Ignacio Castells

Born and raised in Barcelona, the head chef of Spanish restaurant El Borracho, Ignacio Castells is a proud Catalan, taught by one of the region’s finest

Tell us about your cooking

For me cooking needs to be about family, it needs to have roots and history. I like a plate to have harmony – for all the ingredients and flavours to marry with one another. My job means I always work with recipes but in daily life I never uses recipes, instead I like to be more instinctive about food and flavours and let a dish evolve. I get excited almost every day at work as I love receiving our fresh food deliveries, seeing the products and what I can do with them.

How did you become a chef?

I started my career in catering later than most people in Spain. I joined catering college (CETT in Barcelona) at the age of 22. In the second summer of college I was offered a stage placement at Neichel in Barcelona, a two Michelin star restaurant. This really inspired me, I was taught about the passion of the kitchen, loving the product, the excitement of service and the dedication of the industry. I was also taught to have respect for the industry. I remember Jean-Louis Neichel being a very strict and hard chef – at first I did not understand why he was like this but now I look back and understand that he was just seeking perfection.

What do you eat at home?

I don’t get to eat often at home. If I do cook then it is normally something simple and healthy but I really enjoy trying different restaurants on days off – it’s a great opportunity to relax but also get inspired!

Who is the best chef in the world and why? And the best in Brum?

I cannot answer this question! It is too subjective and the answer can change so much depending on your mood, the season, the day and so on. There are many chefs I admire. Spain has a huge culinary history and Cataluna, where I am from, is particularly rich in its culinary heritage with many products from the area – including truffles and mushrooms (I sometimes go foraging for them on my days off) fresh fish, fruit and vegetables. These kind of products can inspire a person to be a great chef.

Is the customer always right?

Yes, but that doesn’t mean I always agree with them. A person’s opinion can never be wrong – and for this reason the customer is always right. I really enjoy talking to the customers and come out of the kitchen often to do so. I love to hear their point of view and learning more about what the British customers expect or think.

Share a cooking tip

Always make your own stock. They are used to enhance and create many dishes, including rice dishes such as paellas and risottos, as well as to make sauces. The best flavour will always come from a homemade stock. We only ever use fresh homemade stocks to enhance our dishes in the restaurant.

Favourite food as a kid?

That’s simple. Pasta with my mother’s homemade tomato sauce. I adore tomatoes and in Barcleona some of the tastiest are grown, so anything with tomato is a winner for me.

Food heaven and food hell?

Heaven is seafood. Any kind of fresh seafood – I love it. Hell is Marmite. It is way too salty for me!

Most unusual thing you’ve ever eaten?

It may not be so unusual maybe for Spanish people but I’ve eaten brains, testicles and other glands. There is also a typical Catalan dish called Pies de Cerdo Rellenos which is a roasted pig’s trotter stuffed with pork and tripe. I love this dish.

If you weren’t a chef what would you be?

A biologist because I love nature… to observe it and solve problems. The complexity of natural biology is truly amazing.

What do you recommend from this evening’s menu?

Maybe the scallop with pork belly, also the milk fed roast lamb. Well, all of it actually – it’s all good!

Try Nacho’s recipe fpr a traditional Crema Catalana but with his version the infusion is with Tonka bean (Vanilla or citrus fruits could also be used)

Picture by Sam Bagnall

For 4-6 people (you will need an oven proof ramekin per person)

Preheat the oven to its lowest setting – 80/90 degrees

Ingredients:

  • half a litre of single cream
  • 150ml full fat milk
  • 1 tonka bean or a vanilla pod or the peel of an orange and lemon
  • 10 eggs yolks
  • 100g sugar

Method:

Infuse the Milk, cream and Tonka bean over a low heat to release the flavour. Mix the egg yolks with the sugar – but use a fork and not a balloon whisk as you don’t want to add air to the mix. When the cream is infused with the flavour of your choice take it off the heat and very slowly add to the egg yolks mixing all the time to avoid the hot cream scrambling the egg yolks.. Once it is all mixed together pour the custard mix into the individual ramekins and place them inside a roasting tray – pour water half way up the side of the ramekins making sure you dont pour water into the custard. (Bain Marie). Place this roasting tray with the crema’s into the oven and cook for 30 minutes on your lowest setting – after 30 minutes turn the oven up to 100 degrees and cook for a final 30 minutes. Leave the Crema’s to cool. Once they are cool to serve burn a thin layer of sugar on the top using a chef’s blowtorch to create a crunchy topping.

El Borracho De Oro, Harborne Court, Harborne Road, Edgbaston B15 3BU. Tel: 0121 4545 368 www.elborracho.co.uk