More than a recipe book, it’s almost a family album. This is how Nino Redruello presents The recipes of La Ancha (Debate), which, in addition to being a cookbook as the title promises, is also a journey through the history of his family and the restaurants that have developed around a company with a century of history and four generations behind it. From the modest tavern that his great-grandfather from Asturias opened in Madrid to the eight restaurants which, spread between Madrid and Barcelona, have defended the concept of catering houses so well. Between recipes for tortillas, breaded steaks, lentils – the favorites of MPs, it is often said – and cheesecakes, Nino Redruello looks back on the history of this gastronomic and family saga.
“I haven’t kept a secret to myself, the recipes are coming out”, promises Redruello during the presentation of the book at the Molino de Pez, the project recently opened in Barcelona and which, seeing the room full every day at noon, there has wind at the back. It’s no secret that, despite having a low media profile and not making the headlines every day, the premises of the La Ancha group work.
But this time they are not in the news because of another opening -L’Omar, at the Hotel Thompson in Madrid, not long ago- but because of this book which, in a in a way, also claims the role of the cook of Redruello, who is often placed more in the commercial part than with the pouts. A book in which the affection in the edition is perceptible -the editor is a regular customer of the house, they tell us- and which arrives in time to sneak into the Christmas gift lists.
From narrow to wide
One of Redruello’s sons approaches the table where he is talking about his book. Surely you will have heard him tell these stories many times and, if he dares to follow the saga and become the fifth generation, he too will tell one day that it all started in 1919 when Benigno arrived from Asturias in Madrid and opened a humble tavern.
At the age of 10, Nino Redruello’s grandfather was already working in the kitchen of La Estrecha, which is the name of this tavern in Los Madrazo street. Apparently the name was literal at a time when taxes were based on the size of the facade and narrowness had its advantages. As in every family there were also its problems, this original name was lost and it was renamed La Ancha.
With this name, Nino’s father and uncle took over in 1968. “When my uncle was 17, my grandmother, the family cook, was told she couldn’t continue to work because she had back pain. My uncle went into the kitchen, he had to fire the cook when he found out he was stealing, so we left him alone. A few months later, he bought a cookbook by Paul Bocuse and began to read it, study it and taste it”.
Recognition of the work of his father and his uncle is a constant in the history of Redruello. “For 35 years my father went to Mercamadrid every morning to look for the best, at 4 am he was there choosing red mullet,” he recalls.
Congress’ favorite lenses
When, in the early 2000s, Nino Redruello and his brother Santi took over the generation, this humble tavern had already become a renowned restaurant, with two addresses in the city, one next to the Congress of Deputies, in Zorrilla street.
“Not even at El Bulli – where Nino did an internship after studying at Luis Irizar’s school – I didn’t see as much intensity as the one with which my father and uncle worked every day”, emphasizes he. It wasn’t too easy for them either, as they chose a difficult time – the 2008 economic crisis was already looming – to expand the business and first open Las Tortillas de Gabino and then La Gabinonoteca. Potholes aside, tortillas eventually became another of the group’s restaurant classics and, in fact, they have their own section in this book.
In 100 years, the list of anecdotes would surely suffice for another book. But the grace of this one, in addition to being a recipe book that wears out and eventually gets stained, is that each of the dishes comes with a story about its origin. And La Ancha on Zorrilla Street has plenty of them.
Its location, a stone’s throw from Congress, has made it a regular haven for politicians and a meeting place. In fact, the shanked lentils that are prepared here – and elsewhere in the group – are often cited as a favorite of their lordships.
It’s not a way to put it, because Javier Solana once said on radio from the restaurant himself that La Ancha lentils were his favorite dish. “From then on, our lentils became famous and appeared in all the guides,” the book says next to the recipe for this stew.
Recipes with a story
More than La Ancha, it was the lentils of Socorro, one of the cooks who worked in the restaurant and who taught Nino Redruello’s uncle how to prepare them. It is another of the rarities of this recipe book in which there is no problem remembering and honoring the authors of the dishes or clarifying the origin or what inspired the elaborations that today are already become famous on their own.
“In May 2016 we opened Fismuler and I wanted cheesecake to be one of the star desserts. We were inspired by Hilario Arbelaitz’s…”, they explain before detailing the recipe for one of their most emblematic dishes.
This is not the only case. “The cream cheese I learned in Arzak and fell in love with,” reads the title of another of the dishes covered in this book. “At La Chimenea restaurant in Guadarrama, more than 30 years ago, my grandfather and my uncle ordered marinated anchovies. They loved them and for a long time they searched for the best marinade…” reads another of the dishes.
More than 300 pages and some 80 recipes which, in addition to being simple enough to try to make at home, can boast of not expiring or being at the mercy of fads or trends. While we assume our breaded steak will never end up like this house’s famous Armando, it’s a most entertaining read. A book, in short, to have in the kitchen, not to show off at the living room table.