some of the excellent wines we have on our list. 

Q) How do you see Brexit affecting operations at Iberica and how are you preparing for it? 

A) Brexit is likely to bring difficult times for us in terms of our staff and suppliers, just as it will with many other restaurant businesses. We will work around it! 

Q) What’s next for Iberica? 

A) Later this year we will be celebrating our 10th anniversary and we’ve got some special menus and events planned. 

Watch this space…

Ben Rowton and mother (awaiting name) who have been struggling to sell their Elizabethan manor house for three years and are now putting it up for “lottery”. Ben is organising it and they are hoping that sales of lottery tickets will get them their asking price.
Pic copyright Phil Tragen 26/03/2018

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