Congreso Internacional de mujeres gastronomía y medio rural


Esther Manzano: “We turned a golf course into a vegetable plantation”

David Salvador


Three Michelin stars, although she's probably prouder of the "Stewmistress of the Year".

She runs five restaurants and a catering service alongside Nacho Manzano. We talked to the hand that rocks the cradle at Casa Marcial. “50%”.

She learned her cooking and fondness for the hospitality sector at the bar-cum-shop run by the family in La Salgar, but it was not until her brother came back with a vengeance to turn the business around and set up the restaurant that she genuinely found her passion. “I began by helping him out in the afternoons, and I gradually realised my place was in the kitchen”. She already had the basics from her family, stews and spoon-eaten fare, "and Nacho helped to broaden my horizons. I was hooked”. That was almost 30 years ago. Time enough for Esther Manzano (La Salgar, 1969) to have become one of the country's most respected chefs, the only woman in Asturias with a Michelin star.

She runs La Salgar and operates Casa Marcial jointly with Nacho Manzano in a family conglomerate (the other two sisters also work there: Sandra and Olga) that has eaten up Asturias. “When we sit down with Nacho to create something, we come up with recipes for the catering business and also for four restaurants (in addition to Casa Marcial and La Salgar, they also run Gloria Oviedo and Gloria Gijón), and five now, in fact, following the recent addition of Narbasu. This is the restaurant and hotel the Manzanos bought last year from the Palacio de Rubianes hotel in Asturias with a view to sizing them gastronomically, a project "I'm really enthusiastic about because we'll turn its old golf course - 20 hectares of land - into a vegetable plantation with space for animals and mills to grow maize. We never lost the connection, but Narbasu means another step in our links to nature”.

It will continue to be run by the pair, shortly to be joined by another thinker. A very special thinker: Jesús Sánchez. No, “it's not Jesús from the Cenador de Amós restaurant. It's my son”, Jesús Sánchez Manzano, now completing his studies at the Basque Culinary Center. “He was with us this summer. Maybe he wants to gain experience now with other restaurants, but the idea is for him to work here eventually”. The Manzano dynasty, even if the surname is actually Sánchez, continues.

Until the new generation takes possession, Esther continues to capitalise the empire “50%” with Nacho. “What I like best is the produce and our relations with producers. I like to gather, look at the herbs, know how the animals are fed ... And going to the market every day. I'm a born searcher”. So is it Nacho who comes up with the ideas for recipes, while Esther creates them? “Perhaps, but we work together in everything. They say I'm very pernickety, always sending meals back. That's what I have a reputation for, but I don't think it's true ... I'm just a perfectionist”.

Despite this demanding character, every season Nacho and Esther and Esther and Nacho create a dozen new recipes, almost all of them for Casa Marcial. “The most innovative creations are always at Casa Marcial, that's for sure”. La Salgar also comes up with new items, along with reinterpretations and classic recipes that have reaped the two-star success. “We love changing recipes, but it's a little sad to stop making some of them. We can give them a slightly longer lifespan at La Salgar”. Recipes are not repeated at Casa Marcial, with some exceptions, as was the case this year with maize broth and faba beans perfumed with chorizo and potato. This is a recipe based on traditional cuisine which met with success, and Esther will be cooking it at the congress.

Land, produce and tradition in evolution, or how the Manzano siblings understand gastronomy. “Casa Marcial and La Salgar, and now Narbasu too, are 100% Asturias. Our cooking has always been local, proximity cooking, close to our surroundings, hours and hours of it”. Esther was not declared Stewmistress of the Year in 2014 for nothing. “I have a chef friend who used to tease me by calling me a ‘guisandera’. And I would say to him: ‘That isn't a tease, because I'm so proud of it!’ Our cuisine is based on my mother's cooking, which meant cooking stews every day. And we still cook stews every day”. 

Jesús Sánchez won't be coming along to change all that now …