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Dining in a Mountain Setting

Nacho Manzano

Asturias and good food go together. One of the many attractions for visitors to Asturias is its gastronomic tradition and the way this is reflected in the latest local cuisine. An example is the work being done by Nacho Manzano at his restaurant Casa Marcial, located in the foothills of the Picos de Europa mountain range and very close to the town of Arriondas, best known as the starting-point for one of Europe's most traditional canoe trials, the Descent of the Sella river. This is where, in a lush landscape of green valleys, Nacho finds inspiration for a menu that is innovative but has its roots in tradition.

Manzano's respect for Asturian culinary tradition stems from his family. His restaurant grew out of a store run by his great-grandparents and his grandparents close to Arriondas. His father, Marcial, opened a restaurant to be run by his wife, offering simple local food. And Nacho learned from her. At the age of just 13, he devised his first recipe, Corn cakes with stewed onion and Cabrales cheese (the cakes were made from corn flour and fried in olive oil), which is still on the menu at Casa Marcial, a reminder of his early days in the kitchen. Before he took charge, Manzano spent a time at one of Asturias' most revered eating establishments, Casa Víctor.

In 1993 he took the leap and started to adapt the menu at Casa Marcial, gradually converting it into the place of pilgrimage it is now for all lovers of Asturian food - that of yesterday and that of today.

Some of Manzano’s most famous dishes started out from his mother's recipes and ended up being original creations. One such is his fabada (a stew of butter beans with chorizo, blood sausage, cabbage, shoulder ham and fresh bacon) for which he uses new techniques to reduce the calorie content and make it lighter-looking. Taking the basic recipe as his starting-point, Manzano created his crisp bacon with fabada vinaigrette and raw vegetables -a tasty, light dish with a combination of textures and top-quality ingredients. Using avant-garde techniques, this chef is able to give a new dimension to pitu de caleya (free-range chicken), rice with limpets and dishes using the exquisite Asturian sardines or belly of bonito, all of which are seasonal products.

Manzano's two sisters, Olga and Sandra, help out in the restaurants and also assist him in the advisory services he provides to La Salgar, a restaurant located in the Pueblo de Asturias Museum in the coastal city of Gijón.

In 2009, this chef from Asturias set up a new gourmet consultancy project. It involves running the Ibérica London restaurant and tapas bar, which is a great centre for promoting Spanish cooking right in the middle of London. Nacho is in charge of designing the menu for the restaurant, based in a premises that also has a shop selling Spanish products, an exhibition area and rooms for events.

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