The professional opinion: Manuel Prieto
“Sauces, only when strictly necessary”
A quote like this defines a philosophy and a way of understanding cuisine: instinctive, honest, without disguises, with the quality of the product above all. Manuel Prieto, the CCIB chef, has been learning and pursuing the profession of cooking for more than 45 years. Despite the passing of time and the changes in the profession, he has kept intact his vocation to pleasure the palate and his passion to experience new formulas that turn the act of sitting at the table in a feast of sensations that leaves nobody indifferent.
Barcelona has not always been the city it is today: many years ago its streets were dirty and unsafe, the opening to the sea was nothing more than a dream that seemed unreachable, its monuments languished, tourism passed by… The changes that turned the city into what we know nowadays did not begin until 1981, with its candidacy to host the Olympic Games in 1992. However, in the early 1970s, the change was already taking place in the kitchens of many restaurants. The metamorphosis of Barcelona and its projection abroad have not only occurred in the urban or cultural terrain: gastronomy has played a determining, but sometimes little recognized role.
In this scenario of resurgence and explosion of creativity, Manuel started his career even before having reached the age of majority. He forged his destiny by working in restaurants of reference of that period: Escala Barcelona, Ca l’Isidre, Agut d’Avignon, Via Veneto, La Dama, Oliver and Hardy… Later on, he found the chance to work for a large catering group, which allowed him to be in charge of the most outstanding gastronomic challenges of the moment. Different editions of the Godo Tennis Tournament (more than 1,100 attendees per day), the restaurant of Spain in Expo’98 in Lisbon (with different meals from the 17 regions), etc. The CCIB was also born from a great civic event that was based on three thematic axes (sustainable development, peace and cultural diversity): the Forum 2004, called to transform Barcelona. Since then, “Chef Manuel” has run the tight kitchen of a conference center receiving 537,384 buyers last year.
As Manuel acknowledges –”in the kitchen you are always evolving and adapting, just like doctors”–, R&D is an inherent part of his profession, as he needs to be in a constant search considering aspects such as the product (the most important one), time, resources, costs… and people. The diners, but specially the team with whom he shares the time cooking. Edu, Sergi, Mayte … “I do not just let them give me their opinion, but I want to see the creativity of each one; I like that people take the initiative”. Recently, the creative process has brought results such as vegetarian ceviche, quinoa tartar or tomato gelatin, new dishes in the growing world of vegetarian cuisine.
And, although the good look of the dish must always be present, the recipe for success contains some essential elements. According to Manuel, the 3 most important features in every good chef are:
- Rigor in the manipulation of food (always top-quality).
- Unconditional dedication.
- Control of the working times.
Discipline is the only way to maintain order and a good management in a kitchen that can punctually host more than 50 people, each one with a specific task subject to the joint objective: the client’s satisfaction. Its 2.500m2 of facilities with the most advanced equipment are the envy of any restaurant or hotel that wants to offer high gastronomy to its clients. Hygiene is the common denominator of the CCIB kitchen. It has independent circuits and point of control for all goods, large cooling chambers, cooking areas with leading machinery, special rooms for preparing the service and the dispatching, appliances for dynamic preparations, laundry area… Only this infrastructure can face events such as Gartner (6,000 people), CineEurope or King, who pursue new challenges year after year.
According to what Manuel says, one of the most special demands that the CCIB has assumed is a gala dinner of an Indian client. Having a great knowledge of the traditional recipes, the client wanted to supervise each dish, as he doubted that in the West we could emulate the authentic flavors of his country of origin. At the end of the event, the client was surprised by the perfection reached and wanted to congratulate the chef personally. 1,100 people lived a similar rewarding experience in the Banquet Hall, as the client’s request was to elaborate a complete menu (20 different dishes, desserts included) … only with legumes!
No doubt a lot of time has passed since, in the 70’s, Barcelona began to value its gastronomy to the originality required in business tourism today. However, with the experience gained, Manuel keeps intact the concern to develop new recipes, find unexplored ingredients, share knowledge with his team and, above all, satisfy the clients. A last secret that shows the esteem for the kitchen and for the highest quality ingredients? “I keep saffron under a lock and key hiding place.”